A B S I N T H E TA L E
“The Green Fairy” was thought to be illegal in the UK and was indeed banned across most of Europe and North America. George Rowley was most instrumental in its resurrection but before I tell his story, what is absinthe’s history and why was absinthe banned in the first place?
Words: Simon Difford
From left: Dr Ordinaire, Val-De-Travers, Toulouse Lautrec
BIRTH OF ABSINTHE
The origin of absinthe’s name, like its origin itself is both unclear and a matter of conjecture but it is thought to derive from the Greek word “apsinthion” meaning either “wormwood” or “undrinkable” (presumably due to its bitter taste).
Earliest origins date back to ancient Egypt and medicinal use of wormwood is mentioned in Ebers Papyrus, circa 1550 BC. The ancient Greeks used wormwood extracts and winesoaked wormwood leaves as remedies and there is also evidence of the existence of a wormwood-flavoured wine around this time made by Hippocrates that was handed down as a cure for digestive and flatulence disorders. Modern day absinthe originated around the time of the French Revolution (1789-1799) when thousands of French loyalists sought safety through exile in Switzerland, Alsace, and other nearby countries. One such elderly émigré was Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a retired French physician who fled to Switzerland and settled in the town of Couvet. Thus far the story is well substantiated. According to popular legend (and Pernod- Ricard’s marketing bumph) Dr. Ordinaire started work on creating a new elixir drink using plant extracts, in particularly wormwood, long considered to have medicinal properties. He sought to make a tonic which made ingestion of the bitter herb more palatable and, in 1792, the good doctor utilised distillation to arrive at his final formulae involving the maceration of fifteen botanicals in grape spirit. These included wormwood bark, star-anise, liquorice, fennel, hyssop, parsley, camomile, spinach and coriander but he called the drink Extrait d’Absinthe after Artemisia absinthium, the Latin name for wormwood. On his death, Dr. Ordinaire left the recipe for the drink and a substantial sum of money to his trusty housekeepers, the Henriod sisters. They made small batches of his potion and started hawking it as Dr. Ordinaire’s Absinthe.
The doctor’s tipple attracted the interest of another French expatriate and lace merchant, Major Daniel-Henri Dubied. After trying the drink Dubied made an offer to the Henriod sisters for both the recipe and their business. A Swiss version of this legend, supported by a 1769 Neuchatel newspaper advertisement for Bon Extract d’Absinthe, suggests that the Henriod sisters were making absinthe long before Dr. Ordinaire’s arrival in the village. Although there is also evidence to show that the doctor not only existed, but actually sold absinthe. Some reports say this was only after his stealing the recipe from the Henriod sisters. Whoever its true originator, the village of Couvet in Switzerland’s Val-de-Travers region is indisputably its spiritual home. And it appears that commercial absinthe distillation for use as a beverage rather than an elixir was started there sometime around 1794 by one Abram-Louis Perrenoud. Thankfully it is undisputed that it was Major Dubied who commercialised absinthe. In 1797 his daughter, Emilie married Abram- Louis Perrenoud’s son, Henri-Louis. That same year Dubied acquired the formula from Abram-Louis (or possibly the Henriod sisters) and employed his son-in-law, Henri-Louis, as he had learnt the art of distillation from his father. In 1798, they started distilling their own absinthe with Dubied’s own sons, Marcelin and Constant, also involved in the business which they named Dubied Père et Fils. In 1805 Henri-Louis changed his name from Perrenoud to Pernod and established his own absinthe manufacturing company called Pernod Fils, just across the border in the French town of Pontarlier. This was chiefly to avoid paying taxes at the French border. Sales of absinthe grew rapidly as French society welcomed the addition of this new drink to the limited choices of bitter quinine tonic wines (quinquinas) available on café menus. The popularity of absinthe was helped by French army doctors prescribing it to soldiers in the 1840s Algerian Campaign to prevent fevers, malaria, and dysentery, caused by the extreme North African environment. Later in the 19th century the phylloxera plagues, beginning in 1862 and lasting through the 1880s, decimated European vineyards leaving the wine and brandy industries on their knees. Cheap and easily obtainable absinthe was an obvious alternative. Its sales boomed in the Parisian cafes frequented by Bohemian luminaries such as Van Gogh, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Picasso who were inspired by its “mind altering” effects.
PROHIBITION OF ABSINTHE
In the late 19th century, the French government became concerned over the consequences to society of such heavy absinthe consumption liken this to government concerns over binge drinking today. By the mid-19th century the Pernod Fils distillery alone was churning out some 20,000 litres a day from 26 alembics. At the height of absinthe distillation in France, 220 million litres a year were produced. Over consumption of absinthe was believed to produce a syndrome called absinthism, characterized by addiction, hyper-excitability and hallucinations. These sufferers were drunks and many were alcoholics. But some of absinthe’s bad effects were possibly caused by unscrupulous manufactures adding cheap and often poisonous ingredients such as copper sulphate for colouring and antimony trichloride to enhance the louching effect. Pernod Fils fought legal battles to prevent imitators and published warnings about inferior absinthes. The myth behind the affects of absinthe going beyond that of just alcohol were supported. And to a large extent, they were driven by the flawed scientific studies of Dr. Valentin Magnan. He forced laboratory animals to consume pure wormwood oil extract and used the resulting violent convulsions observed as proof of his theories. Modern science recognises that this is akin to testing the effects of drinking coffee by feeding animals massive doses of pure caffeine. So this was far from conclusive evidence. He even asserted that the disease was hereditary, and the detrimental effects of absinthe drinking could be passed on to a sufferer’s children. Absinthe was blamed for Van Gogh’s earcutting incident and for filling asylums with people made insane by the drink. By 1880, many Parisians were ordering absinthe by asking for “une correspondence”, meaning “a ticket” in English. This was a reference to a ticket to Charenton, an infamous lunatic asylum on the outskirts of Paris.
Probably the most notorious story occurred in 1905 when a Swiss peasant farm labourer called Jean Lanfray, in a drunken rage shot and killed his pregnant wife and two daughters supposedly as a direct consequence of drinking absinthe. The fact that he was a habitual drunk (and that very day had consumed litres of wine and a good deal of brandy) was not considered to have had any bearing on his actions. A second murder a few days later in Geneva, where a heavy drinker named Sallez also murdered his wife led to an outcry throughout Switzerland. This bad reputation and the rise in the temperance movement led to absinthe being banned, first in 1898 in the Republic of Congo, then by the Belgians in 1905, followed by the Swiss banning its retail sale in 1907, followed by an outright Swiss ban which came into effect in 1910. The Dutch also banned absinthe in 1910, followed by the USA in 1912. Meanwhile in France, the impending First World War brought about renewed efforts to ban absinthe and on 16 August 1914 the Minister of the Interior banned the sale of absinthe as an emergency measure. But the drink continued to circulate in spite of the ban, partly because of the large stocks remaining in warehouses. By this time the French government was convinced that absinthism was destroying the country and under pressure from the conservative newspapers, winemaking associations (still trying to recover following the decimation of European vineyards by Phylloxera), the Temperance League and the escalating world war, absinthe was formally banned in France by presidential decree in January 1915. Finally in 1932, a referendum in Italy led to the ban there.
WORMWOOD & ABSINTHE
Traditionally absinthe is based on Artemisia absinthium wormwood. There are some 180 different varieties of the compositae, of which Artemisia absinthium (grand wormwood) is a member, all have an extremely bitter flavour. These include Artemisia pontica (Petite wormwood), Artemisia dracunculus (tarragon) and Artemisia vulgaris (mugwort), the latter being used in some modern day absinthes. Many Artemisia varieties have insecticide properties but wormwood is the most potent, its name originating in the Middle Ages due to its bark being used to rid tapeworms in the abdomen of human hosts. Wormwood is a shrub-like perennial, native to Europe and Asia, with greenishyellow flowers. Artemisia absinthium or “Grand Wormwood” contains an essential oil or neuro-toxin, thujone, which is hallucinogenic in large doses and fatal in very large doses, though the leaves are fairly innocuous. Sage actually contains more thujone than wormwood. The way thujone acts on the brain is not fully understood but high doses will induce hallucinations, convulsions, brain damage and renal failure. Thujone also occurs naturally in many other plants with culinary uses: not just sage, but rosemary, cedar, saffron, tarragon and lavender. No modern, or indeed original, absinthe brand contains any more than trace amounts of thujone and nothing like the quantities required for it to be a hallucinogen. There is little scientific evidence about thujone and its alleged side effects, short term or long term, but it is certain that consuming large quantities of absinthe will render an imbiber drunk. And over-consumption will damage your health, if only due to absinthes high alcohol content (historically ranging from 55 to 75% abv). It is probably not surprising that the symptoms of absinthism are not unlike those of alcoholism: hallucinations, sleeplessness, tremors and convulsions. It could be that, at the turn of the 20th century, absinthe was simply the fall guy for other types of alcohol disorders, mental illness, epilepsy, and in some cases, even syphilis. Some modern-day drinkers claim they experience a socalled “Secondary Effect” in the form of a stimulating buzz
when drinking absinthe, which some claim is due to the combination of herbs, particularly fenchone from fennel and anethol from anise. There is no scientific evidence to support this. Consequently, these effects are likely to be purely wishful thinking.
SALVATION OF ABSINTHE
George, or should I say “George William Rowley IV” is something of an English aristocrat and happily he conforms to such stereotypical characterisation. Introduce such a man to an illicit spirit nicknamed “the green fairy” and the results are predictably extraordinary. It is beyond question that George was singularly responsible for restoring absinthe to legal status in France, the European Union and the wider world. His La Fée Parisienne was the first Grand Wormwood distilled absinthe to be
distilled in France since the 1915 ban. George’s background is slightly less glamorous than this current position as absinthe saviour and international absinthe brand owner.
In short he was a city boy, working as an international claims broker at Lloyd’s of London specialising in high risks such as terrorism, riots, tsunamis and cyclones the world over. In 1992 this took him to Prague where he became a consultant for a large broking house covering the Czech and Slovak Republics. While living in Prague George, understandably fell in love with the city, and in particular, its full-flavoured Czech beers. This led him to set up his first company, Bohemia Beer House Ltd (which now trades as BBH Spirits) with the aim of exporting Czech beer and giving him an excuse to continue living between Prague and his family pad, Bayford Hall in Hertfordshire, England. With the aid of Radomir, his trusted local assistant and translator he quickly signed up UK rights to beers such as Lobkowicz, Rebel, and his first spirit, the Czech national liqueur, Becherovka.
Anyone who has met George will testify that he is a man who believes in doing things properly and in triplicate. So when George returned to Hertfordshire to start a drinks distribution network from scratch he did something that would later prove crucial to the opening up of the first real market for absinthe. He involved his local Trading Standards Officer – Paul Passi. When his fist first fourteen-wheel truckload of duty-paid beer arrived in 1996, it caused something of a commotion as the winding lanes of his village were not accustom to heavy goods vehicles, not to mention their non English speaking Czech drivers. The beer was transferred to the cellars of Bayford Hall by an improvised scaffolding board shute laid over the stairs. To comply with European labelling legislation, as outlined by his friendly Trading Standards Officer, George opened every case and by hand glued a back label to each bottle. I first met George the following year, late in 1997. I had just launched CLASS Magazine and George was supplying Czech beer to topend London bars and wanted me to judge a cocktail competition made with Becherovka which at that time I’d never heard of. Not six months later George’s imports were to become much more interesting. In early 1998, George came across Hill’s Absinth (without the ‘e’) at that time only available in a few Prague bars. Naturally George set about trying to procure the import rights and during his initial meeting at the distillery learned that the producers had been supplying a private UK buyer and absinthe enthusiast called John Moore, of Black Box Recorder and The Jesus and Mary Chain fame. George had already seen an article John had written for The Idler where he described stumbling across absinth whilst on tour with his band in Prague. John had only been importing a handful of cases for personal consumption and private sales to a handful of friends but had set up a company with Gavin Pretor-Pinney and Tom Hodkinson of The Idler Magazine with a view to commercialising the project. George met with them in 1998 and it was agreed that while they would handle public relations George would take on the difficult task of setting a legal precedent for absinthe as well as handle logistics, design and finance. The quartets new joint venture was named Green Bohemia Ltd. The first step was to ensure that absinthe could legally be imported into the UK, which meant establishing a legal precedent with the Government’s Trading Standards Agency. George discovered that in France there was a blanket assumption that absinthe was illegal and the issue had been swept under the national carpet. George learned that the producers had been supplying a private UK buyer called John Moore, of Black Box Recorder and The Jesus and Mary Chain fame.
REINTRODUCTION OF ABSINTHE TO UK
In the UK it transpired that absinthe had never actually been banned. Little absinthe was consumed here and the only people who had drank absinthe were writers and the sort of well-heeled cosmopolitan types who frequented such watering-holes as the Savoy’s American Cocktail Bar. In London it was gin which had been the alco-pop of its day, not absinthe. Anyway, when the French ban came into force supplies of absinthe to the UK literally dried up and WWI quickly led to its quickly being forgotten.
George studied all the legal issues surrounding spirits and absinthe in the EU and again enrolled that helpful local Trading Standards Officer, Paul Passi, in his battle with a document called EU Council Directive 88/388/EEC. This resulted in the first legal government-signed document on absinthe issued by an EU country since the blanket absinthe bans took effect around the world between 1898 and 1932. It was this watershed document that set the legal precedent for all subsequent absinthe sales in
Europe and now America, although at the time it was in respect to absinth (without the ‘e’) from the Czech Republic then not an EU member state. This document set the precedent to reintroduce not only Czech absinth, but absinthe in general.
Legally cleared to import and sell Czech Absinth, George and John Moore accompanied by Radomir, their indispensible translator and guide headed for the Hill’s Liguere distillery to negotiate a contract with the distiller, Radomil Hill, and his daughter. Custom demanded that every contract term agreed was toasted.
Finally when the contract was ready for signing, a number of stamps were required before it could be viewed as a legal document in the Czech Republic. The party left the distillery at 5.45pm for the five-minute drive to the local notary, whose office closed at 6pm. The celebratory negotiations, torrential rain, slippery cobbles and a (pre-Volkswagen) Skoda nearly scuppered the deal. However, with minutes to spare, on 9th November 1998 the contract for the first legal shipment of absinth since the bans in the early 1900s was signed.
SUGAR & BURN RITUAL
Back in Prague and in celebratory mood, John and George found themselves sat in the lounge at the back of Café FX, above Wenceslas Square, when they witnessed their first ever absinth burning where a sugar cube dosed in absinthe is ignited so the sugar used to sweeten the drink is caramelised. They immediately knew that this dramatic serving method was the way to launch absinth in the UK. Although this “modern” method of serving absinth was wholly unauthentic, it was this ritual that was to capture the public’s interest in their product. The introduction of the “Sugar and Burn” ritual is something which will haunt George for decades to come as well meaning absinthe aficionados see absinth burning as sacrilege. And so does George. It is only Czech style absinth without the “e” which he has ever promoted this way and had I been in his shoes, I’d have done the same thing. Like the innovative slice of lime in the neck of a bottle of Sol made it the beer of choice in the Eighties, the burning ritual drove early sales of absinth.
Without this ritual the absinth(e) craze may never have started and the Green Fairy forgotten for another century. Anyway drinking is meant to be fun and even grown men, despite their mum’s protestations, like playing with matches. It is likely that this Czech method of serving absinth was adapted from the Café Brûlot as this traditional coffee drink calls for a sugar cube soaked with brandy to be ignited.
UK ABSINTHE CRAZE
Less than a month after the supply contract was signed, I was one of the lucky few invited to the launch party of Hill’s Absinth at one of the upstairs rooms in London’s Groucho Club. Journalists from the Daily Telegraph and Evening Standard were amongst the guests but unusually for hacks there was something of a reluctance to try this “dangerous” Green Fairy. They were the heady days before “responsible drinking” so Dick Bradsell and I helpfully led the way, each demonstrating a series of head shots. The consequences proved painful and I had to avoid hot drinks for days as the neat high-proof spirit took its toll on my insides.
During the launch party I remember speaking to George, convinced he was onto a smash hit, only to find he had no distribution in place. Next morning with my first absinth-induced hangover I rung John Coe of Coe Vintners who ended up taking the bulk of the first shipment and becoming the first UK distributor.
The Daily Telegraph published its front page exclusive which caught the attention of
Jeremy Paxman of BBC2’s Newsnight as he reviewed the next day’s papers at the end of the programme. The following morning George received a call from the BBC asking if he could demonstrate the absinth-burning ritual for Newsnight that evening.
Due to the spirits high strength and the image the burning ritual might have portrayed,
ever conscientious, George set upon a program to limit release to carefully selected bars who had received appropriate staff training. Despite this the reaction was predictable and the reopening of the absinthe market was questioned in The House of Lords. Many County Councils mistakenly pulled the product from bars only to find themselves being presented with copies of the original EU certificate which vouched for
When George launched Hill’s Absinth in the UK in 1998 he knew little about it and nor
did practically anyone else. He became aware that Hill’s Absinth may not have been entirely authentic. Hill’s claim that Albin Hill established himself as a wine wholesaler in
1920 and soon after started making his own liqueurs and spirits. In 1947, his son Radomil opened his distillery they maintain that this is when he started making absinth. The next year he was abruptly put out of business by the communist regime seizing his distillery and taking over production of his vodka and other spirits. He reclaimed the distillery after the Velvet Revolution of 1990 and started producing Hill’s Absinth.
There is a scant evidence to show that Radomil was making absinth prior to 1990 and
it appears he made Hill’s absinth by simply mixing essential oils with alcohol rather that
the distilling method used to make traditional French absinthe. Whatever the authenticity of Hill’s, Radomil’s production of his absinth, the young trend setters of Prague adapting the Café Brûlot sugar burn serve and George’s subsequent discovery of it were all key steps in the eventual rediscovery and legalisation of authentic French absinthe.
All George’s slow measured strategy achieved was to create an unfulfilled demand
which was quickly exploited by imitators. Within 18 months of the Groucho Club launch,
the UK market was awash with crude, highalcohol, garishly-coloured, me-too products
from the Czech Republic, Spain, Italy Poland and Hungary. George realised he had to act fast to save his business and the reputation of absinthe, so in 1999 he embarked on campaign to source genuine pre-ban absinthe, ideally by restarting production in France or Switzerland.
George believed he had established a legal precedent. If a product could be legally sold in one EU member state, it could, in theory, be sold in all of them, unless a state had specifically addressed the issue in the Maastricht Treaty. Fortunately for absinthe lovers around the world, he was right and France had overlooked its absinthe ban and no provision for it was made in the Maastricht Treaty.
Whilst unpicking the terms of the 1915 ban, George discovered that the French had only prohibited the selling of absinthe in France, and not the distillation of it. His next move was obvious, to find a distillery which had direct links to absinthe prior to 1915 and commission it to once again make a traditional Absinthe, purely for export. George sort to create a “real absinthe” with impeccable provenance, faithful to an original recipe and distillation methods. His research took him to Auvers-sur-Oise, a small town some eighteen miles north-west of Paris and The French Absinthe Museum, the world’s biggest archive on French absinthe. There he met with its owner and curator, Madame Delahaye who gave him a distinctly cool welcome as she recognised him from the press and did not approve of the Sugar and Burn ritual he had chosen for his electric-blue “so-called absinthe”. However, George was able to persuade Madame
Delahaye that his intentions towards absinthe were honourable and she consented to the use of her archives and personal wealth of knowledge to assist with the recipe and project.
The brand name of La Fée was chosen, inspired by the “green fairy” as absinthe was known in turn-of-the-century Paris. The now iconic eye illustration was commissioned as the brand’s motif. La Fée was to become the first traditional French absinthe to be commercially produced in France since the ban of 1915.
A Parisian pastis distillery that had an original working copper still was co-opted to work with Madame Delayahe on the project. Test distillations began with the results scored according to taste, (both neat and with water), aroma and louche. Herbs were sourced, and the first order for 7,000 bottles was placed on 5th June 2000. The confirmation fax sent by the distillery read: We are pleased to confirm that we have been authorised by the French government office to produce absinthe La Fée for export market only.
In March 2003 George overcame the French ban on the sale of absinthe by changing the name of La Fée Absinthe made for the French market to La Fée Aux Plantes d’Absinthe. Crucially it no longer proclaimed to be an absinthe but made from the plant of the same name – enough of a difference to make it acceptable to French customs, who had previously sat on the product for around six months before releasing it for sale.
ABSINTHE LEGALISATION GOES GLOBAL
George was also directly involved in lifting of the ban imposed in Italy following the referendum of 1932. Working with Vellier, a local distributor based inGenoa, it became clear that when Italy joined the EU and signed the Maastricht Treaty, it had, like France, failed to register its Absinthe ban, effectively rendering it null and void.
One of the few things to celebrate about EU bureaucracy?
Australia, too, had a ban in place, but entering the Australian market turned out to be simplicity itself. Australia and New Zealand share a great deal of common ground, and the decision was taken by both to harmonise their trading standards legislation with that of Europe. Overnight, they adopted the permitted European level of 10 parts per million on Thujone thereby unlocking two new territories courtesy of EU Council Directive No 88/388/EEC.
The Sugar and Burn ritual, the Hill’s absinth’s vibrant colour and softer, low-anis finish were a hit with trade and consumer alike. However, it was a marketing phenomenon
based on inaccuracies and George being George, set out to correct the imbalance between the integrity of the two styles of absinth(e) he was selling and to create an equally authentic La Fée Czech absinthe. The air-conditioned vaults of Schimmel Library, Europe’s oldest and most authoritative collection of works on herbalism, proved invaluable. Already aware of recipes, sent from the library to Bohemia in the 1890s, he was now able to track down the French base recipe which would constitute the base of his second brand, La Fée Absinth Bohemian.
Thus far the US legislation banning absinthe in 1912 had proved impenetrable. Unlike the European bans which merely prohibited the sale of Absinthe, U.S.21CFR172.510 directly prohibited the inclusion of artemisia absinthium unless the final product was thujone-free as determined by official analytical testing. At the end of 2006 this obstacle was suddenly removed as the US followed Australia and New Zealand fell in with EU directive 88/388/EEC (the same document George had used in June 1998) on permitted levels of thujone. In harmony with Europe, the USA lifted the ban on thujone, and decreed a content of 10ppm to be legally acceptable. Sadly for George, this was to be the one market where others beat him in the race to gain legal approval. On 5-March-2007 the French brand Lucid was the first genuine absinthe to obtain a COLA (Certificate of Label Approval) from the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Bureau). This was soon followed by the Swiss brand Kübler with La Fée eventually launching in New York in July 2008.
La Fée Parisienne
French Absinthe, 68% alc./vol. (136°proof) www.lafeeabsinthe.com
Launched in 2000, this was the first traditional absinthe to be commercially
produced in France since it was banned in 1914-15. A mark of La Fée’s authenticity
is its endorsement by Marie-Claude Delahaye, founder and curator of the
Absinthe Museum in Auvers-sur-Oise, France.
La Fée Parisienne is distilled by a Paris-based distiller using copper stills in the classic way with its flavour centred around grand wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and balanced with petti wormwood, green and star anis. These serve to subdue the weight and extreme bitterness of the wormwood and this balance of flavours is typical of a traditional pre ban French Absinthe, as is its 68% abv. Other herbs are used to delicately rain in the dominant wormwood including hyssop and in La Fée’s case an expensive herb found high-up in the Swiss Alps which Madame Delayahe insisted upon and I am told is often missed by many lesser products. Its identity remains under wraps.
In order to ensure a consistent year round product and prevent colour variations between batches, La Fée stabilise their signature green hue with the addition of a small amount of colouring to bolster the naturally occurring chlorophyll. Without this, if the absinthe was exposed to light, the chlorophyll would break down, changing the colour from emerald green to yellow green and then brown.
Taste: Cloudy pale green louche when water is added. Clean, fresh and rounded
aniseed flavours and well-balanced liquorice, mint, lemon, angelica, and rootier
La Fée XS Francaise
French absinthe, 68% alc./vol. (136°proof) www.lafeexs.com
This a premium example of a wine based French absinthe from Pontarlier. The
distiller of La Fée XS Francaise uses his great grand-fathers recipes and distillation
methods to make a truly authentic absinthe.
The ingredients are split in two different herbal parts and those are macerated in the wine based alcohol and distilled separetly. The resulting distillates are blended and then redistilled. Lastly a herbal sack is macerated in the distillate to add the natural hue and final balance of flavour. The absinthe is rested in large oak barrels prior to bottling.
It is classified as an amer, meaning a higher level of wormwood than is usual is used in its production. Due to being coloured soft yellow-green by chlorophyll without additional artificial colouring this absinthe is packaged in a brown bottle to protect its contents from the detrimental effects of ultraviolet light.
It is recommended to dilute La Fée XS Francaise with 4 to 6 parts water, according to taste.
Taste: Pale milky green louche when water is added. Initial strong anise flavour is
quickly joined by bitter wormwood and spice notes. 5/5
La Fée XS Suisse
Swiss absinthe, 53 alc./vol. (106°proof) www.lafeexs.com
This is a high-end absinthe batch distilled in small quantities in absinthe’s
birthplace, Couvet, Val-de-Travers, Switzerland. It is a clear “La Bleue”
absinthe which should be served diluted with 3 to 4 parts iced water without the
addition of sugar.
The botanicals are weighed and macerated in wine alcohol over night (with a high ingredient ratio to spirit). To help ensure consistency a proportion of previous distillation is added. More wine alcohol is added in the morning to reduce the ratio of botanicals to alcohol and the distillation started with the still by direct flame. Only 120 bottles are produced during each distillation and the clear distillate is cut to 53% with demineralised mountain water.
La Fée X•S Suisse contains a noticeably higher level of fennel which is permitted under Swiss regulations but not allowed in French absinthes. The apparent sweetness comes from a particular flower used, no sugar is added.
Taste: Louches milky white when water is added. Simple soft anis and herbal notes
and a higher fennel content than its French counterpart. 5/5
La Fée Bohemian
Czech absinth, 70% alc./vol. (140°proof) www.lafeeabsinthe.com
This La Fée Bohemian absinth has a blue tinge to its aquamarine green colour.
It is distilled south of Prague, in the heart of Bohemia.
Taste: Does not turn cloudy when water is added (as is usual for a Czech absinth).
A very subtle aniseed flavour compared to its French counterpart. Its bold palate has spicy notes and subtle undertones of chamomile, fennel and mint. Reminiscent of Night Nurse medicine, but in a nice way. 4/5