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Journal of No. 118

October 29th, 2009

Absinthe @ Bar Keeper @ 01:52 pm

The Liquid Muse's Cocktail Club held an absinthe tasting (and Poe Bicentennial Reading) at the Bar Keeper last night. Since I know the LA Cocktail Examiner, and have plied him with absinthe on occasion, and his wife doesn't care for absinthe, I got to go as his arm candy to this exclusive event. Given his backlog of Examiner articles, it'll be Christmas before we hear his version of events, so I will steal his thunder with my own recounting.
The Bar Keeper is a swinging place, with all the tools and paraphernalia of the trade: from shakers and flasks to absinthe fountains and vintage cocktail recipe books. The Keepers are aces for keeping the store open late and hosting a bunch of deadbeat hipsters cocktail cognoscenti. The event was also sponsored by Viridian Spirits, which reps Lucid and La Clandestine. Many thanks to them, as well.
I was hardly in the door before a White Christmas was handed to me. A very tasty concoction, and an excellent alternative to a Death in the Afternoon, if you have a hankering to get your sparkling wine in your absinthe or your absinthe in your sparkling wine.
Although the connection between Poe and absinthe is tentative at best, I'm a devotee of both and had no problem mixing them. Since I was present due to the good graces of The Liquid Muse and The Cocktail Examiner, I felt obliged to sing for my sipping. The Muse had suggested that attendees might wish to offer Poe readings, so I got to kick off the formal part of the event with The Conqueror Worm. It was a bit daunting to discover that mine was the only reading [until another gentleman arrived later in the evening and let The Lake lap against our ears.] In any event, despite one absinthe-laden cocktail and one slightly stage-frightened tell-tale heart, I managed a satisfactory reading.
Next, a fine presentation on the history, art, ritual and myth of absinthe, by an "Absinthe Category Specialist" formerly of Lucid. He demonstrated the different characters and louches of Lucid, La Clandestine, and (non-Viridian) St. George. He may not be associated with Lucid anymore, but he still seemed to have something of a bias against St. George, or possibly it's just the way marketing speak gets stuck in your brain. He dinged them for using star anise instead of green anise, which maybe inflames my own biases, since the kitchen sink aromatherapy product uses star anise. But what compounded matters was that he said something about star anise being an extract; perhaps St. George uses some kind of anise extract -- I wouldn't know, though it seems unlikely -- but star anise is a perfectly respectable spice. Oh, and he kept saying "a-NIECE" like he was French or something. Pfft.
I was surprised that the St. George louched a kind of murky yellow-brown. It was not appealing to the eye. I know from experience that sunlight (or age?) has quite a yellowing effect on the natural colors in absinthe, so maybe the bottle had been left in Death Valley for six months. The expert attributed some of the darker color to St. George's use of brandy. Some lilt in his voice suggested that brandy was somehow an unsuitable substance, somewhere between Thunderbird and Colt 45, but I can't for the life of me imagine Pernod Fils preferring Lucid's alcoholic base: sugar beet spirits.
Color aside, the taste of the St. George was really quite good; maybe a little heavy on mint, but a great and complex herbal taste. I had to ration myself to ensure the car would stay between the lines, so I didn't taste the other two, but I've had Lucid before: it's quite good, probably better than anything you can get in the States at an equivalent price. Judging solely by appearances, Lucid and La Clandestine both looked beautiful and louched very nicely.
But I did save room for the Phoebe Snow, which was a powerful strong cocktail like they made in the good old days. The cocktail's name, of course, commemorates anthracite coal. Not as tasty as the White Christmas, but perfect if you need the liquor to work quicker.
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[User Picture Icon]
Date:October 29th, 2009 11:04 pm (UTC)
St. George refuses to use preservatives in their absinthe, so it very quickly gets what absintheurs call the "feuille mort" effect (dead leaf). All absinthes will, eventually, turn from green to brown, cloudiness varying.

I consider St. G's a very *Teutonic* sort of absinthe. Very aggressive and different in character from the Franco-Suisse sort, like La Clandestine and Jade.

If you liked La Clandestine, you might want to try La Ptite (yes, it's spelled like that, drives me bonkers) as a very nice blanche absinthe with overtones of (imho) vanilla.
[User Picture Icon]
Date:October 29th, 2009 11:06 pm (UTC)
PS - I should add that I keep all my absinthes in a dark cabinet to slow the turning-brown process, but St. G's with its clear bottle starts out with the odds against it...

(preserving the color is why verte absinthes are usually served in dark glass bottles...)
[User Picture Icon]
Date:October 30th, 2009 12:05 am (UTC)
Your info coincides with my intuitions. I'll have to remember "feuille mort".

Calling St. G's 'Teutonic' makes sense to me, since its style reminds me of that of Eichelberger.
Date:October 30th, 2009 06:26 am (UTC)

Another blog about this ... with pictures

My blog:


Teutonic is an interesting word for St. George (which I always think of as a very English name!). But why not?

Of course some of the champagnes that could go into the Death in the Afternoon or the White Christmas also had teutonic origins: Krug, Heidsieck, Deutz, etc. So one could call a Death in the Afternoon made with St. George and one of them a "double teutonic." Maybe not such a punchy name.

Sorry you didn't get to taste all the absinthes by the way: maybe events like this should have "doggy bottles" for the drivers.
[User Picture Icon]
Date:October 30th, 2009 02:13 pm (UTC)

Re: Another blog about this ... with pictures

Ha, I saw your excellent post as I was preparing my own. Thanks for dropping by.
[User Picture Icon]
Date:October 31st, 2009 09:06 am (UTC)
Hmmm...maybe I should hire you out to write my columns. Will you work for fifty cents an article?

Excellent job all around, reading and recap.

You're in one of Alan's pictures, too. This is all so weird.

The absinthe tasting was much more populated than the Liquid Muse's Cocktail Club tequila tasting the next night (35 to 12).

Joining The Cocktail Club is a fine idea, recommended to any fan of spirit mixology.

What was funny was sitting next to a girl on Thursday say "All absinthe tastes the same. It's so bitter." When asked where she had absinthe, she said "Prague."

[User Picture Icon]
Date:October 31st, 2009 04:26 pm (UTC)
50 cents is a step up from the 0 cents I usually get...

You're welcome to quote extracts, or otherwise use me like a 50 cent whore. Um, metaphorically.

Journal of No. 118