Oh What a Glorious Day!

I caught the article below in today’s Minneapolis Star tribune.  What a glorious day to find that absinthe is once again available in the U.S.

Once I heard of the availability, I was surprised to find that there were still supplies available.  Surdyk’s ordered 60 cases of the viscous green liquid and still had plenty on display at the end of its debut.  Good for me, good for you.  But $70 per bottle s a little high considering the price and risks involved in ordering it online.  But there are better prices to be found for those willing to take the time to look online.

Before I get to the article, here are my rankings of absinthes that I have tried.  These are personal preferences based on bottles brought to me by friends from overseas as well as online purchases.  These are completely subjective and by no means indicate what you would prefer.  Alcohol content was not a decisive factor.  I tend to dilute the absinthe to a palatable level: generally a two or three to one ration of water to absinthe to bring it to a tolerable level.

  1. Tabu – Germany (73% alcohol)
  2. Lucid – France (62% alcohol)
  3. Sebor Absinth – Czechoslovakia (55% alcohol)
  4. Dr. Rausch 55.5 – Germany (55.5% alcohol)
  5. Rodnik’s – Spain (85% aclochol)

Without further ado, here is the article from the Minneapolis Star/Tribune.  As a last commentary, I I have to say that I like this Marty Hillman guy.  He seems to be spot on with his comments.

Under the spell of 'Green Fairy' again


 The fabled, scourged, once-banned drink of tortured artists, absinthe is back on the market -- and drawing a crowd.

By BILL WARD, Star Tribune
Last update: December 28, 2007 - 12:33 AM

"Let's get crazy," Dustin Larson proclaimed, as he pulled open Surdyk's front door at 8 a.m. Thursday.

Getting warm might have been a bigger priority for the queue of 30 shiverers outside the store. And soon enough that warmth arrived, thanks to samples of what had lured this mini-throng in the first place:


Reputed to have mystical, creativity-spawning properties, the licorice-flavored liquor was the beverage of choice in the late 19th century at artists' ateliers in Paris and brothels in New Orleans' Storyville district. But absinthe's status waned as it was blamed, despite little or no evidence, for everything from Edgar Allen Poe's premature death to Vincent Van Gogh's ear-lopping episode. The United States outlawed the manufacture and sale of the beverage known as "The Green Fairy" in 1912.

The ban was lifted earlier this year, and Surdyk's landed the first batch to hit Minnesota in almost a century, opening an hour early for the occasion. Among the customers who were practically giddy over the prospect of paying $75 for a bottle of Lucid Absinthe was Marty Hillman, who arrived at 5:30 a.m.

"The best Christmas present I got," said Hillman, 38, of Fridley, "was when a co-worker told me about this. Prohibition is over!"

Hillman has been getting friends to bring back absinthe from Europe -- it was never illegal to possess or consume it here -- and was clearly relieved that he can get it in the Twin Cities now. (Tom Morgal of local distributor Quality Wines & Spirits said absinthe will be available in restaurants and other stores as early as this weekend.)

"It's only illegal because a bunch of puritanical zealots wanted to ban it," Hillman said. "I guess if you were to concentrate the thujone from 150 bottles of the stuff and give it to a guinea pig, that'd kill it."'

A cloudy past

Thujone is a chemical found in wormwood, the aromatic shrub that gives absinthe its distinctive color. Absinthe is made by steeping wormwood, along with fennel, anise and other herbs, in neutral grape alcohol and then distilling it.

Thujone was once believed to possess mind-altering properties; all we know for certain is that thujone is what causes absinthe to become cloudy when mixed with water. That ritual, called louching, unfolds when water drips through a sugar cube atop a special slotted spoon and into a glass of absinthe.

"It's a drink for all your senses: eyes, nose and palate," said Phil Church, 58, of Stillwater. "It's a beautiful emerald green. The louche with the ice water releases amazing herbal aromas. And it tastes great."

Another customer, Paul B. Cherlin, 26, had a more forward-looking motive.

"I'm trying to become one of the great American writers," he said, cracking a half-smile. "Actually, it's more that I'm very interested in history, using the past to look into the future."

Any evidence that absinthe produces creative inspiration is as scant as proof that it prompts insanity. But there's no denying that it was a favored spirit of artists over the last two centuries.

Among absinthe's devotees were Belle Epoque painters (Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas), poets (Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire) and playwrights (August Strindberg, Oscar Wilde). In later years, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso favored it.

Their absinthe probably contained more thujone (up to 260 parts per million, vs. 10 parts per million today) and was almost always more potent (144 proof, vs. 124 now) than the modern incarnations.

Interest piqued by films

Absinthe's availability is to some degree the work of one man. Washington lawyer Robert Lehrman, representing Swiss absinthe producer Yves Kobler, persuaded the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to lift the ban under the condition that bottles contain no more than 10 parts per million of thujone.

The drink's reputation was romanticized in hit movies such as "Bram Stoker's Dracula," "Moulin Rouge" and "From Hell." The DVD of the latter film includes a half-hour documentary on absinthe, which Hillman called "really intriguing."

The buzz surrounding the beverage, especially on the East Coast, along with wildly varying state liquor laws, have combined to slow the distribution process.

"Initially, our rollout list was states that we know are big alcoholic-beverage states, and then states where a lot of people e-mailed us at our website, and Minnesota was one of those," said Jon Bonchick, a partner in Lucid owner Viridian Spirits. "We were really surprised at the response. So we made it the 10th state to get Lucid. Originally, Minnesota probably wasn't in the top 20 targets."

Store owner Jim Surdyk obviously is pleased to have absinthe on the shelves, but he paused when asked what he thought of the product. "I think," he finally said, "that I could find something else I'd rather drink."

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643