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Pernod’s Absinthe: Tradition and Mystery in a Bottle

Pernod Absinthe bottlePernod. Absinthe. But I repeat myself. Don’t let the limited edition Maison Kitsune label, all japonais-chic and cooler than Hello Kitty, fool you. Pernod Absinthe Superieure Original Recipe is at its heart the flavor of a tradition more than two centuries old. After more than a century during which absinthe was vilified and banned for its alleged psychotropic effects, the real deal is back. Genuine ingredients and authentic methods have brought Pernod Absinthe from exile to, hopefully, a liquor store near you. RealFoodTraveler was fortunate to receive a bottle, and yours truly conspired to get the opinions of few fellow drinkers. The results were very positive.

At a dinner party we hosted for two other couples, the night started with a venture into tradition. Lacking the paraphernalia (a perforated absinthe spoon placed over the top of the glass, holding a sugar cube through which ice water is dripped into the absinthe at the bottom of the glass), we slowly poured ice water directly into an ounce of Pernod, each of us achieving the dilution that seemed right. We used an assortment of small sherry cum liqueur glasses for the purpose (anything that allows some swirling and sniffing would work). The guests had not, in fact, enjoyed absinthe in the past, but three of four were excited at the prospect. The fourth had ‘heard’ things that had given him some pause. He got over it.

Licorice Flavor Upfront
After the first tastes, the discussion turned briefly to licorice. Pernod Absinthe has as a principal ingredient green anise, and the distinctive flavor of licorice is undeniably present. Licorice (black licorice, of course, if you’re of a certain age…) was something most of us acquired a taste for only as adults, principally in the form of after-dinner drinks such as sambuca nera, or in ethnic foods where fennel or star anise is featured. The role played by the flavor of anise in Pernod’s traditional absinthe is of a strong supporting actor, and not the star it is in ouzo, to name another licorice-y drink. Our conversation soon shifted back to the drinks in hand and general agreement on the distinctive tastes we were experiencing.

Pernod Absinthe makes interesting cocktails.

Pernod Absinthe makes interesting cocktails.

Among the aspects of Pernod’s revival of the original recipe, wormwood is the most important. Widely considered to be the bitterest of bitter herbs, wormwood combines with anise and a variety of ‘secret ingredients’ to produce a complex flavor profile, the versatility of which became apparent as the night wore on.

Of the five of us drinking absinthe, three were clearly enthusiastic. The aura of Prohibition enhanced the effects, no doubt, but the simple fact is that absinthe has a typical ABV of 60% or more. Wormwood, on the other hand, contains thujone, a chemical whose medicinal qualities have been known for thousands of years. Like many medicinal herbs, wormwood can also stimulate the imagination. That’s the part that got absinthe banned a hundred years ago. Our good mood enhanced by our drinks, we ‘imagined’ ourselves to be hungry and moved to dinner and wine. But we had not forgotten about the absinthe…

Absinthe Cocktail Anyone?
After dessert, we repaired to the library bar, determined to resume our purpose. Absinthe is mostly consumed in cocktails these days, and for good reasons: a distinctive flavor profile, high-alcohol content and that certain something. It was banned for a hundred years! We’re not supposed to enjoy it! While the ladies stuck to wine, we three gentleman settled into the bar as though it were our own speakeasy. Now, I like cocktails, and enjoy watching mine being made by experts. Was I up to the task of creating a version of the storied New Orleans favorite, the Sazerac?

Pernod Ansinthe fancy bottle

Pernod’s beautiful limited edition Maison Kitsune bottle makes a perfect gift.

The Pernod brand has made bringing back original absinthe a cause for celebration.

The Pernod brand has made bringing back original absinthe a cause for celebration.

The last time I was in New Orleans, we visited the famous Napoleon House Bar in the French Quarter. Here, among the locals and tourists and Napoleon images, we sat at the bar and watched. The glass for the Sazerac is chilled and rinsed with absinthe. In a separate glass, a sugar cube is muddled with bitters, to which a pour of rye whiskey and ice is added. This is stirred until chilled and then strained into the original glass. That is the right way to do it, and one could hardly go wrong to do it that way. However, I wanted the absinthe to play a more prominent role. I stirred bitters (Fee’s chocolate bitters) and a teaspoon of agave syrup in a highball glass, added half an ounce of Pernod Absinthe Superieure and ice, stirred vigorously and then added an ounce and a half of bourbon. I don’t know if purists would have been pleased, but my guests were knocked out. Not literally, of course, but they really, really liked my version. Twice.

Pernod Absinthe Superieure is as close as you may get to spending an evening with Oscar Wilde and the Paris set of the Gay Nineties. Absinthe’s association with creative types helped lead to its prohibition. Now that it is quite legal again, find out what all the fuss was about. Whether you enjoy it traditional or in a cocktail, know that you are taking part in a ritual associated with the making of the Modern World; a world of creative forces that, once unleashed, changed Western Civilization forever. – by Jeff Thomas, RFT Contributor

Be sure to check out Pernod’s Absinthe Cocktail recipes, including the Green beast, Maiden’s Blush, Corpse Reviver #2, and the TNT Cocktail.

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Jeffery Thomas

World traveler Jeffery Thomas has taught East Asian and World History at Clark College since 1999. Among other destinations in Europe and Asia, he travels frequently to Singapore, one of the world’s great food capitals. Living in Portland, Oregon has also greatly enhanced his food and beverage experiences. Jeffery is currently working on a scholarly article titled “Armchair Adventure and the American Way of Empire”, focused on the science fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs from the 1920s. In the picture here, he’s enjoying a meal with his daughter at a sidewalk cafe in Prague, Czech Republic.