Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Day 86 - Drinking Absinthe

I have never tried Absinthe. Throughout my adult life I have maintained a curiosity in the “green fairy”, but I never took time to learn more about Absinthe’s origins, its basic characteristics, or its legend. Basically, I knew the drink was a strong concoction that was the preference of many famous artists and poets from centuries past, and I knew many countries banned it for years as a result of a myth the drink caused hallucinations and insanity. Outside of those facts, I knew nothing of the drink. I didn’t know where it came from, how it was made, what is tasted like, or where to obtain it. Regardless, the mystery behind the drink was enough to make me want to try it, which inspired me to make drinking Absinthe a part of my “I have never...” journey.

My inquiring mind guiding me, I set to work trying to find a place that served Absinthe in the Madison area. As I researched the topic, I quickly learned the sale of true Absinthe, the stuff with Grande Wormwood in it, was made legal in the United States in 2007.  My hopes heightened, I turned my focus to finding a local establishment that served the drink, which revealed a local craft beer tavern, the Malt House, served several varieties of Absinthe. In turn, I made plans to try Absinthe for the first time on my next “Tasty Tuesday”, which happened to be tonight.

The real deal...
When I arrived home from work tonight, Rachael was busy cooking a meal to help me with my ongoing “I have never...” sub-challenge, being a vegetarian for a week. Happy to have her support, I took care of a few things around the house and took a few nibbles of her vegetarian paella as it cooked to perfection. Once we finished with our tasks, Rachael and I tidied up a bit before we left the house and made our way to the nearby Malt House. Upon arriving, I was surprised to find the tavern was the slowest I have ever seen it, but the openness and quiet in the establishment somehow seemed to suit the fading summer evening. After briefly looking over a menu on the wall, Rachael and I grabbed the two closest stools and sat down at the end of the aged wooden bar running the length of the building. As we sat, a bartender approached us and casually asked us how he could help us. I was quick to state my intentions of trying Absinthe, which prompted the man to open a nearby drink menu and explain the available options. I advised him I knew next to nothing about Absinthe and that I wanted the most authentic experience with the best Absinthe they had. He nodded in understanding and asked Rachael for her order before turning back to the bar to prepare our drinks. A few moments later, the man returned with Rachael’s strawberry rhubarb beer, a small cone-shaped glass, and a narrow bottle containing a light green liquid.

Getting ready
I quickly examined the contents of the bottle as it sat on top of the bar. “That has wormwood in it, right?” I asked as I leaned toward the bottle. “That’s all we serve” the man replied as he grabbed a few pieces of equipment from under the bar and set them on the surface in front of me. Pouring the Absinthe into the small glass, he explained he would set a perforated spoon over the rime of the glass, place a sugar cube on it, and set it ablaze. Pointing to a small, legged metal container to my left, he continued, stating the metal container would then be placed on top of the glass and chilled water would drip down over the remaining sugar. Once the sugar disintegrated, he said, the drink would be ready for consumption.

Acknowledging his remarks, I watched on as the bartender followed through with each of the aforementioned steps. As he worked, the scent of licorice and burning sugar filled the air. The sight of the purple flame dancing over the rim of the glass was mesmerizing as the sugar cube slowly dwindled and dripped into the glass. Moments later, the bartender poured small glasses of water and ice into the metal container and placed it on top of the glass. My eyes fixed on the apparatus, I watched as small drips of water washed the remaining sugar into the glass and blended into the Absinthe. After a few seconds, the bartender removed the metal container from the glass and poured it out. “Alright. You’re ready.” he said gesturing toward the glass of Absinthe. In response to his remark, I lifted the Absinthe from the bar and gave it one last look before putting the glass to my lips taking a drink.

My first drink of Absinthe is something I will never forget. The taste of licorice was apparent in that first sip, and the drink was surprisingly smooth despite its 65% alcohol content. Notably, the drink wasn’t sweet from the sugar cube. It was simply balanced and delicious. In the best way possible, the Absinthe’s unique flavor was unlike anything I had drunk before, and greeted the change with a smile. Over the next 30 minutes, I sipped at the glass as Rachael and I chatted and looked over the Malt House drink menu. By the time I was nearing the bottom of the glass I felt a slow, smooth buzz from the alcohol starting to nip at my senses. It wasn’t strong or overwhelming. It was just good and steady. I could see why artists and poets liked the stuff.

Drink on...
Eventually, I topped off the drink with one last sweet sip from the sugar laden bottom of the glass. Excited by the experience, I confirmed Rachael was driving us back home before asking the bartender to try another brand of Absinthe. He was happy to oblige and worked through the same involved process preparing the drink before turning the glass back over to me. With night setting in, I took my time working through the next drink. It wasn’t as good as the first, and was much tamer in flavor and strength. Regardless it was enjoyable enough to keep me at the bar for little longer. When I finally hit the bottom of the glass, I still felt the same stable buzz but I was definitely ready to go home. In turn, I had the bartender tally up my bill, settled, and prepared to leave.

When Rachael and I arrived home we spent some time looking at pictures from the night and talking about the experience. As we spoke, I thought about how surprising the experience was for me. I didn’t expect to have such an insightful and particular experience from trying a simple drink, but I walked away knowing I had found unique drink that I will undoubtedly seek out again. I never thought drinking Absinthe for the first time would provide such a memorable experience, but I’m sure glad it did. It’s amazing what one can discover with an open mind and a little motivation to try new things...

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