St. George Spirits Absinthe Verte?
On the last morning of 2007, _Daily Candy_ teased us with a green fairy tale about St. George Spirits new Absinthe Verte. But, uh oh, it's sold out until the next batch is ready at the end of January.
Has anyone tried it? According to Biteclub, it's avalable at Traverso's in Santa Rosa.
Traverso's Gourmet Foods
2097 Stagecoach Rd,, Santa Rosa, CA
St. George Spirits
2601 Monarch St, Alameda, CA
What do you know! I'd scarcely posted in this thread, when I learned my trusty spirits buyer/dealer secured bottles of the St. George absinthe at my request more than a month ago. (It had been sitting around for a month waiting for pick-up.) First batch, complete with first-day-of-issue imprint, like a postage stamp. If I am able to attend any (probably silicon-valley or lower-peninsula) chowdowns in the near term, I'll gladly bring it along for people interested.
I'd called as soon as possible, when newspapers reported that St. George was approved for sale, my regular spirits retailer, who is very good by the way. I buy mostly occasional malt whiskys, and that's what we talked about. But she referred me to the regular Web site to place a normal order, then when the shop got its limited St.-George allocation, it went to the people who'd placed these orders, in date sequence. Later the shop got literally thousands of queries about this stuff, due to various national publicity. A local BevMo also told me they'd gotten some and just put it on the shelf as a new item, where it sold out in natural course.
The St.-George has a distinctive bottle and label, declaring several herbs used; and a generic description "brandy with herbs," 60% ABV. (The original Pernod product that started all the fuss 150 years ago used a brandy base for extracting and distilling with the herbs.) Pale-green louche when mixed with water,* slightly herbaceous classic absinthe nose and flavor, different in detail but broadly similar to other quality absinthes I've sampled. I can pick out the wormwood presence. Anise-fennel flavors predominate (as usual), so people who dislike them may dislike this stuff. Also -- as far as I could tell anyway from two small servings in pleasant company, diluted in water as usual -- no _conspicuous_ absinthe buzz. Which, with some absinthes and a typical person, including me, is a delicate sharpening or focusing of alertness, resembling a mild stimulant. Experts attribute it to a combination of the spices in absinthe -- ordinary and more or less common seasoning herbs, by the way -- none alone has this effect. Minor psychoactivity in herb mixtures should not be surprising; many common ingredients have such effects. Nutmeg and mace, very slightly; hot peppers releasing endorphins; chocolate for some people. Green tea contains an important natural tranquilizer, L-theanine, extracted and used in medicine. And coffee and of course alcohol, both far stronger psycho- and physioactives than the spices in absinthe.
* Basis of the dialect word "pastis" in southern France, for drinks of this broad class that cloud in water when oils from anise etc. leave solution.
I tasted (I think) an experimental version of the product before release; interesting enough. Others (Lucid, Kübler) are now widely available. But note well:
1. It's not clear yet (from the letter of FDA regulations) how these products differ from certain others available for years that also claim A. absinthium flavoring, without thujone; the recent news was TTB permitting "Absinthe" on US labels (in type below a certain size, and in a phrase, not a stand-alone word);
2. FDA's restriction of thujone content is itself largely obsolete (it could change, as in other countries) and contradictory, because you get thujone anyway in other foods classified completely safe by FDA (which wasn't known at time of absinthe's original ban). More of the story (and most of Chowhound's absinthe discussions) in the Spirits forum. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/397256#2764589
Also a recent "Stories" posting: http://www.chow.com/stories/10871
3. Some information sources (Breaux, wormwoodsociety, feeverte.net, thujone.info), all with absinthe business connections, fail to stress post-ban demystifications. Caffeine, for instance, has lethal dosage similar to thujone's, but you get more caffeine in a cup of coffee than thujone in a BOTTLE of even very strong absinthe; neither is anywhere near the lethal level. Yet a bottle approaches a lethal alcohol dose, with or without thujone.
I'm drinking some right now, and it's quite tasty. It is much more complex and drinkable than the stuff I've had in the Czech Republic (pre-EU). That stuff had an interesting buzz, but was otherwise icky. I've also had more recent EU absinthe, in Barcelona, which I enjoyed. The St. George Absinthe is certainly a step up in complexity. It has a bunch of herbal notes (fennel and anise, of course, but also tarragon, basil, mint).
While I don't think it's worth $75 (or I can think of tastier things to do with $75), the fact that it sold out the first day tells you something about the demand. At that price, I wouldn't put it in a cocktail, although I like absinthe in that role. Flora, in Oakland, makes some nice cocktails with absinthe. For the St. George's, some water opens it up and give you a nice louche. I didn't feel the need for any sugar, which I sometimes do with more bitter absinthes.
I'm not sure what to think about the thujone thing. Back in the day, folks were drinking their absinthe with an laudanum back, so thujone wasn't the primary source of their special feelings. Historical absinthe had about 4 mg/liter of thujone. Currently, US law does allow sale of absinthe with thujone, such as lucid (http://drinklucid.com/), with less than 10 parts per million. I assume that St Georges is not thujone-free, but is under that limit. In any case, the 60% alcohol will get you first.
I stood in line for over two hours before the holidays at Hangar One. I thought it would just be me and a few other intrepid souls - no way! Met a number of other folks interested in purchasing a bottle or thirty. At first, H1 said you could buy as many bottles as you wanted, but as the line wound out of sight, they revamped and limited the purchase number. I think people like owners of restaurants and cooks didn't face that limitation.
We opened ours on Christmas Eve -- tried it straight first and then with the recommended water. Delicious, and I'm not a big licorice/anise fan. So very smooth. I agree that a bit of water (which turns the liquid cloudy!) for whatever reason makes the drink even better.
I also agree that I wouldn't purchase the bottle again, though. No Van Gogh or Toulouse Lautrec experiences, darn it.
It's my understanding than thujone at levels at less than 10 ppm are allowed in the U.S. and that quality absinthe from before the ban was shown to have it in such quantities. Common household herbs like a sage leaf evidently has a higher concentration of thujone than a bottle of absinthe.
Lance Winters, the distiller for St. George Spirits, explained to me that it is the grand wormwood--artemisia absentia--which is direly bitter. In contrast, petite wormwood is almost sweet. An artful combination of the two creates an absinthe that is palatable. The tradition of adding sugar almost surely comes from an era when absinthe was thujone and wormwood heavy, requiring massive sweetening to make it potable.
Bohemian absinthe such as you'd find easily in Prague does not louche. La Fée makes two kinds--Parisian and Bohemian. Both are remarkably colored, but the latter has an unearthly blue-green hue that suggests laundry detergent more than anything you'd want to put in your body. I cannot believe that the color is natural. Anyway, the louche effect comes mostly from the presence of anise or fennel, which the eastern european style typically does not contain. So La Fée bohemian doesn't cloud up and it doesn't taste particularly compelling, as I find the presence of anise delicious in a well-made absinthe.
St. George has not only star anise and fennel but mint, basil and tarragon, creating a truly multifaceted expression of related flavor compounds. I love it, especially when properly watered back.
I finally broke into my bottle this weekend.
First and foremost, there is no thujone. That pleasant extra little absinthe feeling is missing - it's like drinking decaf coffee. Very similar - you can taste the bitter note in coffee, and whatever they take out has a similar bite. Accounts, partially, for the smoothness
Given that the entire EU allows thujone, and you can buy absinthe with thujone online and in bars, I don't get why the law says no real absinthe
That being said, it's smooth like crazy. Very strong in anise, almost to the point of pushing out every other taste, but the other herbs are there, creating an unctuous base. Tasty.
I think I prefer with a good bit of water, maybe about 3 to 1. Does not require sugar cubes or fire. Uncut it's just too strong to taste.
The price is too high for faux, though. I would stock it at $25, but at $75 I can't justify other than as a curiosity
In the end, absinthe without thujone is not absinthe.
re: Melanie Wong
Ok, so I did my research on this, and I must admit to some confusion on my part.
Some say the FDA restrictions are "undetectable levels", and the limit on the detection is 10 ppm. Some say simply as you have quoted, that 10ppm is the limit. I remain confused.
There are apparently reviled czech absinthes which claim to have vastly more thujone and are available in the US. Having had a bit of absinthe in prague over the last few years, I may or may may not have had more thujone - although I haven't tasted anything as rank as the high-thujone reviews I've read.
I've been working my way through a bottle of La Fee, rated at 50 (thus middle-of-the-road) by http://www.feeverte.net/ that I picked up in Heathrow (it's actually at a friend's house, as he has a makeshift fountain). It has a touch more bitter, and that peculiar tongue-numbing and slight euphoria. I can't find a quote of how much thujone in that particular absinthe. The rule appears to be that reputable Absinthes don't quote thujone percentages.
Since I haven't been over to my friend's house, I haven't been properly louching, instead doing a slow hand pour of ice water. Being more systematic would, perhaps, bring out more taste from the St George's. So far I've been tasting nearly 100% anise, and not much behind it. Clearly, I should do a blind head-to-head.
I also attended the parties at the 9th and Folsom space over the last few years. It's a little tough to make critical tastings in such a fun space, so I'll just leave it at that.
I have become accustomed to a slight bitter edge in absinthe, much like the taste that distinguishes caffeinated coffee from decaf, and perhaps causing one to add a sugar cube. On further reading, it could be that taste is not desirable, and perhaps St George is better for not having it. Further, I'm used to a certain very slight euphoria that's unlikely a standard alcohol feeling, which I have not felt with St George.
Those are my actual personal experiences and measurements. Not owning much in the way of chemical analysis tools, I shouldn't talk about this hyped thujone. I hear there's lots of herbs in there.
That all having been said, I think the St George product is very tasty, and every sip I take, I like the bottle a little more. I look forward to greater exposure and availability of the world's absinthes in the US, as it's a very pleasant drink. I balk a little that I spent so much on the bottle, but it *is* tasty, and when I compare to $14/glass, I can kid myself the bottle was a bargain.
Thank you, Absinthe is completely new to me, as I'm not much of a spirits person. I found this reference for thujone specs, and if you scan down there are gas chromatography results for 17 samples of absinthe, dated 2004.
Haven't had time to read the whole thing yet.
And, here's Jordan Mackay on St. George's Absinthe and others -
2221 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612
6317 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618
580 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94108
1900 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94612
I just did tonight. It was the second time I headed to Hayes Valley (the first time was right before Thanksgiving two months ago) to go back to Sebo, only to meet a CLOSED sign. Why can't Michael or Danny change the outgoing voice message to tell their loyal customers?! And I had to rush there to make their 6 PM opening time so that I could get the seats I wanted at the bar!
Anyway my friend and I debated heading for the happy hour at Nihon or Koo as an alternative, but the sake lady at True Sake reminded us Tsukiji was closed. So we went into Absinthe in the neighborhood. Two absinthes from France, and one, the most expensive one close to $20, from St George/Hangar One. You know which one I ordered. ;-)
Wow for something 120-proof this was exceedingly smooth. The pour was a bit stingy, but maybe I'm the most generous bartender myself in the world. Greenish and herbal as expected, you would hit the licorice and anise notes, but in a very grassy base. Indeed very "verte." I tried some bread with butter while sipping this baby, first straight and then with a bit of ice and just a tiny bit of water through the sugar cube, and strangely the absinthe managed to change the taste of the bread/butter to something else. There were many other herbal notes like basil, fennel, and star anise all mashed together.
as I mentioned before in reply to another mysteriously disappeared post, I had a glass of it at Wood Tavern ($15) in Oakland & Flora in Oakland also has it, for $14 a glass. Flora supposedly has a special fancy decanter for it. Pricey, but delicious. My coworker waited in line at Hangar One on its release day for 3 hours to get her bottle!