Thursday, 30 April 2009

"Absinthe" kits

Like many others in the absinthe trade, I get absinthe news and blog alerts every day from Google. And over the last few weeks, the number of alerts that pretend to answer:-

1. What percentage alcohol is absinthe?
2. What are the effects of absinthe?
3. Sites for purchasing absinthe

has grown from a trickle to a flood. Either business is good, or very bad for these spammers who trick readers to read an article that links to a site selling so-called "absinthe" kits.

Now if this company was honest in its approach to other real absinthes, and to the nature of its own product, then I would just get bored of the blogs and hope that others would too. But their blog articles are wrong in so many ways, I feel I have no alternative but to comment. Here goes:-

Quote: Cost of bottled Absinthe can be quite high, over $100 sometimes, and you may not be able to get it delivered to your country.

Fact: very, very rarely over $100, and there are very few countries where you can't now easily buy or order a high quality absinthe for $80 or less.

Quote: Also, you may find it very hard to find real wormwood Absinthes because according to some countries legislation restricts wormwood as it contains the chemical thujone.

Fact: Most countries around the world (including USA) allow a level of thujone that is identical to that found in 19th century Paris. But, in any case, this is not relevant since the level of thujone in Absinthe Kit's "essences" will not produce any "green fairy effects" unless you drink enough of it to die from alcohol poisoning. Absinthe Kit's suggestion that thujone level is important is blatant deception.

Quote: sell Absinthe essences, that contains real common wormwood , both to the Absinthe industry and to general customers.

They may sell to companies that sell essence-based absinthe, but none of those companies are selling products that absinthe drinkers would recognise as real absinthe. I challenge Absinthe Kit to produce a list of Absinthe brands made with their essences.

Quote: To make your very own bottle of the Green Fairy, mix 20ml of essence with 730ml of neutral alcohol such as vodka or Everclear and add some sugar (about 75g) if you want a smoother Absinthe. Shake the bottle until the sugar has dissolved and there you have it, your very own Absinthe.

Fact: this is not real absinthe, anymore than grape juice and vodka can be blended to make wine (or blended together with soda to make champagne!).

And so on.

Does this matter? Yes, because it deceives those who buy these products into thinking they are getting real absinthe. It preys on the ignorance of some consumers, probably of younger, poorer and more susceptible consumers too.

However it gets even worse: the Wikipedia article on absinthe states this:

"Numerous recipes for homemade 'absinthe' are available on the Internet. Many of these require mixing a kit that contains store-bought herbs or wormwood extract with high-proof liquor such as vodka or Everclear. However, it is not possible to make authentic absinthe without distillation. Besides being unpleasant to drink and not authentic absinthe, these homemade concoctions contain uncontrolled amounts of thujone and absinthins, and may be poisonous — especially if they contain wormwood extract. Many such recipes call for the use of a large amount of wormwood extract (essence of wormwood) with the intent of increasing alleged psychoactive effects. Consuming essence of wormwood is very dangerous. It can cause kidney failure and death from excessive thujone, which in large quantities is a convulsive neurotoxin. Thujone is also a powerful heart stimulant; it is present in authentic absinthe only in extremely small amounts."

In other words, the products of Absinthe Kit could kill.

The Wormwood Society comments as follows:-

Important Note: DO NOT BUY ABSINTHE “KITS”! These are gimmicks aimed at the gullible. They will not make absinthe or anything remotely like it. The people selling these kits either know nothing about absinthe or how it is made, or simply don't care. The results of these kits are a positively vile-tasting, insanely bitter, potentially poisonous mess.

Looking further at the Absinthe Kit site, I find that it is owned by Gert Strand of Sweden who also operates Partymanshop. This site sells Scotch whisky oak chips, which, it is suggested, will turn vodka into scotch, as well as a wide range of liqueur essences, all to be added to vodka to produce drinks that are labelled to look like Malibu, Southern Comfort, Passoa, etc.

Now in case Absinthe Kit feel that I am unfairly picking on them, I have looked at other similar companies.

Green Devil states: "There is a chemical in traditional absinthe called Thujone, this chemical is banned in food products by the FDA. This one chemical is what makes absinthe illegal to sell.

Companies and the liquor industry have found that by filtering out this chemical they can legally sell their brand of absinthe in the USA."

Not true.

And "Absinthe is legal in many countries in Europe. But it is not the same as the absinthe of old."

Not true.

Now maybe I am being unfair to these companies. I have to admit to not having drunk their products. They may be excellent wormwood flavored vodka. But they are not absinthe, and the sooner they stop deceiving consumers, the better. Do any of my readers have any nice things to say about these products?

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Real Absinthe comes to Asia

Malaysia, truly Asia. I have to admit to a soft spot for Malaysia, having lived there, as an "orang putih*" from 1999 to 2002. It's tropical, but not impossibly so. The people I worked with then were straightforward, very hard-working, and fun to be with. The food was amazing (if sometimes a little too hot for me) and the shopping was excellent value. Finally my second daughter was born there and so boasts a Malaysian birth certificate that we can't decipher. So when I had the opportunity to start selling both La Clandestine and Angélique absinthes in Malaysia, I was thrilled.

The official launch was held at Werners in Bukit Bintang at the end of March 2009 (when, through bad planning, I was in Los Angeles), and has already been covered by a photographer's blog, by a local liquor blogger, and by another local blog. The photographer has posted more photos on their main site: click on Events, then on TWE Absinthe Launching to see all 86 photos from the launch party.

A short selection follows. The guests and media gathered at the bar to witness the preparation of the Absinthe cocktails:

The Fairy Station, where traditional methods and shooters are shown, with Absinthe Fountain and Spoon:

Local mixologist, Ben Ng, demonstrating traditonal preparation methods:

Thanks, Ben!

Two local mixologists shaking up the absinthe cocktails:

and the traditional French method with sugar cube over Absinthe spoon:

A big thank you to Vincent and Michelle of TWE for organising this event: prospects look great.

This article is headed "Real Absinthe comes to Asia." But isn't real absinthe already in Asia? There is a small selection of good absinthes, including both La Clandestine and the Jades, in Japan.

There are other cheaper absinthes/absinths in Asia: La Fée has made it to Thailand (primarily the Bohemian version) and Singapore. Sebor has apparently been shipped to China and Fruko is in Taiwan. But to date, none of them seems to have focused on traditional consumption methods which will, in my opinion, be important to create a long-term sustainable business.

I like the fact that while absinthe flaming was apparently allowed at the event, Ben and the Malaysia team actively promoted traditional consumption methods. I already wrote that I sometimes found the Malaysian food too hot, and I also prefer it if my absinthe is not served too hot! Durians are too "heaty;" absinthe, preferably with "sky juice" is "cooling!" Best - lah!

* For my readers outside Malaysia, you may wish to study Manglish to understand some of this article!