Absinthe is a fickle category to get across to consumers. Say the word ‘absinthe’ and you can see the shudder and faces across many a patron – but have you actually tried it? Properly?
Traditionally, absinthe is prepared by placing a sugar cube on top of a specially designed slotted spoon, and then placing the spoon on the glass which has been filled with a measure of absinthe. Iced water is then poured or dripped over the sugar cube in a manner whereby the water is slowly and evenly displaced into the absinthe, such that the final preparation contains 1 part absinthe and 3-5 parts water. As water dilutes the spirit, those components with poor water solubility (mainly those from anise, fennel, and star anise) come out of solution and cloud the drink. The resulting milky opalescence is called the louche. The release of these dissolved essences coincides with a perfuming of herbal aromas and flavours that “blossom” or “bloom”, and brings out subtleties that are otherwise muted within the neat spirit. This reflects what is perhaps the oldest and purest method of preparation, and is often referred to as the French Method.
But how did absinthe come about? *
Legend traditionally attributes the creation of an absinthe elixir to Mother Henroid of Couvet of Val de Travers, in the Canton of Neuchatel in Switzerland who concocted it from plants that she found in the mountains. The elixir was adopted by a French doctor working in Switzerland named Dr. Pierre Ordinaire who rode through the hills, peddling a strange, yet patented medicine, which he dubbed his “absinthe elixir”. Following the death of Doctor Ordinaire, the rustic recipe was perfected by his two local sisters, before being bought by a businessman named Major Dubied, who saw the potential to sell the elixir beyond medicinal purposes. Major Dubied, however, had no knowledge of the art of distilling. Therefore, he hired Henri-Louis Pernod, a 21-year-old distiller to help set up a small absinthe distillery in 1798. The business prospered allowing Henri-Louis Pernod to found The Maison Pernod Fils distillery in Pontarlier in 1805.
Henri-Louis Pernod widowed and married the daughter of Major Dubied in 1807. Together they had a son Louis who grew up working with his father at the distillery. In 1827, Henri-Louis Pernod wanted to extend distribution. He split the markets between his sons Edouard, his eldest son from his first marriage, and Henri-Louis, born from his union with Emelie Dubied. Edouard exported Pernod to the United States and Henri-Louis assisted operation in France and the French colonies. By 1840, the family business had doubled for the Pernods as the popularity of the spirit grew swiftly. The branch distilleries expanded through family ties taking on recognizable label names as Maison Gempp-Pernod and Maison Legler Pernod. The main distillery was taken over by the grandsons of Henri-Louis Pernod in 1855, leading Pernod into the Absinthe boom of the 19th and early 20th century.
Absinthe became one of the strongest symbols of its era with its enigmatic color and the ritual surrounding it. Its popularity was furthered by its reputation for being an addictive and hallucinogenic drug. As a result, by 1915 Absinthe had been banned in the United States (1912) and in other European countries. As a result, the Pernod Fils Company closed temporarily. After the ban of Absinthe in 1915, it re-opened five years later when Pernod sought to continue to its quality production by offering a wormwood-free anise product. The result was Pernod Liqueur, an 80 proof anis liqueur. This spirit is a staple in the top restaurants and bars around the world. It differed from Pernod Absinthe in the following way –
Pernod (Classic) 40% abv– Contains sugar and is a bright golden colour.
Pernod Absinthe 68% abv – Made with grande wormwood (containing Thujone) and is a bright green colour.
For US consumers of Pernod Absinthe, though, only the legend of “The Green Fairy” remained until it was legalized again in 2007.
So how does it fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –
Pernod Absinthe – 68%
Subtle wormwood on the nose with hints of aniseed. Sharp on the palate with sweet liquorice countering the bitter wormwood. Slight spice on the finish.
Of course, it’s not just the French Method to be able to drink Pernod, you should try one of these –
25 ml Pernod Absinthe
25 ml Water
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp Egg white
1 dash Bitters
Shake thoroughly with ice and strain.
Absinthe is becoming more and more popular, with bartenders finding innovative ways to not only serve it, but to repair some of the tarnished reputation that comes with the category. Pernod have been around in some form since the very beginning – which makes it a great place to start your journey.
* History of Pernod taken directly from their website. Subtle changes have been made for narrative purposes only.
© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.