Or, if we’d split up the words: Absinthe and Sinterklaas. Which is just clever wordplay if Sinterklaas means anything to you.
Anyway, I’ve been planning to do this post with the janky title for some years now, but there was always something that got in the way. Also, I’ve been wanting to get into Absinthe a bit. At least I want to try some more samples to see whether or not I like it.
The samples I’m about to review are pretty old. Not the absinthe, but the samples. I think I’ve had them for around five years in the booze queue, but the closures were still fine so I think I’m good.
A bit of history first:
When I visited San Francisco in 2009 I started liking cocktails, with a focus on Sazeracs. For that you need a tiny measure of absinthe, so I bought a bottle. It’s been sitting partially empty on my shelf for eight years now, since I’ve never gotten further in my cocktail making. I still do the occasional Sazerac (like once a year or so), but that’s it.
Then, in 2011 I found myself in San Francisco again, with a bit less on the schedule so there was a bit more time for having a proper dinner, which we did at an awesome place called Absinthe. Of course, I had a proper absinthe there as well and was quite enamoured by it.
We also visited St. George Distillery in Alameida, which also makes a pretty great absinthe. Enough reasons to investigate further.
So, samples were bought but never tasted. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t overspend without getting a proper bearing first. The St. George and a bottle of Jade Absinthe were purchased on top of the Pernod I already had.
I did NOT open these bottles for this comparative tasting, mostly since I still have more than enough booze to get through before opening more non-whisky bottles. With the speed I’m drinking that stuff now, I might even get around to them before I’m 200 years old.
I’m not going to give you a run down of what Absinthe actually is, since I don’t really feel like rewriting what others have done much better. You can find information quite easily.
Let’s try some, shall we?
Absinthe Verte, Adnams, 66%
Neat: On the nose it’s quite wintry with fennel, lemon and some snowy crispness. Quite ‘green’ too, as in, herbaceous. The palate is tingling with a lot of boozy sharpness, with a gentle flavor. Roasted fennel, sweet citrus and some licorice. The finish is suddenly a tad chemical with lots of bitter herbs. It has the same flavors, but it just turned ‘not good’.
With about 50% ice water: A lot more aniseed and a lot more gentle. Still tingling with sweeter citrus and a slight bitterness.
Absinthe Rouge, Adnams, 66%
Neat: This slightly less traditional one is slightly less crisp and warmer. A slightly unorthodox absinthe to start with, since it’s not green but red. That’s done with hibiscus flowers, by the way. More licorice, fennel and a lot of red cinnamon, that spicy kind. The palate is insanely dry and sharp with cinnamon, ginger, black pepper and a certain herbaceous woodiness (the worm wood?). The finish is mostly fennel and cinnamon before it mellows.
With about 50% ice water: This one becomes sweeter too but stays on the fennel and cinnamon route. A lot less dry and less sharp, with aniseed in the finish.
Francois Guy Absinthe, 45%
Neat: This one is an aniseed bomb, with just a tiny bit of fennel on the nose. The palate is thick and syrupy, with a sugary sweetness. Also a lot of aniseed, not unlike ‘gestampte muisjes‘ (powedered aniseed and sugar, something to eat on sandwiches). There’s no depth, and the finish doesn’t change that.
With about 50% ice water: It mellows a bit and the sweetness is a bit more diluted. Because of that there’s a bit more room for a touch of herbs.
La Fee Parisienne, 68%
This one is so green it makes me doubt my choice to buy it. It’s a color that doesn’t occur in nature, I think.
Neat: The biggest difference between this and the previous one is the ABV. There’s more licorice root, but still it’s mostly aniseed. Maybe some bayleaf too? The palate is sweeter than the nose made me expect, slightly syrupy with aniseed and licorice root. The combination of aniseed and an ABV this high makes me think of mouthwash more than anything else.
With about 50% of ice water: Is this absenthe? As in, there being no wormwood or so? It doesn’t go cloudy with ice cold water, which the others did at some point. Otherwise, nothing really changes, apart from the ABV.
Cold Distilled Absinthe, Master of Malt, 91.2%
The ABV is NOT a typo. I consider this more of a gimmick than anything else, since I don’t really see a reason to make anything that strong.
Neat: It’s herbaceous with aniseed, fennel and some heavier notes in the background. What mostly stands out is that the ‘snowy crispness’ I found on the nose of the green Adnams is turning to a blistering cold here. This is quintessential crispness. The palate a bit bipolar without water. The crispness is there, but the heavier tones of licorice and sweet citrus are combatting it. I almost get a chai like heaviness. It’s bone dry, by the way. The finish is mostly fennel, aniseed and dry twigs.
With about 50% of ice water: With 50% water it’s still pretty strong, and the flavors are slight less intense, but very similar. It’s a bit sweeter too.
My main conclusion is that I either:
A) Don’t like absinthe as much as I thought I did, or
B) Bought the wrong samples
The Cold Distilled one and the Adnams were the best of the bunch, with the Adnams Absinthe Rouge being the more interesting of the bunch. The extremely green Fee Parisienne and the rather bland Francois Guy are too simple with not enough depth to really get into.
So, in the end I didn’t drink any of the samples completely, and in a way I’m a bit in doubt as to what to do with my remaining closed bottles. Either see if I like these better, like I did half a decade ago when I bought them, or try to get some of my money back by selling them (if that would work out).
In general, I’m glad I didn’t buy more. I liked trying them, but I was quick to grab a whisky afterwards, to drink something that I actually, really like…