05 January 2008

The Green Fairy strives for Balance...

Mrs. Intangible dared to ask me what I wanted for a Winter Solstice gift.

Egad, I said, I dunno..... uh, how about a bottle of that Duplais absinthe... the "Balance" stuff? I've already got the Duplais verte with the David Tibet label, but what the hell? I joked, I could do a blind taste-test and blog about it.

And bloody hell, iff'n she didn't make the score.

Absinthe Duplais and Duplais Balance are two of a three-part series manufactured by Markus Lion's German distillery, with label art by devious experimental-music superstars (David Tibet, Sleazy Christopherson, Steve Stapleton).

Like many americans, I'd been curious about absinthe for a long time. And earlier this year, I was able to acquire a bottle of Markus' flagship Duplais. After doing my typically obsessive amount of research on the history and preparation of the drink, I was doubly obsessed. See my badly over-written blog post here.

As it turned out, it's not just a fascinating historical beverage, it was delicious! Absolutely worthy of legend.

So now we've got the Duplais and the Duplais Balance to contend with.

Both were prepared at a 1:4 ratio with ice water, dripped through the typical slotted spoons with sugar-cubes. As I understand it, both of these absinthes are slightly modified versions of the same basic recipe, so I was expecting differences almost too subtle to detect.....

But no! Upon opening the bottle, the Balance had a spicy TANG in its scent. Duplais was more mellow; a soothing cloud of incense-like anise and fennel. Right away, there was a different vibe between the two.

As the water began to drip, the Balance began the louching process well ahead of the Duplais. Too soon, it seemed. Water was dripping at the same rate for both, but Balance had quickly developed into a milky, opalescent green. Duplais was still in its clear-jade phase at this point.

Then the room exploded with the perfume of the stuff. Gomez (the dog) generally goes INSANE right about now. Walking tense, curious circles around the table with nose in the air, whining... DAD, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON UP THERE?!?!

Now, honestly, I don't consider myself an expert absinthe connoisseur; I'm certain my palette isn't refined enough to get the subtleties. Absinthe reviews can be as lofty and exclusive-sounding as those written by wine snobs. I confess to being a beginner. But there WAS a difference between the two.

Balance continued to be the more unruly punk of the two: still very pleasant, but with a darker spirit; the flavor and scent retained that spicy zest; there was something else going on in there, that wasn't present in the Duplais.

In both cases, you get the initial blast of anise on the tongue, like a bullet. Very precise. Then, the herbal mix opens up like a blossom and while the tongue is still tingling from the first shock, you get at least three different evolutions of flavor. It really is quite remarkable.

But I must say, there was no clear "winner" -- but it wasn't a total draw, either. The flagship Duplais would be my favorite for a casual sip, but I can see pulling out the Balance when there's seriously strange artistic work to be done. Such as when the basement studio is finally done, and the muse starts tickling the chakras, begging to be free...


Reya Mellicker said...

Ernest Hemingway used to mix absynthe with champagne. He called the drink "Death in the Afternoon." Oh my, yes.

One of my San Francisco friends got a bottle for our household on Tennessee Avenue a few years ago. Not content to drink it the traditional way, we had a couple of Death in the Afternoons each. Within an hour we were all "napping." When we woke up, it was dusk - all three of us believed we'd slept through the night and had to get ready for work.

In other words, it was hallucinogenic, not in a pleasant way. We poured the remainder of the bottle down the drain.

I salute your restraint!

IntangibleArts said...

Ah, that restraint is easy when a bottle of the stuff is so freakin' expensive, and the dilution ritual takes a while, etc...

Your experience sounds mega-strong, no doubt. Maybe it's the dilution, or other factors, but I've found it to be a very tasty sipper with an uplifting kick; herbal tea of the gods.

But at 72%/144proof, the potential for a weird, weird evening is definitely there, if the prep.methods get creative.

Reya Mellicker said...

We were careless, macho. We didn't take the Green Fairy seriously. That always means trouble.

Philosophic Bard said...

I have to say: this sounds like the sexiest form of alcohol ever imagined. You describe your experience so well, I can almost feel the sweet headiness filling the room - almost as though the drink itself were excited about what was to come. Like I said: a very sexy drink.

Ivan said...

Hey, is the Balance by any chance related to John Balance? I thought I'd heard they were putting out something commemorating his death.