Last month, I got an email from New York: samples needed, please, for an event in London. LeNell Smothers is talking about absinthe, so I should help ...
Of course I had heard about LeNell; her New York shop, currently closed down, is well-known, and I first saw her talk at a Wine and Spirit exhibition in London, billed as "the legendary LeNell Smothers," so it seemed appropriate to do some more research.
Check out her Forbes interview:
"What is your favorite alcoholic drink?
Are you kidding me? Favorite? That's like asking me what my favorite sex position is."
Mmmm .. maybe not the girl to introduce to my grand-mother (may she rest in peace). But I read on ...
"What is your favorite watering hole?There's too many to name just one. Montgomery Place in Notting Hill, London, but maybe that's because I'm sleeping with the bartender."
And reading the email again, I discovered the event samples were needed for was at .. Montgomery Place. Interesting ... although I understand that LeNell and the "bartender" have now broken up, yet still work together very well.
Still, orders from New York are not to be ignored so samples were arranged and LeNell rubber stamped my attendance too, provided I was not too "commercial." Which, in hindsight, seems a bit like asking LeNell not to talk about sex.
By chance, I had met another absinthe blogger online a few days beforehand (how coincidental is it that the two UK-based absinthe bloggers live within 5 miles of each other?), so I persuaded Jen to come to London too and also re-met Liqueur de France's Ian Hutton on arriving at Montgomery Place.
LeNell and Ales Olasz (the former "bartender" who actually runs Montgomery Place) were hard at work preparing for the session, and even their preparation was impressive: they had been collating materials for the attendees (including a great resource CD) for several days beforehand. I doubt that many absinthe brand owners would prepare so many materials so methodically.
And then LeNell started her talk to the dozen or so attendees: she had elected to keep numbers down to allow a more personal inter-active session. A session that was highly informative (even for this absinthe "know-it-all"), entertaining and full of passion. It was clear that LeNell loves absinthe, and loves some of the stories and personalities in the business. Some of this passion went a bit far for the stiff upper-lipped British: I had to tell LeNell afterwards that "f****** with someone" means something different in British English, but that was about all I could teach her!
And the absinthes?
Well, we had Cheryl Lins' Meadow of Love (shown above), La Clandestine, Nouvelle-Orléans and Lucid as part of the official tasting PLUS Vieux Pontarlier and Roquette 1797 unofficially. Four of the absinthes currently in the top 7 US-available favourites as reviewed by members of the Wormwood Society (including the 3 highest rated imports). For some reason, the spitoons were not used very much!
And the fact that I was on duty meant that I had to stay for several hours after the presentation finished to sample the absinthes with some meticulously thought-out, complementary dishes, and then had to move onto the newly-created cocktails!
Absinthe Pimm's (or was it Pimps?!)
35 ml La Clandestine absinthe
35 ml Pimm's
Juice of half an orange
1 slice cucumber
2 spoons of cinnamon sugar
Splash of lemonade
Shake all with ice, strain into mug filled with ice, top with lemonade, and garnish with cucumber.
A great sazerac (bottle signed by Cheryl).
Van Gogh Cocktail
67 ml gin
22 ml Vieux Pontarlier Absinthe
Barspoon Blackcurrant Syrup
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe glass.
I also sipped the Celery Fairy Martini, the Absinthe Cargo, and maybe the Mephisto (without Marteau unfortunately).
I managed to make the train home, although as a result of all this work I missed the weekly drunken conversation initiated recently on the Absinthe Review Network's MySpace page!
LeNell is a great presenter and motivator, who knows her absinthes well. I shall put that down to her determination to present with the utmost professionalism, rather than liking her drinks. OK, maybe that too.
After all, who else in the world of absinthe has gone so far as to get a wormwood tattoo?
After a few absinthe cocktails, I summoned up the nerve to ask LeNell about the so-called absinthe Holy Trinity of herbs, and where she had the other plant tattoos. My blog may lay claim to being "an inside view of the absinthe world in the 21st century," but I didn't get an answer to that.
Here's a full list of the cocktails and matching food served on the day:
If any of my readers wants to meet LeNell in person to get answers to that question, or to any other absinthe-related question, then there's an opportunity to do so at the Astor Center in New York on July 10th. Great value for $ 75 and it includes five absinthes and an absinthe cocktail too. To quote AbsintheHour: I definitely recommend you beg, borrow, or steal your way to this!