Saturday, 16 October 2010

Absinthe in the UK: Part 2

100 years ago this month, absinthe was banned in Switzerland. Over the next few years, bans followed in many other countries, but not in the UK. So 20 years later, the Savoy Hotel was still offering over 100 cocktails that contained absinthe, according to the 1930 Savoy Hotel Cocktail book (did they import large stocks when it was banned or were they importing from Spain?). In fact, the Savoy Hotel has just re-opened in London, but that's another story ...

I have recently written about the absinthe renaissance in the UK, so what better bar to choose for the introduction of La Clandestine, Angélique and Butterfly absinthes than Purl, London: appropriate because it is a bar that looks both back in time and into the future. Purl is a speakeasy-style bar, just off Baker Street that opened in 2010 to some great reviews, including ones from Yet Another Gin, Gin Monkey, and the London Cocktail Guide.

The bar's website states “The name Purl comes from a 19th century beverage that was commonly sold on the streets of London. The drink consists of warm ale, gin and spices. It’s in keeping with our theme of late 19th century birth of cocktails along with pre-prohibition cocktail culture and the art deco period… plus Purl is a nice word (it’s also the sound that water makes when it flows over rocks). Contrary to the vintage drinking era that Purl will typify, the cocktail list will be an ever-evolving mixture of hard core classics and forward thinking sensory peculiarities. You’ll have to pop on down to find out more, but we will be incorporating foams, caviar, homemade infusions, home-aged bitters, ice carving and even liquid nitrogen.”

In fact, according to Wikipedia, Purl was originally a wormwood ale! Another great reason to introduce three absinthes here. It being London Cocktail Week (with many other seminars and events to attend), we decided to drink just two of the absinthes, both in the classic way and in one cocktail each.

It was great to discover that Andreas, shown here making the Clandestino (or Clandestine Caipirinha),

had already visited the Clandestine distillery in 2007, so knew it already.

I was delighted that five highly informed drinks bloggers were able to come along to be part of the absinthe renaissance. They seemed to find the Clandestino (previously described here) a very interesting drink with at least two of them tweeting about it the next day, and they were also pleasantly surprised by the Butterfly Kiss.

Here's the Butterfly Kiss recipe:

1 oz Butterfly Absinthe
1/2 oz Cream
1 oz Honey Syrup (see recipe below)

Shake in a cocktail shaker over ice and serve in a cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

(Honey Syrup:

1 cup Honey
1 cup Hot Water

In a jar, combine the honey with the hot water. Close tightly and shake
the mixture well. You can refrigerate and keep the honey syrup for up to 1 month).

I enjoyed meeting the bloggers (it is ALWAYS nice to meet a fellow-blogger) who had some good questions, and who certainly saw the opportunity for higher quality absinthes in the UK. We didn't taste other absinthes but we agreed that London was ready for much better absinthe than can generally be found there. Now the real work starts for me and my colleagues at distillnation! Time to stop enjoying ourselves

and time to start taking the "real absinthe" message elsewhere!

I started this article by mentioning the Swiss ban that led directly to the underground absinthe movement in the Val-de-Travers in Switzerland, Interestingly, the family of Charlotte Vaucher, the moonshiner who created the recipe for La Clandestine, recently published a blog article about her. It's a fascinating story of family secrets, locked doors, and the determination that kept the absinthe fairy alive, underground, in one small area of Switzerland while it was almost dead everywhere else. A translation can now be read here.

Today is also the 156th anniversary of the birth of absinthe-lover, Oscar Wilde. He would have loved Purl (the bar, more than the historic wormwood ale), and he might have appreciated the absinthes we shared there too.

From Purl in London, a bar that is underground, traditional and yet also ground-breaking, it seeems very appropriate to toast you both today, Charlotte and Oscar. Santé!

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