Earlier this year, I was invited to an absinthe tasting at Peche in Austin where I learned a little about the spirit and the different brands and varieties that are available. We were served two absinthe drips which are nothing more than absinthe in a glass over which a sugar cube has been placed in a spoon so that water can be slowly poured over the sugar cube into the glass. The first was made with Pernod and the second with St. George absinthe. I learned that St. George has much more herbal flavor while Pernod tastes more of anise. I also learned that thujone, the substance which years ago was incorrectly thought to be dangerous in absinthe, naturally exists in higher concentration in rosemary than it does in wormwood which is one of the many ingredients in absinthe. I was intrigued by what I learned that evening, but I hadn't gotten around to adding absinthe to my home liquor cabinet until I received a review copy of the new book Absinthe Cocktails by Kate Simon. It's a slim book that offers a quick history of absinthe, how it was banned by 1915 in the US, France, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, and Brazil, and how it began to reappear about ten years ago returning to the US market in 2007. The book includes a chapter of the Classics which are absinthe cocktails like the absinthe drip, sazerac, waldorf, and doctor funk which is a tiki bar favorite with lime and lemon juices and grenadine. The second chapter of recipes is The New Guard, and this includes the best absinthe cocktails from current top bartenders. These updated drinks include the likes of the shiso malt sour, my oh my ty, and la lucha sigue which involves tequila, sweet vermouth, Nonino, and orange bitters. There's also a handy glossary for looking up less familiar ingredient names, and suggested substitutions are included with the definitions. With cocktails spanning simple classics to sweet or complex concoctions, this book offers something for every taste.
Right away, I was curious about the tequila sazerac and wanted to find out how the flavors of tequila and absinthe mixed. To make the cocktail which is in the photo above, a glass was filled with ice and set aside to chill. In a mixing glass, tequila, a simple syrup made with agave nectar, and Peychaud's bitters were stirred with ice. Until I shopped for this recipe, I had no idea that Peychaud's bitters were so difficult to locate. I heard from several people that the easiest thing to do is to bring some home when you visit New Orleans. Had I only known that the last time I was in New Orleans, I would have brought home several bottles. After a few calls, I finally located some at a downtown liquor store, and I was ready to stir and sip. Once the cocktail was well mixed in the ice, the ice in the glass was discarded, and just enough absinthe was poured into the chilled glass to coat it. The interesting thing about these cocktails is that very little absinthe is used, but the flavor is always prominent. The tequila mixture was strained into the coated glass, and lime peel was twisted over the top and added as a garnish. This was a strong, sipping kind of cocktail, and the tequila and absinthe married nicely. Peychaud's bitters accented the licorice flavor well.
Next, I turned back to the Classics chapter for the morning glory fizz, and that is shown in the photo below. This was a shaken cocktail with scotch, lemon juice, simple syrup, a scant quarter teaspoon of absinthe, and an egg white. After shaking with ice to chill and froth, soda water was added. Once in a chilled glass, a dash of Angostura bitters was dropped on top. This was a tart and tasty drink, and that small amount of absinthe added nice herbal and anise flavor with the dash of bitters preventing the drink from being too sweet. It was interesting to taste how absinthe mixed so well with different ingredients, and I'm looking forward to trying several more combinations, both classic and new, from the book.