Legendary Libation in the Cocktail Scene – Again!
Absinthe is a fabled drink, shrouded in mystery, with a storied past.
Originating in Switzerland in the 1800s, this light green, anise-flavored beverage gained popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Paris, especially among famous writers like Edgar Allen Poe and Ernest Hemmingway.
Known for its high alcohol content – often nearly twice the amount of vodka or whiskey – absinthe was commonly misunderstood to have a dangerous, almost hallucinogenic effect. Absinthe was banned in the United States in the early 1900s but has gained popularity since the ban was lifted in 2007. Ohio was cleared for absinthe sales in 2008.
Some describe it as having a strong licorice flavor, while others find it bitter. Its main ingredients are anise, wormwood and botanical herbs. Chad Kessler, chief distiller at 451 Spirits, a Columbus-based craft distillery, concocts a version known as Midsommers Night Absinthe. He blends Ohio apple brandy with 14 different herbs, including anise, fennel, wormwood, cardamom, coriander, lemon verbena, and spearmint. “I saw an opportunity to make things that people weren’t making in the industry,” Kessler says. “It’s a nice, slow, refreshing drink, meant to be sipped at a café while watching the world go by.”
Kessler says bartenders enjoy educating patrons on the best ways to enjoy absinthe. The traditional serving is three to five parts ice water to one part absinthe. It’s often served using the “louching” technique, using a short-stemmed flute with a slotted spoon and sugar cube resting on top. Ice-cold water is slowly poured over the sugar cube, draining into the glass and creating a milky green cocktail.
Jeanne Osborne-Felberg, general manager of Jekyll’s Kitchen in Chagrin Falls, says absinthe creates curiosity at her bar, whether it is served louching-style or blended into a Sazerac cocktail. “A lot of people are really intrigued about it. It really is something special,” Osborne-Felberg says.
The next time you feel like ordering something different, give absinthe a try – but only if you enjoy licorice flavor. In absinthe, it’s not a subtle taste.
BOURBON: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey
You can tell author Fred Minnick had fun with this one. His third whiskey book takes readers from Baptist minister Elijah Craig’s 18th-century claim to have invented bourbon (he didn’t), through Thomas Jefferson’s repeal of the whiskey tax, the eras of snake oil salesmen and temperance movements, and modern-day advertising genius that enabled Maker’s Mark to thrive in spite of costing three times as much as its competitors.
The book is a visual delight, sprinkled with hundreds of photos, side stories and Fast Facts (“In a 1921 American Medical Association survey, 51 percent of US physicians were in favor of prescribing whiskey.”). You can ingest the book cover-to-cover or skip around, reading one day about the World War II “War on Slop” – distiller slang for grains left over from distillation – and the next day learning how terms like “bourbon” and “distiller” evolved.
Some of the historical references will leave readers shaking their heads, such as President William Taft’s seven-month study of, “what is whiskey?” The outcome of his research was the Taft Decision, establishing legal definitions of whiskey for distillers and consumers alike and eliminating “false labels” that deceived the public. Those standards got Taft into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, but also prompted temperance advocacy such as this editorial in the Wyoming Daily Tribune:
“Whiskey is the greatest enemy of civilized nations…Whiskey is the poison that kills intellect and morality and makes of man a brute. Whiskey is the handmaiden of the penitentiary, the insane asylum and the poorhouse.”
Minnick, the official bourbon ambassador for the Kentucky Derby Museum, knows more than most about whiskey. In Bourbon he shares not only his expertise, but also his ironic and lively take on the material. It’s an entertaining and informative book.