Absinthe revival

I raised the topic of Ted Breaux and the absinthe revival when chatting with @Splificator, yesterday, and he pointed out that, despite some sensationalism around its return, absinthe never really wound up playing a major role in the Cocktail Renaissance. Many bars offered “absinthe service”, and a few still do, but absinthe wasn’t really re-embraced as a cocktail ingredient.

Surveying the Modern Classics, three use absinthe: Jacob Briar’s Corpse Reviver Number Blue (a renovation of a classic), Phil Ward’s Joy Division (a modified Third Degree), and David Scape’s brilliant Paddington. @AudreySaunders’ French Pearl uses pastis. By comparison, literally hundreds of recipes from the 19th and 20th Centuries call for absinthe (and dozens more for pastis), and way back in the late formative years, bartenders were practically dashing the stuff into anything and everything.

In my opinion, absinthe should see more use today, particularly as an accent. I see it as one of the essential, inextricable flavorings of mixology, with a similar stature to bitters. Absinthe adds sophistication and adulthood to cocktails. For many, anise may be an acquired taste, but so are many liquors and liqueurs, and the hordes are now drinking Negronis, so clearly they can handle it.

Anise, in general, is not a flavor that Americans of today go for. Other cultures seem to love it, or at least I assume they do from bottles of Turkish Raki, Greek Ouzo, and Italian Sambuca. My grandmother used to make anisette cookies, and I remember when real black licorice (saltier the better) was available at every candy store. You don’t see that anymore.

I don’t fully understand the sentiment of dislike, but I certainly noticed it when I was working behind a bar. If a drink listed absinthe or pastis as an ingredient (no matter how minor), people would ask for it to be left out. On the other hand, there was always that late-night group that wanted chilled shots of Sambuca :roll_eyes:

I personally love a properly diluted glass of absinthe and drink it often, but I guess when it comes to cocktails, I use it sparingly. The Absinthe Frappe, of course, is a lovely drink when one is in the mood, and I have always enjoyed the “improved” variety of cocktails that call for small amounts of Absinthe. I keep a mix of Ango, Maraschino, and Absinthe bottled in a dasher bottle in a 3-2-1 ratio to improve any cocktail.

I am sure there is some deeper scientific reason to why the American palate doesn’t care for anise these days. Absinthe is rich with history but has always been an oddball it seems in modern cocktails.


My experience in Europe is that people are still scared of the stuff. For three years in a row, I did an absinthe classics menu for a little absinthe prohibition day ‘celebration’ in a Madrid bar. It was a very, very hard sell with many patrons looking at me as if I were about to poison them. Bartenders may not have embraced absinthe as much as they should, but I’d mostly lay the blame with clients.

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I tried to do a patio pastis thing a few summers ago when I was running the drinks at the Whistler in Chicago, and it was a total flop. Flop flop flop. Nobody would touch the stuff. I had to pull the whole thing and go back to the usual patio mix of cheap beers and shots of whiskey.

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I find the flavor of anise to be one of the great dividing lines between the European and American palates. It’s fascinating. I, myself, admit to not particularly like the flavor in hardly any of its historical presentations. I appreciate it, certainly, but don’t really like it. I do, however, think absinthe plays an important role as an accent flavor in many good drinks, and should do so in more. I just don’t want to see it as the dominant flavor.

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When anise is the dominant flavor, there’s certainly not a lot of room for anything else!

Interesting argument about palates. What else is there? I am aware of some of the sociopolitical/historical analysis about past food trends, but this is Alice Waters’ world now, and we just live in it. Americans are taking to all kinds of “weird” stuff and, as usual, immigrants are the engine. Even the salt licorice mentioned by @coctkaildoodle is creeping back into the US if you look for it (we consume it our household so I am attuned to its availability). I don’t see the problem with anise, other than it needs to be applied creatively (and subtly), and I think contemporary mixology is the perfect place to do that and absinthe is the perfect tool.