SW: Why are we seeing more absinthe in craft cocktails?
TB: People have rediscovered retro cocktails. And if you want to reconstruct a classic cocktail, you want something that tastes like how it was originally made.
In the first edition of The Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930, there were more than 100 cocktails that called for absinthe. Many of those recipes used it in small amounts. In the late nineteenth century, people liked a dash of absinthe in their cocktails, because they believed it improved the flavor. American cocktail author Charles Baker wrote in one edition of The Gentleman’s Companion that absinthe “fleshes out the flavor” of a cocktail.
SW: What is good absinthe?
TB: With any traditional absinthe, you’re going to find tastes and characteristics that derive from what we call the “Holy Trinity” of absinthe. These are green anise, sweet fennel, and absinthe wormwood.
Some components of absinthe age easily in the bottle. There is sufficient concentration to change flavor through oxidization. We age our bottlings an average of three years. The absinthe becomes mellower, and the flavors better harmonize.
There are craft distillers in America making good absinthe. But they don’t have access to the historically accurate plants that I do. This means their absinthe is not quite vintage style. Of course, this is important to the whole category, because it adds variety.
SW: Are there absinthe connoisseurs?
TB: The connoisseur interest has been growing steadily. Most people like to add drops of water to it, a little bit at a time, until it becomes entirely cloudy. There are also a growing number of people who want to try it neat. This is usually not their first rodeo with a spirit over 100 proof.
SW: What is the future of absinthe?
TB: It’s steadily increasing worldwide. If any bar wants to have a craft cocktail menu, then they have to have absinthe on hand.
Of course, there are still cheap knockoff absinthes. Thankfully, the internet is helping expose these impostors. All the more reason why consumer education will continue to be so important. Absinthe is the only spirit that needs to be sold with an owner’s manual.