I first experienced absinthe in Prague. It was a cold, bright night at the end of January 2007. My husband ordered it at a so-so restaurant/bar just to see what it was like. I’d heard lots of the standard myths about this strange elixir and was pretty much a non-drinker at this point. So I sure wasn’t going to try it. But brave Johnny did. I’ve never seen him so adorably drunk before or since. And it was a small glass of probably some pretty awful hooch masquerading as proper absinthe. We had traveled to Prague for a week following a wonderful week in Berlin. But this drink in Prague created a night to remember.
That same trip we fell in love with Berlin and it is probably my favorite city still. It’s a vibrant, beautiful, surprising, sophisticated, accessible, casual, welcoming city. It’s also a city that seems to have come to terms with the ugliest and most tragic parts of its history in very open, palpable, important, and healing ways. Everything about my experience of Berlin was a treat: walking around and getting lost, the provocative and inventive opera and theater productions, the deep bench of museums, the architectural tour of the 2nd half of the 20th Century (an unintended upside to the city getting bombed out just before an architectural boom?), the friendly people, the delicious food, the public parks, and so much more.
Fast forward to 2011. We’re in Berlin for a second time and again in January. (We love tropical vacations!) This time we’re with our dear friends Jean and Rick. They go off to do their own thing one afternoon and we head to Absinth Depot Berlin which was on our list from a few books we’d read. It’s a funky little shop with over 100 brands and kinds of absinthe. As the photos demonstrate (above and below), it has an old and slightly other worldly feel to it. It is also an authentic and serious place if you want to learn about and/or taste absinthe. Johnny and I talked with the kind if standoffish shopkeeper about our interest in learning about absinthe. We offered up that we were American (#ohreally?) and that we might be interested in acquiring a few half bottles that we could stick in our checked luggage since it was illegal to import the stuff. (Of course we’d never do such a thing for real, dear sweet NSA robot, but you know, just to inquire…)
The gentleman poured us five to taste and they ranged in color, aroma, taste, fire, and price. It was a delicious, delightful, informative and tipsy experience. Off we went (without any Absinthe ’cause it’s illegal to import). The rest of our trip was just as perfect. We love traveling with Rick and Jean and we love Berlin. The second visit was even better than our first. In fact, I recently tweeted about this article. It has me longing for Berlin again… or maybe still.
Fast forward to earlier this month. I purchased a copy of Robert Simonson‘s new book The Old-Fashioned: The Story of the World’s First Classic Cocktail. A well-prepared Old-Fashioned is a total favorite of mine as are many of the variations I’ve tried. So I’m looking at the recipe section and I see this photo on the left. (Photo by Daniel Krieger)
Now wait a minute. That’s not whiskey in that glass, dear Mr. Simonson. That’s absinthe. And the opposite page has a recipe for the Absinthe Old-Fashioned. I read it over a few times to let my mind grasp this curious invention. It hails from a bar in Louisville called Rye, circa 2012. It was hard to imagine that it could work and it had Berlin on my mind instantly. According to the book, bartender Doug Petry created the drink. He is quoted as saying, “We wanted to do a menu based on the Old-Fashioned with the basic recipe coming down to the base spirit, bittering agent, and sweetening agent. We wanted to try it with some spirits that weren’t typical and thought absinthe would be a fun way to go with it. After a few missteps, we found a recipe that we liked and went with it.”
And IT WORKS! The recipe calls for the Swiss Absinthe Kübler. At 106 proof, this baby don’t play. It’s fiery and sublime. It had been recommended to me a few years back at Cask in San Francisco (thanks Lisa Cunningham!), so I had it on hand. The recipe calls for 1.5 ounces of the absinthe, 1 ounce simple syrup, .5 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur, and 3 or 4 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters. (Each of these ingredients deserves some ink time, but I’ll march forward for now.) Simply combine the absinthe, simple syrup, and St. Germain in a mixing glass filled with ice and stir until chilled. Strain over a large chunk of ice in an Old-Fashioned glass. Float the Peychaud’s bitters on top.
What a drink! It’s like Good & Plenty for naughty adults. And the bitters float makes for a gorgeous and tasty entry to this masterpiece. The bitters work their way into the drink over time – and it’s pretty to watch happen. And, as you probably guessed, this drink had me thinking B-E-R-L-I-N. Prost!