What are the Best Absinthe Brands to Buy?
Vieux Pontarlier: Citrusy and herbal with a strong fennel note, this absinthe tastes as traditional as it gets. It’s similar to what big absinthe fans like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald were sipping in Paris back in the day, not like what you’ll get at a cheap dive bar.
Pernod Absinthe Original Recipe: This absinthe is made using a brandy base and wormwood from Pontarlier, France. It’s based off of a recipe from the 1800s and tastes slightly vegetal with black liquorice and lemon zest notes. You can find it in liquor stores and bars across the country, and it’s one of the best commercial absinthes that you can buy.
St. George Absinthe Verte: The first American absinthe made after the production ban was lifted in 2007. It’s infused with botanicals from around the Alameda, California distillery, and has a bit of a savory flavor to go along with the licorice and anise notes.
Leopold Brothers Absinthe Verte: Leopold Brothers makes their absinthe in Denver using a base of Chilean pisco. It’s infused with anise, fennel, grande wormwood, lemon balm and hyssop (a relative of the mint family). It’s fine to drink on its own, while a little water and sugar will add candied flavors of cinnamon, lime and licorice.
Delaware Phoenix Meadow of Love: Hailing from the Catskills in upstate New York, Delaware Phoenix’s absinthe uses ingredients sourced by hand by the distiller. It’s delicate and floral for an absinthe, and works well both in an absinthe drip and in cocktails.
How Do I Drink Absinthe and Pastis Straight?
To prepare absinthe in the traditional way, mix it with cold water, which not only helps dilute its potency but also creates a cloudy effect called le louche, or “the clouding.” This visual effect turns French absinthe’s deep green color to a milky, iridescent hue and turns the Swiss clear version into a liquid fog. During absinthe’s turn-of-the-century heyday, bartenders used drip fountains to dramatically showcase the louche. Don’t own an antique absinthe fountain? Simply drizzle water into the absinthe from a glass or carafe to recreate the effect at home. Both Swiss and French traditionalists add about three parts ice cold water to one part absinthe.
French-style absinthe is sometimes sweetened with a cube of sugar, but the Swiss usually skip this step. Place the sugar on a slotted spoon balanced on the rim of a glass. Then, slowly pour the water over the sugar, melting it into the liquor. Why not just use a fork? In the 1800s, sugar came in lumpy rocks rather than perfect cubes. The curvature of a spoon helped keep the sugar from falling into the glass and also added to the drink’s visual spectacle. This piece of absinthe paraphernalia, known as absinthiana, became a symbol of status. Cafes would use simple designs, while the wealthy commissioned engraved specialty sets from a silversmith.
Like absinthe, pastis is also diluted with water to balance its bitterness — typically five parts cold water to one part spirit. This too creates the louche effect and changes pastis’s appearance from a dark, transparent amber to a soft, milky yellow.
Notable Absinthe Cocktails
Corpse Reviver #2: A celebrated member of the Corpse Reviver cocktail series, originally created as a hangover cure, #2 is perhaps the most popular, as it’s equally strong and refreshing.
Rattlesnake: Similar to a whiskey sour, this cocktail gets extra kick from an absinthe rinse in the glass.
Brunelle: Some people add gin to this classic cocktail, but we prefer the original, using absinthe as the sole spirit.
Sazerac: Another drink made with an absinthe rinse, this rye-based cocktail is a New Orleans favorite and has experienced a resurgence in recent years.
Chrysanthemum: This deliciously complex classic mixes dry vermouth, Bénédictine and absinthe.
Remember the Maine: Featured in the writing of the great Charles H. Baker, this take on the Manhattan gets some sweetness from cherry liqueur and a bite from absinthe.
Absinthe Frappe: This simple, refreshing cocktail mixes absinthe with crushed ice, soda, mint and a touch of simple syrup.
Notable Pastis Cocktails
Death in the Afternoon: Ernest Hemingway is credited with inventing this cocktail with absinthe, but it quickly became one of the most popular pastis libations during the ban.
Pastis can be used as an absinthe substitute in almost any classic cocktail, so go ahead and experiment with a few!