Thursday, December 17, 2009
Check back later this week for an interesting commentary on the marketing of a certain absinthe brand!
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
A closer look at Pernod
“In 1805, Henri-Louis Pernod partnered with Major Dubied to found Pernod Fils and the first commercial absinthe distillery."
A similar statement is also made on their label, again suggesting that the distillery in France was the first absinthe distillery.
Really? This doesn't match the information on Pernod's own website http://www.pernod.net/histoire/index.htm where it states:
"At the end of the 18th century, a man by the name of Major Dubied began distilling the elixir professionally. A few years later in 1805, his son-in-law, Henri-Louis Pernod, opened a distillery in France."Collectors have located and posted a 1896 Maison Pernod Fils promotional booklet http://www.oxygenee.com/1896-Pernod-Fils-Translation.pdf which states:
"Little by little, however, thanks to its fragrance and pleasant taste, the elixir came to the attention of not only the sick, but to that of more and more fans, so that the recipe had already acquired monetary value when when Mr. Henri-Louis Pernod acquired it to exploit it commercially. This happened in 1797. It was at that time the first absinthe factory was built. The establishment was created under extremely modest conditions, even for Couvet; the building where the industry was born still exists; it measures eight meters long by four meters broad by four meters high. Subsequently enlarged, the factory was not long in becoming too small and, in 1805, Mr. Pernod not being able to satisfy demand by the French customers which had taken to his product with a marked favor, fixed upon Pontarlier as the place to avoid the high taxes levied by the tax department upon Swiss Absinthe."
In short, literature produced by Pernod in 1896 and on their internet site today contradicts the 1805 claim at the top of the article: Switzerland, and in particular, Couvet remain the birthplace of absinthe, despite Pernod's attempt to annex it! Not to mention the fact that the evidence above shows Pernod wasn't the 'creator' of absinthe.
Now let's move on to the marketing of the product and the product itself.
Having researched absinthe's history for years, I've run in to multiple accounts of the controversies surrounding absinthe, and its prohibition throughout much of the world in the early 1900s.
Many of the myths surrounding absinthe, such as its ability to case hallucinations were largely popularized during the 1990's, during the rise of 'Bohemian style' absinths, which bear no resemblance to the Belle Epoque products of France and Switzerland. Mentions of hallucinations during the Belle Epoque were in relation to end-stage alcoholic patients who were going through alcohol withdrawal in sanitariums, and were not directly related to absinthe consumption specifically.
However, on Pernod's website, this passage can be seen:
Why would a brand which was victimized by prohibitionist fears and competing interests during the Belle Epoque use the same information that was once used to bring about its demise? Has Pernod eschewed quality, integrity and truth in favor of a campaign that attracts a crowd that cut its teeth on Bohemian brands looking for the next high?
Well, why don't we take a look at the product itself? From Pernod's marketing material:
Pernod® Aux Plantes d'Absinthe Superieur is based on the original absinthe recipe and today returns to restore its reputation for quality and handcrafted excellence. This 136 proof spirit is distilled from three primary ingredients, Grande Wormwood, Fennel, and Star Anis producing a light green and hint of amber color with a dominant flavor of anis, balanced with wormwood and a citrusy finish.
Having tried samples of Pernod Fils from multiple bottles ranging from the late 1800's through its Spanish brands in the 1960s, the new product bears little resemblance to the original. In a sense, the above statement is true (you can base a recipe on something, but have it be completely different). But in the same sense, ALL absinthes are loosely based on the same original recipe.
Here are some comparisons.
1)Pernod Fils absinthe of the Belle Epoque was naturally colored by soaking herbs in the distillate and drawing out the chlorophyll. The new brand is artificially colored as noted on its label.
2)Pernod Fils absinthe of the Belle Epoque used a recipe with high quality wormwood. The new brand has a barely detectable wormwood flavor. What flavor is there doesn't speak to high quality herb choice.
3) Pernod Fils absinthe of the Belle Epoque had a flavor that was dominated by high quality green anise. The new brand has the telltale flavor and aroma of lower quality star anise. Which by the way, is SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper as well.
4) Pernod Fils absinthe of the Belle Epoque exudes quality and points to high quality base alcohol and herbs. The new brand does not. It would not surprise me in the slightest if I found out much of the flavor came from oils and extracts as opposed to distilled herbs.
5) During the Wormwood Society's first annual blind tasting event, held in September of 2009, Pernod absinthe scored 17th out of 22 brands. Below Pernod were Le Tourment Verte, Mata Hari, La Fee, Koruna and Green Fairy. Several of those aren't even considered absinthes by experienced drinkers. That doesn't point to quality.
Make no mistake. Pernod Fils was THE gold standard of absinthe during the Belle Epoque. I just wish they took the time to employ the same level of quality and care in their new brand. Especially since they advertise it as a product of high quality. It's extremely disappointing to see the direction the new product has taken. It's even more disappointing to see so many of their regional reps having little or no education regarding absinthe, its history and its preparation.
For reviews of Pernod absinthe, please check out the Wormwood Society's review page.
*Footnote: Calls and emails to Pernod to get their comments on the above have not been returned.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Absinthe Original - Don't Believe the Hype
While proponents of authentic absinthe have always maintained that properly distilled absinthe is low in thujone, and that absinthe doesn't cause any deliterious effects aside from that of normal alcohol, others had used carefuly crafted misinformation and preyed on the club crowd with promises of aphrodisiacs and hallucinations.
Many of the brands who were touting their high thujone content before absinthe was again legalized in the US coincidentally and quietly began removing claims of hallucinations and other wild effects from their promo material. Many of them blatantly changed the thujone information on their websites without an explanation. All of them just so happen to now fall below the legal limit in the US of 10 ppm of thujone. Funny that.
But even with so many companies changing around their lies (no, not telling the truth, just telling different lies) to make a quick buck, some have steadfastly held on to their mantra of "drink now, ask why the effects didn't happen later."
Enter the promotional material I received from Absinthe Original today via email. Here's what they had to say about their product:
The so-called absinthe available in the U.S. contains no thujone, the psychoactive element that gives real absinthe its kick. Other absinthe manufacturers, (particularly those selling in the US), are so scared at the stigma of thujone that they decide not to use wormwood in their beverages. Yet, without wormwood, many wouldn’t consider liquor a true absinthe. Such reasoning is appropriate, especially considering the fact that real absinthe is derived from wormwood’s scientific name, Artemisia Absinthium.
However, our range of REAL ABSINTHE ORIGINAL is made from 100% wormwood, so you can be assured you’ll be getting the real thing if you decide to order securely and safely online.
So, in response, I've put together some educational information for those of you out there still wondering whether there really is something to all of the hype doled out by unscrupulous marketers such as those above. Let's dissect the above paragraph:
The so-called absinthe available in the U.S. contains no thujone, the psychoactive element that gives real absinthe its kick. - While it is indeed true that the U.S. has a legal limit of 10 ppm of thujone, this sentence is still very misleading.
- Thujone is not a recreational drug. Thujone does not provide any enjoyable effects. In high enough levels, thujone can cause renal failure and seizures, but I wouldn't consider that desireable.
- The term 'real' absinthe should refer to what was being consumed during the height of absinthe's popularity in the Belle Epoque. That being the case, Absinthe Original doesn't posess the qualities of 'real' absinthe.
- 'Real' absinthe of the Belle Epoque did not have high levels of thujone, contrary to what antiquated scientific theories hypothesized. The most recent studies have shown that many Belle Epoque absinthes had thujone levels that fell BELOW the legal US limits! Almost all of those that were analyzed fell below the EU legal limit of 35 ppm.
- Many absinthes that claim to have high thujone levels in fact have very little if any thujone, according to EU analysis of many online brands.
Other absinthe manufacturers, (particularly those selling in the US), are so scared at the stigma of thujone that they decide not to use wormwood in their beverages. - This is patently false. There is only one brand in the US that has decided to use something other than the traditional wormwood (Artimisia Absinthium): Absente. They began using Southern Wormwood (Artimisia Abrotanum). All other brands (that I'm aware of) that have been produced and/or sold in the US since 2007's legalization utilize authentic Artimisia Absinthium.
Yet, without wormwood, many wouldn’t consider liquor a true absinthe. Such reasoning is appropriate, especially considering the fact that real absinthe is derived from wormwood’s scientific name, Artemisia Absinthium. - Absolutely true. The Wormwood Society does not recognize Absente as an absinthe.
However, our range of REAL ABSINTHE ORIGINAL is made from 100% wormwood, so you can be assured you’ll be getting the real thing if you decide to order securely and safely online. - If you're looking for the 'real thing', the spirit that was consumed during the Belle Epoque, Absinthe Original isn't it. Feel free to view the Wormwood Society's review. And if the product is made from 100% wormwood, then that technically (I'm nitpicking here, I know) would mean that they don't use any other herbs, thereby making this a Wormwood Bitters, NOT an absinthe.
Lastly, levels of thujone do not indicate quality of absinthe. There is absolutely no evidence to point to any mention of thujone levels in Belle Epoque advertizing of absinthe. It wasn't a factor. It only became popular during the 1990's when brands such as Absinthe Original began to hype it as a way to drive sales to club goers.
As a parting gift, I leave you with a passage from the Lancet, published in 1868 in response to the original assertions that Absinthe itself deliterious effects:
“For our own part, we have never been convinced that there is anything in the symptoms of acute or chronic absinthism as they are described, essentially different from those of acute or chronic alcoholism which has been produced by the imbibition of innumerable drams of any spirit.
We have repeatedly seen the whole train of symptoms, which are now so much talked of, produced by the constant drinking of brandy or rum. As for hallucinations, there is nothing more common. At any rate, it will take a good deal of very solid and precise evidence to convince us that the trifling amount of essence of wormwood contained in the liquor called absinthe, adds any considerable poisonous power to the natural influence of some 20 or 30 ounces per diem of a highly concentrated alcohol.”
- “Absinthe,” The Lancet, Volume 91, Issue 2332, 8 May, 1868
Thursday, June 11, 2009
May and June's Goings On
1) Boston Trip: The trip up to Boston was wonderful. I was able to interview 16 different fund managers to get some insight into their funds and the markets, which gave me some great talking points. After the conference, I met up with Scuto and RJordan from the Wormwood Society and Fee Verte so we could head to 'Drink' for a few cocktails.
The bar was fantastic, with great atmosphere, fantastic mixologists, and unbelievable drinks. We had one cocktail newb, and one non-drinker in the party (I was neither), so it was a interesting group for a cocktail bar. We were lucky enough to pair up with Misty Kalkofen, mixologist extraordinaire and founder of LUPEC Boston, who got right down to asking us what types of drinks we liked, then began her art of drink construction from there. Over the course of the next few hours, she made for me multiple cocktails with Rye and Absinthe as a base, and branching out into Chartreuse amongst other things. Of those I took note, I had a Diamond Back, a Sazerac, a Vieux Carre and a Lawhill. We also got to sample some of their tasty Hibiscus Punch. Scuto got some of those, but other goodies as well. I was happy to see how his experience totally blew away his expectations! I think we've got a convert.
I highly recommend you seek out Drink and Misty if you're ever in Boston.
2) The long awaited Absinthe article I'd been working on for Mutineer Magazine was published last week! I pulled Gwydion Stone from Marteau Absinthe and the WS as well as Ted Breaux of the Jade and Lucid brands to help put together a kind of Absinthe 101. Lots of history and information, but high level enough that it could hold anyone's attention. It's a fantastic magazine anyway, so I suggest EVERYONE buys a subscription. It's so cheap, and it's totally worth it.
3) Monteleone Cocktail Competition - For the 60th Anniversary of the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone, the hotel, in conjunction with the organizers of the Tales of the Cocktail, held a contest to create the new Monteleone Cocktail. Entries came in from around the world, from some of the best mixologists. The entries were pared down to 5 finalists based on ingredients, ease of preparation, taste and relation to New Orleands. Those 5 cocktails were judged by the finalists of last year's Top Chef competition.
According to the organizers, my cocktail was the overwhelming favorite! So now my cocktail will be a feature on the cocktail menu at the Carousel Bar and I'll also get a 4 night stay for free at the hotel during the TotC! Here's a picture of the Top Chef crowd with my cocktail and following that is the recipe:
2 oz Sazerac Rye
1 1/2 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
1/2 oz Domaine De Canton Ginger Liqueur
2 dashes Fee Brothers Orange Bitters
Splash of Ginger Ale
Shake ingredients and strain into a julep cup or cocktail glass with crushed ice. Garnish with orange slice.
4) Lastly the Wormwood Society is now on Twitter and also on Facebook. We will be doing Top Ten lists and plenty of other cool information about absinthe each week. Make sure to follow us!
June Bar Update
Stirrings Simple Syrup
Stirrings Grenadine (Imbibe magazine's top Grenadine)
Fentiman's Fermented Tonic Water (AWESOME!!)
Carpano Antica Vermouth
Delaware Phoenix Walton Waters Absinthe
Delaware Phoenix Meadow of Love Absinthe
Del Maguey Pechuga Mezcal
Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal
Del Maguey Tobala Mezcal
Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal (Mezcal with Agave syrup)
Corzo Plata tequila
Centenario Hibiscus tequila
Hudson Valley Rye
Spirit of the Hudson Apple vodka
Compass Box Asyla Whisky
Compass Box Oak Cross Whisky
Clear Creek Eau de Vie Limosine Cask aged
Nonino Chestnut Honey distillate (distilled honey taken from bees who only foraged on chestnut trees)
Nonino Citrus Tree Honey distillate (same as above, only with citrus trees)
Pretty good month!
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Off to Boston!
Friday, April 17, 2009
Absinthe Tasting with Gary Vaynerchuck
Here's the back story:
I've been watching Gary do wine tastings on his site, WineLibraryTV.com for quite a while now. I've always enjoyed his high energy, no pretense approach to wine. It brings it out of the stuffy shadows and snobbery that a lot of people equate with wine specialists. If you didn't know, his show is available on iTunes, so it can be automatically downloaded each day.
Anyway, back in July of last year, I was surprised to see an episode of Scotch pop up, and I got to thinking: if he is branching out and doing other things, he'd probably be interested in trying an absinthe episode.
I emailed him the next day, explaining to him who I am and a little about absinthe. I told him that in many ways, I liken absinthe to wine, in that after it's properly diluted, it has the same relative strength, and just as much depth of flavor.
I heard back within the day, with Gary saying he loved the idea! Planning the date proved to be harder than anticipated, but we finally nailed it down about two months ago.
All in all, it was a great experience. My only disapointment was that we were forced to cut out one of the brands I brought due to time constraints. Sorry to Marc Bernhard and his wonderful absinthe, Pacifique. I didn't have a choice in the matter.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Monthly update: Latest acquisitions
I took a jaunt downtown to visit fellow WS member, Joe Riley at Ace Beverage in NW DC after a meeting. While it's not the biggest store I've seen, as he said, "We make due with what we've got." That he does. They've got an amazing selection of some great liquors and wines that I haven't been able to find anywhere else, including all of the Del Magey Mezcal offerings, Marteau absinthe, the full line of Haus Alpenz offerings and a ton more. I took the opportunity to complete my Haus Alpenz collection as well as pick up some other syrups I'd been meaning to get.
Along with that, I received some nice goody bags throughout the month too.
Scarlet Ibis bespoke rum
Fee Brothers Orgeat
La Fee X.S. (yuck)
Bob's Bitters from the U.K. - Lavender, Cardamom, Coriander, Vanilla, Licorice, Grapefuit, and Ginger
Absinthe (not including vintage): 135
Others (cordials, schnapps, etc): 97
Latest Absinthe Tasting
1) Big news on the absinthe education front. I've enlisted the help of several Wormwood Society members to contribute to an upcoming absinthe feature in a prominant magazine. It will be both the cover story and also an 8+ page spread. It should be great! I'll hold off on announcing which publication until everything is finalized.
2) I'll be visiting with Gary 'Vay-ner-CHUCK' on WineLibraryTV to go over several brands of absinthe that are now available in the US. We tape on April 8th. I'll post airing info as it becomes available.
3) The latest date for the TasteDC Absinthe Tasting event has been set for May 14th again at the Chi Cha Lounge in NW DC. I believe the house absinthes will still be featured (Kubler, Lucid and Pernod) as well as several others that I've been able to procure, which at this point will probably be Marteau, Leopold Brothers and Obsello with a potential showing of Pacifique. The last event went fabulously, although I did have some trip ups with the history presentation. I'd tried to throw too much into too little time and it got a little sloppy. This time it should go much more smoothly, since I know exactly how much time I have.
4) Posted a point/counterpoint article regarding some new 'absinth' (notice there's no 'e') products coming to the U.S. market over on The Real Absinthe Blog.
1) A post about the last absinthe tasting event
2) Another Scotch tasting event recap
3) A roundup of the WineLibraryTV taping
See you around!
Friday, March 13, 2009
The Durian cometh...
Anthony Bourdain on the other hand, slops it up like the best stinky cheeses.
First was my quest to find a purveyor. Luckily, the DC area is chock full of Asian markets that sell all sorts of durian comestibles: Fresh, frozen, durian juice, durian ice cream, durian Popsicles, etc. I thought my best bet would be just to go with durian au naturale.
On my way home from the market, I quickly realized that there was no way my wife was going to let me eat this thing in the house. Even in it's partially frozen state, it still stank to high heaven! Think rotten egg, onion and vanilla pudding all mixed up in a big ol' bucket. That's durian aroma for you.
Grabbing a cutting board, I brought it out onto the deck to continue to thaw. It would be mine the following day...
Properly rested and prepared for my culinary journey, I grabbed my trusty cleaver and walked out to meet my new friend.
Now thoroughly thawed, I could tell that I was a very very lucky man to have kept it outside as opposed to in the house overnight. Even with the breeze, the smell permeated everything. It's unmistakable, and unavoidable. And it only gets stronger when you cut into it. As you open it, you do get a bit more of a sweet scent, which makes it a bit more tolerable, but still not a scent that most Americans equate with anything other than spoilage. Something similar to old pumpkin. You know, the smell you get about a week after Halloween, when your carved pumpkins start to get a bit gamey?
I'd heard from several sources that durian is best eaten with your nose plugged, as the smell and taste aren't necessarily linked. I'd beg to differ.
The taste itself is odd. Not totally off-putting, but not totally enjoyable either. It's a combination of custard, papaya, celery, squash, and shallots. The sweetness is what you first taste, then you get the shallot/light sweet onion flavor in the back of the mouth. It's something that brings two distinct emotions, one of wanting to gag, but one wanting to have more. You have to keep reminding yourself that the oniony flavor isn't due to rotting, or going bad, it's just the natural flavor.
The texture is probably the strangest part. The only way to describe it is like very hard scrambled eggs, with a bit of the membraney/stringy type texture of overripe mango. It's tough to get used to.
I think the hardest thing to deal with is the 'recurrences'. Durian seems to fester in your stomach, creating a lot of gasses that you regurgitate for the next several hours, which taste and smell just as strongly as the actual fruit. Definitely keep stocks of breathmints and Beano.
Overall, it's not bad, but you definitely have to have an open mind when you attack it. It's something that, at first taste, I wasn't very fond of, but becomes an acquired taste. Now, I can eat them without a problem. But, as Anthony Bourdain said, durian is definitely best eaten alone.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
My empire expands!
I'm excited to be part of such an active resource. I think it will fit well as a companion to the Wormwood Society, as each focuses on separate yet related issues. The Wormwood Society's main page focuses mainly on educational resources, while the RAB focuses more on current events and interviews. Both are sorely needed during this all-too-important time of absinthe's infancy in the U.S. market, where as much TRUE information as possible is required to see absinthe become a staple in every bar. We'll also be working towards the goal of separating inherent product interests from unbiased information.
Further, I feel it will help to bring to fruition our goal of providing a Wormwood Society e-zine. While it's not at the forefront of most agendas right now, I think it will be an indispensible addition once it gets off the ground.
Thanks to Alan Moss for his consideration. I'm looking forward to the blog's continued success!
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Bruichladdich Octomore edition 01.1
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Scotch tasting on 1-16-09
After going over a few options as to what to present, we decided on a rundown of the Whisky producing regions of Scotland. Since the Highlands area has such a wide diversity of flavors, I chose to include two separate offerings from that region.
We went over some of the basics of Scotch, including how it's produced, the laws surrounding Whisky production in Scotland, and also what influences the flavor of the final product. Then we got into the drink!
From lightest to heaviest:
Lowlands: Auchentoshan 16 y.o. 58.9% - A.D. Ratray Special bottling
Nose: soda bread, sweet meringue and citrus
Flavor: citrus, honey, malt and grass
Notes: Very easy to sip. I'd consider this closer to the profile of an Irish whisky than a Scotch.
Central Highlands: Edradour 10 y.o.
Nose: creamy and nutty with a light sweetness
Flavor: Sweet with almonds with a gentle hint of smoke. Dry on the finish
Speyside: BenRiach 16 y.o. 46%
Nose: hazlenuts, honey and toast
Flavor: malty, fruity and sweet with soft mulled spices and vanilla. Just a touch of smoke.
East Highlands: Glen Garioch 15 y.o. 46% - Whisky Galore Special Bottling
Nose: Lavender and oak
Flavor: medium bodied, fuller mouth feel than the previous three, slight smokiness, quite peppery in the finish.
Campeltown: Glen Scotia 12 y.o. 62.3% - Gordon McPhail Special Cask Strength Bottling
Nose: Spicy with hints of mulled wine and plums
Flavor: Very peppery, spicy and oily with good peating
Notes: Watering brought out strong notes of milk chocolate
Islay: Lagavulin 16 y.o.
Nose: cognac and chocolate with a touch of clover
Flavor: heavy and oily. Starts sweet and finishes very smoky.
Notes: Water brings out a bit of plastic in both the aroma and flavor
Overall, the tasting went wonderfully. The crowd favorite for the evening was the Glen Garioch.
So, let me introduce myself.
My wife and I moved to the DC area back in 2000, where I immediately began setting up and growing my financial planning practice. I love what I do. I sleep good at night knowing I'm helping clients reach their financial goals. I also have an obsession with the psychology of investing, and how it affects someone's ability to make the right financial decisions. My job helps me quench that thirst.
My alter ego is a major foodie and enjoys all types of liquid delights. Liquor, beer, wine, tea, coffee, etc. It's all golden to me. This site will be a repository of all of my experiences.
I regularly do Scotch and Absinthe tastings for clients and others, so those events will be recorded here, as well as any other event I deem worthy of publishing.
I'll be doing several 'distillery reviews' in the near future as well, going down the list of offerings from many of the artisinal producers and giving you my thoughts.
So, here's a list of some of the things you can expect in the coming few months:
1) Distillery reviews of Leopold Brothers and Tuthilltown.
2) Write-ups of two Scotch tasting events recently done
3) Write-ups of several absinthe tastings held at Chi-Cha Lounge in conjunction with TasteDC.com
4) Hour by hour updates of the 2009 Tales of the Cocktail event in New Orleans in July.
5) Updates on several formal absinthe blind tasting events which will be held in July and September
6) Several restaurant reviews
7) Overviews of some of the better liquor stores in the DC area
8) Cocktail reviews
Be seeing you soon!