09 May 2008

The (Swiss) Green Fairy Has Arrived

Modern Liquors is a gem of a shop, resting comfortably on the corner of 9th and M Streets NW. Jeff Harrison (at right) runs the show, and he's always been genuinely interested and helpful (a mutual respect for Icelandic vodka Reyka was established right away). As DC Liquor stores go, it's one of the greats: not large, but the stock is excellent.

Jeff hosted an absinthe tasting this afternoon, together with a representative of Kübler's American distributor. Not your typical tasting!

I had been fascinated by the mystery of absinthe for years, and finally got my first taste in February of 2007: A rather costly internet order had yielded the most complex and delicious thing I'd ever tasted (apart from my first prawn vindaloo, but that's another story). It was the Duplais Verte distilled in Switzerland, with the David Tibet-designed label. And GOD, it was marvelous.

So I've become a cheerleader for the stuff ever since. Most obsessive people become evangelists for their drug(s) of choice, don't they?

Since the ban on the domestic sale of absinthe was lifted last year, two manufacturers have surfaced. The first was Lucid, with its spooky ad campaigns playing on the allure of the drink. Initial reviews were mixed. I read somewhere that Lucid's herbal recipe had been heavily tweaked from historical absinthes "with the American palate in mind" -- this of course, did not bode well. Based on the popularity of Miller Lite and reality television, I have precious little faith in the the "American palate."

To be fair, I haven't tried Lucid yet. But honestly, when your first taste is the Gold Medal winner of the 2006 International Wine & Spirits Competition (the first Absinthe to ever win such a thing), you tend to be a bit arrogant when some punk American thing called "Lucid" appears.

The second variety manufactured in the States is Kübler, which is a descendant of the classic Swiss Kübler family Absinthe. The name has definite history. Instant credentials. And Kübler comes to DC today, as part of its American distribution strategy which began last May.

In Harrison's store today, samples were distributed in the traditional manner, with ice-water dripped from a handy Kübler-branded fountain onto sugarcubes through slotted spoons, into small plastic cups. The histories of absinthe and Kübler were discussed, questions answered, etc.

And the verdict on the Kübler?

I haven't had a blanche absinthe before, so the lack of green color was a little strange at first. The louche (clouding when water is added) seemed too fast. The flavor was much more anise-dominated than the other varieties I've had: It's not nearly as complex as the Duplais Verte or Balance, where you get the anise hit at first, but other flavors surface and you get a more blended finish. Kübler was a bit more one-dimensional than all that, but it was extremely pleasant and of course, it's great to have such a thing available locally now.

And at $55.00 per bottle, it's much cheaper than ordering online with the exchange-difference from Euros, plus the shipping. I've seen it mentioned online as being sold at Costco on the west coast for about $45, so these are strange days indeed.

So call this a thumbs-up for Kübler as a good introductory absinthe for the curious, and a double thumbs-up for Modern Liquor, for having such an event today.


Steve said...

I'm not sure I've ever had real absinthe, even in Europe. Which is kind of pathetic. Is Pastis like absinthe? That I've had, and I didn't love it.

IntangibleArts said...

I haven't had Pastis but it's probably similar enough on the surface: After the European ban on absinthe, distilleries made legal concoctions using less alcohol and no wormwood. I think that's the stuff...

So I'd guess it's an all-anise flavored thingie, which would make it similar to absinthe, but not as complex. Certainly not as potent.

Anonymous said...

I really love attending the tastings at Modern Liquors and now that I am on their email alert, I know just what they will be tasting and when! If you haven't checked out Jeff's shop, you should; there's a genuine neighborhood feel to the place..."where everybody know's your name, and they're always glad you came"!

IntangibleArts said...

Agreed! If it wasn't on my (walking) commute, I never would've found the place. But based on the selection of beer, single-malt, and now absinthe, I'm a fan...

lettuce said...

so you're an absinthe expert too? who knew?

never tried it, tho i do like pastis.
not as much as single malt mind you...

StillLife said...

There is a huge difference in taste between blanche and verte absinthe. It is a personal preference like light beer.