Saturday, 7 December 2013

Seasonal gifts and cocktails for the absinthe lover

The Christmas and New Year season brings out the best in us .. but also can be a difficult time. In the run-up to Christmas, there's the present-buying frenzy, and then there's all that drinking over the holidays. 

Because absinthe has only become available in the last few years, it is not seen as a natural part of gift-giving or of celebrations (at least not in the same way as a single malt or a glass of champagne). That fact makes absinthe an even more unusual gift or celebration drink for the person "who has everything," so I have scoured the shops to bring you the best gifts, and then I'll consider what to drink.

Those who've read my blog before will know I'm commercially involved in the absinthe sector, and I'll include some products I work on. Since it's the season of goodwill, I'll also include a wider range of products, including several made by my industry colleagues.

Absinthe Gift Guide Part One - Bottles

Lots to choose from but among the most interesting are:-

Butterfly Classic Absinthe, 
numbered and signed by the distiller (US only, limited edition of 1902 bottles available at DrinkUp New York, Hi-Time, Julio's and other good stores in California and Massachusetts). Unsigned bottles are available in Europe (including UK and France) and in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.

Ridge Absinthes from Montana,

a rarity since the branding will soon be changed to Vilya (available at DrinkUp New York, Catskill Cellars, some branches of BevMo and other good stores)

Marteau Master's Reserve from Seattle, 

which is a relatively new offering, currently in limited distribution in the Pacific North West and via DrinkUp New York and Catskill, and

Jade's 1901

which is available online in Europe and in Jug Shop in San Francisco; other US stockists coming soon for this.

Locally made craft absinthes can now be found in California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon, South Carolina and Washington, as well as in Suffolk and Leicestershire in the UK. I haven't tasted all of these, so you may want to check the reviews before you buy.

Small bottle stocking fillers make great presents; these include La Clandestine and St. George 200 ml bottles in the USA (BevMo and Massachusetts) and from Whisky Exchange in the UK (Whisky Exchange and The Drink Shop in the UK have big absinthe selections). A 200 ml mixed set of Artemisia Absinthes 

is available from, who also offer a wide range of smaller samples as do Masters of Malt in the UK. The latter even offer a Dramvent Calendar of 24 x 3 cl absinthe samples!

In case you cannot find what you are looking for in your State or country, remember that you may be able to purchase online for shipping within the USA (DrinkUp New York, Catskill Cellars and Hi-Time seem to offer the widest range of States) while in Europe and Liqueurs de France have big assortments, including accessories, which they can ship to many countries. In the USA, Absinthe Devil has the widest range of absinthe accessories, including glasses, spoons and fountains.

All the online shippers are very busy in the run-up to Christmas, so check their delivery timings.

Absinthe Books and Films

Absinthe lovers will also love the great range of books and films available.

it's definitely one of the top absinthe gifts for this year.

remains the best book about absinthe cocktails, although it seems to be in short supply.

The ultimate absinthe book gift is

Chris Buddy's 

Absinthe: The Movie (reviewed here) is available on DVD, or as a download.

Posters and other memorabilia

Absinthe Posters has an excellent of historic posters and postcards

Steampunk artists have created some interesting works with absinthe, notably

San Diego's Winona Cookie. She has a wide range of absinthe pictures available as prints and cards.

Some of David Nathan-Maister's personal collection is available, including photos from the personal archives of the Pernod family 

and a very rare Swiss clandestine distiller's alembic from the 1930's or 40's

Distillery Visits

Several US distilleries advertise tours (notably St. George and Philadelphia Distilling) but many of those who don't advertise tours will be pleased to help. In Europe, Artemisia offer distillery visits via Smartbox.


Absinthe Cocktails

So once you've finished buying and wrapping presents, it is time to prepare and enjoy an absinthe cocktail or two.

Many people have their own favourite egg nog recipes, so it may be presumptive to suggest another, but this one looks good. Substitute absinthe (I suggest a blanche) for the cognac. Alternatively go to Sage at Aria in Las Vegas for an exceptionally good kitchen-made absinthe egg nog.

Of course Christmas is a time for sparkling drinks. Absinthe and champagne make the classic Death in the Afternoon, but, however bad your Christmas lunch was, that doesn't sound like the right drink for the occasion. I prefer the White Christmas (created for me by Adam Schuman of the Fatty Crab, New York in March 2009):

1/2 oz La Clandestine Absinthe
1/4 oz Simple syrup
1 oz Grapefruit juice
3 dashes St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram (The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters can be used instead)
Top up with Prosecco

Adam Schuman's brilliance lies in inverting my suggestion of falling snow with the rising bubbles of the Prosecco, but this is more complex and more interesting than the Death in the Afternoon. Great job, Adam!

So with a cocktail book/video/poster/antique in one hand and a White Christmas cocktail in the other, I'd like to wish all my readers Season's Greetings!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Prohibition, repeal, and absinthe

The drink above is currently my favourite cocktail and is one of two I will be drinking on Repeal Day soon. More details of this drink below but first a few words about prohibition and repeal. These are topics that have been very interesting for me since I was responsible for selling alcohol in some Middle East countries

where it was officially banned, and I was also able to observe the effects of prohibition in some States in India. I was living in Delhi at the time and was responsible for selling alcohol (but not absinthe) throughout India. The neighbouring State to Delhi was "dry," meaning alcohol was banned there. We sold a lot to the shops near the border (mm .. where did it all go?!) and had no sales or marketing costs in the dry State, making it very profitable for us. The ban on alcohol in the dry State merely served to whet the appetite of potential customers there.

The long prohibition of absinthe in the USA had a similar effect with many American consumers finding ways to order absinthe online before the ban was finally lifted. Prohibition didn't/doesn't work and merely served/serves to make the banned drinks more intriguing for some.

Indeed the prohibition of absinthe in Switzerland merely drove the whole category underground and is responsible for the birth of some once notorious but now famous absinthe brands such as La Clandestine.

The full story of the birth of La Clandestine in the dark days of the Swiss absinthe ban can be read here.

When it comes to prohibition and repeal, absinthe has the longest history of being banned and is the subject of the most recent repeals. Absinthe was effectively banned in the USA from 1912, 8 years before prohibition. Repeal, whose 80th anniversary is celebrated on December 5, 1933, did not extend to absinthe for another 73 years. Until March 5, 2007, or another 26,753 days to be precise!

So while the US celebrates the 80th anniversary of repeal, absinthe lovers must either mourn all those lost "green hours," or must make up for lost time. I prefer the latter!

So I want to celebrate two events: repeal in general and then the repeal of the absinthe ban. I'll do so with a classic cocktail from the 1920's and 1930's and then with a modern cocktail.

Firstly, what better way to make up for lost time than by trying one (or more) of the absinthe cocktails created to celebrate prohibition and enjoyed in bars like London's Savoy around 1930 while Americans, in theory, were not allowed to drink out in their own country.

The Savoy Cocktail Book mischievously lists a selection of "COCKTAILS SUITABLE FOR A PROHIBITION COUNTRY" which are "for those countries where they make the most of prohibition." This list includes 

Special (Rough) Cocktail
1 Dash Absinthe
1/2 Applejack
1/2 Brandy
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

This is not well reviewed in the Savoy Stomp ("The name is pretty accurate"), so I gave it a miss.

Prohibition started in 1920 so it seems fair to assume that these next two cocktails were expressly named to mark prohibition:

Nineteen-Twenty Cocktail
1 Teaspoonful Groseille Syrup
1/6 Pernod Kirsch
1/6 Crystal Gin
2/3 French Vermouth
1 Dash Absinthe
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.


Nineteen-Twenty Pick-Me-Up Cocktail
2/3 Absinthe
1/3 Gin
1 Dash Angostura Bitters
1 Dash Orange Bitters
1 Dash Gomme Syrup
Shake well, strain into medium size wine-glass, and fill balance with soda water.

Given the number of gin, vermouth and absinthe cocktails in the Savoy and the fact that the first of the these two contains just a dash of absinthe, I have focused here on the second. It is also similar to the Absinthe Special Cocktail with the main difference being the soda. I thought it would be interesting to see what the soda brings to the drink.

I made the Nineteen-Twenty Pick-Me-Up using Gloag's Gin (no longer available) from the makers of The Famous Grouse and an absinthe that was directly hit by the US ban on absinthe: Butterfly Absinthe (more of this later). 

This 1920 Pick-Me-Up was strong and refreshing (maybe an unusual combination) and the citrus notes in Butterfly worked well with the gin. This style of cocktail maybe doesn't have the immediate appeal of some modern cocktails but when I close my eyes and sip it, it does indeed feel like the kind of cocktail one could easily have enjoyed at the Savoy in 1930.

The original makers of Butterfly, P. Dempsey of Merrimac Street, Boston, were of course directly affected by prohibition. Patrick Dempsey's son, George, was the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the National Wholesale Liquor Dealers Association of America (try putting that on a business card) and he presented this paper in 1908.

Sadly the efforts of George Dempsey and others were unsuccessful: his absinthe, Butterfly, the only American absinthe for which a bottle and recipe survive, disappeared after 1912 and his distillery closed in 1920 to become, eventually, a car park (a very profitable business in Boston!).

Butterfly Absinthe returned to the USA in autumn 2013 and is now made in Switzerland by a former moonshiner. UK mixologists have had a head start on Butterfly, with some great cocktails already created at the Worship Street Whistling Shop and at One Leicester Street. But the most interesting cocktail I have enjoyed with Butterfly takes me back to India (where this post started). London's Indian restaurant, Gymkhana, which opened in September 2013 to some stunning reviews, offers a Flutterby Lassi (created for them by Fluid Movement's Jon Lister who also created the absinthe cocktails enjoyed here in 2012). A lassi is an Indian drink (usually non-alcoholic) with a yoghurt base that is consumed at the end of a meal to ease digestion. 

The Flutterby Lassi is offered as a digestif and is made as follows:-

3 dill sprigs
2cm piece cucumber, peeled
35 ml Butterfly absinthe
10ml lime juice
20ml gomme
50ml yoghurt

Muddle the dill and cucumber and pour all the other ingredients into shaker.

Shake and double strain.

Serve in a port wine glass and garnish with a scrolled skin of cucumber and a sprig of dill.

The Flutterby made it onto national British TV, into the Evening Standard's list of London's best cocktails and into several other national newspapers. City AM called the Flutterby a "cultural gem."

The combination of Butterfly (which I consider a digestif-style absinthe) with yoghurt works amazingly well, and the dill and cucumber topped it off perfectly. A great well-balanced taste, refreshing with a smooth creamy mouth-feel (but not at all like a cream liqueur). Despite having a large measure of absinthe in, this is the first absinthe cocktail that my wife has really liked, and even requested again and again (see below). 

Great to see a wonderful absinthe cocktail coming from an Indian restaurant of all places. India has some of the strictest alcohol laws in the world, including prohibition in many areas. Butterfly was created by an American company that fought prohibition and lost, and is now made by a Swiss company that was started as a direct result of and response to prohibition. So in every respect, the Flutterby Lassi is a very appropriate way to celebrate the 80th anniversary of repeal in the USA. Cheers! Santé! अच्छी सेहत!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Absinthe Cocktails for Halloween

Updated October 21, 2014 (exactly one year after the original article)

In the last week, those two great paragons of journalism (Fox News and the UK's Daily Mail) have listed the two cocktails featured in this blog article as being among the most dangerous cocktails in the world. 

The Corpse Reviver # 2 "is dangerous because of absinthe qualities that sometime provoke violence in drinkers or makes them black out."

Death in the Afternoon: "A classic concoction of champagne and absinthe, this mind-blowing luxe cocktail was invented by Ernest Hemingway ... The drink rarely appears in bar menus but can usually be ordered from Sky Bar Kuala Lumpur's bartenders for the princely sum of RM67 (£13)." 

Both these articles demonstrate the journalists' complete ignorance of the drinks. 4 - 8 drops of absinthe in a Corpse Reviver # 2 is not going to provoke violence in drinkers. although the journalist's assertion (that it would) probably did provoke some drinkers to have ideas of violence towards ignorant journalists. 

As for the Death in the Afternoon, is it "mind-blowing" and does it "rarely appear in bar menus?" The second part clearly shows the journalist's ignorance, although full credit is due if he or she managed to get a trip to Malaysia funded by his/her newspaper to find it.

It  is sad to see ignorance like this still being used in the name of "news." Those of us who know the history of absinthe know that it was ignorance like this that led to it being banned in most countries at the start of the 20th century. It is also sad to think that some ignorant drinkers will try these cocktails and maybe several at a time, specifically because they think they are dangerous. Thus making Fox News and the Daily Mail directly culpable of encouraging abuse ...

Now back to your normal programming ...

Original Article October 21, 2013

Halloween is a great time to re-visit another pair of absinthe cocktails: the Corpse Reviver No. 2 and Death in the Afternoon.

The Corpse Reviver No. 2 (like the Corpse Reviver No. 1) is featured in the Savoy Cocktail book and was created by Harry Craddock at the Savoy's American Bar some time before 1930. No. 2 is a more serious proposition than no. 1: here are the ingredients as listed in the Savoy.

1/4 Wine Glass Lemon Juice (3/4 oz)
1/4 Wine Glass Kina Lillet. (3/4 oz)
1/4 Wine Glass Cointreau. (3/4 oz)
1/4 Wine Glass Dry Gin. (3/4 oz)
1 Dash Absinthe.

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass. The book then notes:-

"Four of these taken in quick succession will unrevive the corpse again."

This version appears in the two Absinthe cocktail books published in 2010: A Taste for Absinthe and Absinthe Cocktails. One of only seven cocktails written up in both books, this is obviously an important absinthe cocktail (incidentally these books define the dash of absinthe as being four or eight drops). It's also a favourite of absinthe bloggers and of bars around the world.

I made it using an old, no longer available gin (Gloag's from the makers of Famous Grouse), Combier Triple Sec, Noilly Prat and 8 drops of La Clandestine. And slightly less lemon juice than recommended. It's a very enjoyable and refreshing pick me up.

So for Halloween brunch or lunch, what better way to start the day or to get it going than with this wonderful cocktail!

I was also pleased to see Boston's Royal Sonesta making a ready bottled version!

For more details of this, see the excellent IndulgeInspireImbibe blog.

Here's a video from our friends at Common Man Cocktails showing how to make both Corpse Reviver Cocktails.

And here are some further study notes about the Corpse Revivers from the Bitters and Twisted blog ....

Now onto the Death in the Afternoon cocktail ..

Another classic absinthe cocktail (and one that merits a slight twist to make it even more suitable for Halloween), the famous Death in the Afternoon was invented by Ernest Hemingway. The cocktail shares its name with Hemingway's book Death in the Afternoon, and the recipe was first published in So Red the Nose, or Breath in the Afternoon, a 1935 cocktail book with contributions from famous authors (coincidentally 1935 was the year when La Clandestine Absinthe was born). Hemingway's original instructions were:

"Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly."

I have always enjoyed Death in the Afternoon, but have also been aware that it might be a little dry for some people's tastes, especially if using a top quality champagne. So I was pleased to have the opportunity to try an interesting variation on this when my US partners visited us in Switzerland and suggested using a Swiss sparkling rosé to make a Death in the Afternoon.

Maybe it was the rosé itself (a little over-powering), or maybe it was the temperature of the rosé (ambient), but although it looks gorgeous, this didn't quite work. So with Halloween approaching, I tried again, this time with a Jacob's Creek sparkling rosé, which is probably easier to find in most countries. And to add some atmosphere, I dug out my daughters' Halloween straws and dimmed the lights ...

First the jigger of La Clandestine Absinthe, then top up with the sparkling rosé (I did top it up, but the members of the tasting panel sampled it before I could take my next photograph).

Nice colour, but maybe for Halloween, it needed a bit more drama. And so I added a few drops of blood ...

a.k.a. Grenadine.

Perfect to look at ...

... and perfect to taste. Not too dry and not too sweet, with the absinthe and sparkling rosé working very well together.

Of course a good cocktail needs a good name. I thought about calling this a Bloody Death in the Afternoon, but that might make people think it contains tomato juice. And for Halloween, I think a murder sounds better than death. It's definitely not an afternoon drink either, hence the final name .. Murder in the Evening. If you like a Death in the Afternoon, I think you'll love this. At Halloween or at any time.

Since not every absinthe lover has a collection of other spirits at home. I thought it might be interesting to see how those who prefer absinthe the classic way can get into the Halloween spirit.

Available from Pinky Diablo for $45 (including free shipping in the USA), these wonderful skull spoons seem to do the job perfectly ..

Santé ... or since the drinks and spoons are for Halloween, we should be satisfied if we can just achieve ... survival!

Friday, 30 August 2013

The Five Biggest Absinthe Myths

"Nature abhors a vacuum." Absinthe was unavailable in most of the world for nearly 100 years, and this vacuum led to many half-truths and complete myths about absinthe. Here are the myths I hear about most frequently:
1. "Drink absinthe and you'll see the green fairy."  Usually with an encouragement to drink more to see more fairies. 

NOT TRUE. The most powerful ingredient in absinthe is the alcohol: drink a lot of absinthe and you may see pink elephants, or perhaps the pavement/sidewalk at very close quarters. Yes, there is a chemical called thujone in absinthe (there's even more in sage apparently), but you'd have to drink so much absinthe to get any meaningful effect, you'd die of alcohol poisoning first. So maybe you'd get to see angels, if you think you're headed for Heaven (failing that, then devils).

2. "Absinthe should be enjoyed by burning an absinthe-soaked sugar lump which is then added to the absinthe to set fire to that." Or a variation of this. Clearly a great way to have fun ...

NOT TRUE. There is no record of burning sugar lumps and absinthe prior to the 1990’s.  Burning sugar adds a caramelised taste to the absinthe, which spoils the taste of a well-made absinthe; setting fire to the absinthe also burns off a lot of the alcohol, which is a major part of the cost you've just paid. There is no historical basis for this abuse of absinthe. No impressionist painter set fire to his absinthe just before pouring it down his throat.

3. "Real absinthe only comes from the Czech Republic," or "You cannot buy real absinthe in the USA" or similar. 

NOT TRUE. Absinthe was born in Switzerland; during the 19th century most absinthe was made in Switzerland or France. And today most of the absinthe available in the USA is real absinthe, whether made in France, Switzerland or the USA. Sadly in Europe and a few other countries, many of the absinthes available are little more than wormwood-flavoured, artificially-coloured vodka, but it is heartening to see some good absinthe coming out of the Czech Republic now.
4. "Real absinthe is bright green, like the fairy, and so we add artificial colouring to make it green." Well, maybe no manufacturer actually says it like that, but some of them encourage this myth by selling artificially coloured absinthe.  

So, NOT TRUE. If an absinthe is unnaturally green, it's a manufacturing short-cut, and probably a sign of other short-cuts in the process.
Finally, and this is really something I hear almost every time I do an absinthe event ....

5. "Van Gogh cut off his ear because of absinthe." 

NOT TRUE. He spent most of his day breathing in paint fumes, and it is probable that these caused much more harm than absinthe.

Given the recent fuss about the Sour Toe Cocktail, I am tempted, however, to consider a Van Gogh's Ear cocktail ....

There are other myths I hear from time to time, but the five myths above can be traced to manufacturers or vendors of lower quality "absinthes," who do not sell their products through legal channels (especially in the USA). They have a vested interest in promoting these myths. Buyer, beware!

So how should you enjoy absinthe?


Read more about the myths and about some of the surprising truths behind absinthe in my 10 Key Facts series.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Beer and Absinthe?

In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is setting earlier, the kids are going back to school, and in the USA it will soon be Labor Day and the tailgating season.

So that means it's time to explore beer and, in particular, a Guinness and absinthe mix that was created a couple of years ago by my importer in Malaysia, Tong Woh (also a major local wholesaler for beers). The Hulk, a half pint of Guinness with a measure of La Clandestine Absinthe sunk or poured into it, sounds like it was originally created for St. Patrick's Day events, but it first emerged in May 2009 at the Wabisabi Yakatori in Kuala Lumpur (apparently now closed, although that has nothing to do with the drinks they offered!).

The Hulk is a recent addition to drinks such as the Irish Car Bomb (originally Stout, Irish Whiskey and Coffee Liqueur) that probably sound worse than they are. The Hulk may not be a cocktail that you would want to sip on a romantic night out or when trying to impress. But at the right time and place, and with the right company, the Hulk is definitely worth trying. At least once.

Interesting to note that the Examiner has also recommended a variation of this: the Davis Diesel mixing cider and Guinness. Maybe a step too far?

Brian Robinson, Review Editor of the Wormwood Society and guest blogger right here a few times, agreed to take a Hulk for the team. As a sometime rugby player, he insisted on going for the full pint down in one: a technique not recommended for date night. Enjoy the video! Sláinte!

Friday, 9 August 2013

Dr. Funk: the Absinthe Tiki cocktail

Another Monday, another great meeting with bar staff, this time at The Hide Bar in London. It's what I like most in this role that I have developed for myself. Well, that and de-flowering absinthe virgins, but that's another story!

I think a good time was had by all: we started with Clandestinos and I saw that Rufus, the founder of the company that owns The Hide Bar was making an interesting absinthe cocktail at home several hours later.

But I was also on a quest to try a tiki cocktail containing absinthe that I had first read about nearly three years ago, and that is the .... Dr. Funk.

I had heard about this from Robert Haynes-Peterson, who is the national Spirits Examiner for the Examiner, and Drinks Examiner for New York. This is the recipe he posted in 2010 in Drinkology for Fashion Forum Magazine:

apparently from Trader Vic's, circa 1947. Well, not the La Clandestine absinthe part of it, which was Robert's suggestion!

Nastassia of The Hide made a Dr. Funk as shown above (but without the chimney glass or garnishes) and we all agreed that it worked very well. The colour is not so "girly," as to put off men, and it's actually quite a sophisticated drink. The general view was that the absinthe worked well; indeed we felt we could have used more absinthe.

There are certain elements of this drink that are interesting. Of course in 1947 there was no absinthe - officially at least in the USA. In fact most most of the online versions of the Dr. Funk recipe from around this time do seem to specify either Pernod (pastis) or Herbsaint. More significantly they - and most subsequent recipes - contain a lot more rum than absinthe/pastis. Typically a 5:1 ratio, while we were drinking a 2:1 recipe. Here's the one from the 1947 Trader Vic's Bar Guide:

It seems that Robert had adapted this original recipe to produce his version of the Dr. Funk, reducing the rum content from 2.5 to 0.5 oz and switching to absinthe and Robert and I agree that his version works really well. (Edit: noting the first comment, the revised version may be a little smaller than some Tiki cocktails. I suggest using the ratios suggested by Robert, but scaled-up as required).

However ... going back into the history of the drink, the first documented recipe reference is from the book "Mystic Isles of the South Seas" (1921) where you can read the following:-

"I had been introduced to a Doctor Funk by Count Polonsky, who told me it was made of a portion of absinthe, a dash of grenadine,—a syrup of the pomegranate fruit,—the juice of two limes, and half a pint of siphon water. Dr. Funk of Samoa, who had been a physician to Robert Louis Stevenson, had left the receipt (sic) for the concoction when he was a guest of the club. One paid half a franc for it, and it would restore self-respect and interest in one's surroundings when even Tahiti rum failed."

In other words, with a full portion of absinthe and with no rum at all, meaning that Robert's version, whether developed consciously or sub-consciously, is a good compromise between the original (1921) and the Trader Vic's (1947) versions!

There's more - much more - on the history of this fascinating and very enjoyable cocktail on the Pegu Blog and at Tiki Central. This time around, I'm going to sit out the talking and get on with making another one for myself. Manuia!

Friday, 2 August 2013

New Orleans, Tales of the Cocktail, Absinthe. And more absinthe.

"Ranked #1 in the Nation in Liver Transplants?" Yes, that's the sign at New Orleans Airport. We can't claim we weren't warned!

"New Orleans has always been the centre of absinthe culture in the United States." (Source: The Absinthe Encyclopedia). That sounds more like it.

New Orleans: the home of Tales of the Cocktail, probably the world's biggest event for bartenders, drinks brand ambassadors and owners, and anyone else who is interested in cocktails. The word "probably" may not be needed there.

Yet after more than 20 years in the drinks business and after nearly nine years promoting absinthe, 2013 sees my first visit to Tales and my first visit to New Orleans. And for my first visit, I'm privileged to have been chosen to run a seminar in front of 170 people who probably know a whole lot more about cocktails than me. Luckily I will have help for that!


I arrive in New Orleans a full three days before our seminar, because I want to absorb the atmosphere, see some of the bars (especially those selling absinthe), and attend a couple of other seminars to see how the more experienced Tales presenters handle the event.

I start slowly.

The Old Absinthe House is about 100 yards from my hotel (the Monteleone) and I don't want to exert myself in the legendary New Orleans July heat and humidity. I'm pleased to say it was hotter in both New York and in London, and NOLA had nothing like the humidity I experienced living in South East Asia.

Absinthe fans have been rather dismissive about the Old Absinthe House which apparently has a record of burning absinthe. I came back here several times during my stay, and I didn't have or see a single burnt absinthe all week. The range available is not enormous, but there are two or three higher quality absinthes ...

As well as the classic drip, the Old Absinthe House offers absinthe cocktails, including the Absinthe Frappé that was created here.

but I decided to have my first NOLA Absinthe Frappé at one of the most famous mixology bars in New Orleans: Cure.

A great bar with wonderful cocktails and a good selection range of quality absinthes: La Clandestine, Vieux Pontarlier, Nouvelle Orleans and Ridge Blanche.


A working day, finalising my presentation. Later I had my first Sazerac in NOLA at Sainte Marie. Made with Herbsaint as seems to be the norm in New Orleans.

Later that evening we went to the Copper Monkey Grill in the French Quarter. Quite a big range of absinthes including La Clandestine, Nouvelle Orleans, Lucid and Kübler. They also carry Grande Absente, Mata Hari, and La Fée. Classic drip used.


The first day of Tales, so I attended a couple of seminars, mainly to learn from other presenters how they managed the combination of entertainment and content. The Art and Philosophy of Hospitality had a star-studded cast, led by Jacob Briars. The cast were both entertaining and very interesting, and I saw a lot of notes taken by the audience. Midnight in Paris: Cocktails of the lost generation closely ressembled the theme of my seminar, and I enjoyed seeing how Philip Greene made the seminar highly relevant to a bartender audience AND interesting to a student of Hemingway and Paris.

In between these two seminars, I had a very liquid lunch with some customers at Stanley. Since the 1900's Butterfly Absinthe is on the page facing New Orleans in the Absinthe Encyclopedia, this was a fitting place to break open one of the first US-legal bottles of the re-launched Butterfly (now made in Switzerland),

as well as the very interesting barrel-aged version of La Clandestine (not yet legally available in the USA).

Wednesday evening: no bars visited. I was inspired by the seminars I had seen to amend our own presentation, so had too much work to venture out. Or maybe I went out for a quick drink at the Old Absinthe House? Much of this week has become a blur when looked at two weeks later, so maybe I did ..


More than 8 months after submitting our seminar proposal to Tales of the Cocktail, the day to deliver it had finally arrived. Hundreds of emails, Facebook messages, texts, conversations, and meetings; hundreds of hours of research; all would all come down to 90 minutes that afternoon. And I was doing just one seminar. Imagine all the work done by Ann Tuennerman and her team at Tales to put on more than 50 seminars and hundreds of other events..

But first one more seminar to watch: Modifiers: Eternal Life for Cocktails, led by the irrepressible Philip Duff, followed by the Indie Spirits that Rock mini-exhibition. How strange to run into Simon Difford here, and to have the opportunity to discuss my absinthe with him briefly: we'd both had to fly in from London to meet up in NOLA! And, of course, that's what makes Tales so special: the meetings planned and unplanned with colleagues, customers, and competitors: I met customers - and prospects - from all over the USA and the UK at Tales (and from a few other countries I won't reveal here since my competitors may be reading).

I've already covered part of the seminar I presented with London's Savoy Hotel in a previous post, In addition to the Maid in Cuba, we tasted three relatively unknown 1930 Savoy cocktails presented by Erik Lorincz: the Blackthorn, the Atty and the Jeyplak.

The Blackthorn is one of several Savoy absinthe cocktails I had not tasted before: the ingredients worked well together.

The ATTY and the Jeyplak are just two of many absinthe cocktails from the Savoy that also have gin and vermouth. The addition of Creme de Violette in the former enhanced the cocktail from both taste and visual standpoints, and hopefully inspired the audience to think again about many of the cocktails in the Savoy: as fresh and original today as they were 83 years ago.

Some of my readers will know that our seminar was sponsored by Pernod as well as by Plymouth Gin and Drink Up New York. I told our audience that Harry Craddock didn't make as much use of lemon/lime juice with absinthe as he could have. Modern mixologists agree with both Pernod and La Clandestine in making some great cocktails with absinthe, lime juice and sugar or simple syrup.

In Pernod's case: the Green Beast. In La Clandestine's case: the Clandestino.

Talking of which, it was nearly time to let my hair down and celebrate the completion of our seminar and turn to some refreshments. But firstly I had the opportunity - and the pleasure - to meet and share a drink or two with César Giron, Mathieu Sabbagh and Anne-Louise Marquis of Pernod, along with Brian Robinson, Review Editor of the Wormwood Society and Maxwell Britten from Maison Premiere, probably the best absinthe bar in the USA.

Brian and I tasted the "Original Recipe" Pernod Absinthe; the Pernod team tasted La Clandestine. 

As others have commented elsewhere, Tales is the type of event where one puts aside all competitor issues, so it was good to put faces to names and to have a good chat and share drinks with the team at Pernod. Santé!

After that, it was off to a Spirited Dinner, organised by my friends at Montanya Rum. I couldn't resist the opportunity for some low key branding!

Not too sure about what happened later that evening. It definitely included a visit to the Carousel Bar at The Monteleone and the Old Absinthe House ...


My last working day in NOLA, and two more very interesting seminars.

Grape's gaint leap towards immortality featured a stellar cast, while Camper English presented Water World: Water in Spirits and Drinks by himself. I had mistakenly thinking that a seminar on water would give me a chance to "dry out," but walked into the seminar room to find a 4.5 oz glass of Bowmore Single Malt in front of each place! Oh well, duty calls ...

Between seminars, I went to Cane and Table (at the old site of Pravda), and owned by the owners of Cure, featuring a pop-up bar operated by the team at Dead Rabbit, NYC. I had had the opportunity to go to Dead Rabbit twice the previous week and loved it: so it was great to meet new/old friends again. The Dead Rabbit would go on to deservedly win several awards at the Spirited Awards dinner the following night. Cane and Table currently stocks Pernod, while Dead Rabbit NYC stocks Pernod, La Clandestine, Duplais Verte, Vieux Pontarlier, Kubler, Lucid and Nouvelle Orleans.

My work in NOLA, however, wasn't quite finished. I found Pirate's Alley Café and Absinthe House in the French Quarter

and enjoyed a drink or two there ..

Nice to see that they can get some great theatre into absinthe without resorting to fire. Pirate's Alley stocks a good range including La Clandestine, Kubler and Lucid, and prices are very reasonable.

For my last evening in New Orleans, I joined Brian Robinson, Kris (also from the Wormwood Society) and Chrissie, and later Ted Breaux and Jenny Gardener for a tour of famous bars. We started at the Roosevelt

 with its famous Sazerac Bar:

Now what did you expect me to drink?

Again served with Herbsaint.

Next stop was the Boubon-O Bar run by the amazing Cheryl Charming.

Creativity is very much alive here: we enjoyed a bucket of pre-mixed, carbonated Sazeracs. Cheryl tells me that the Sazeracs are "CO2 carbonated Perlini Sazeracs in 1960s - 1970s Coca-Cola bottles dug up in the grounds of NOLA. It took several cleanings and sanitizing to get them ready for the Sazeracs!"

Bourbon-O only carries Lucid "in honor of Ted (Breaux)'s hard work and money getting it into the US." So it was good to enjoy Bourbon-O with Ted himself.

Cheers, Cheryl!

We headed back along the famous Bourbon Street

to the Monteleone's famous Carousel Bar. Photos don't really do this justice: I enjoyed this time lapse video (a 360 degree trip in fact takes 15 minutes):

We enjoyed Macallan and some more barrel-aged absinthe, and I thought briefly about packing for my early departure the next morning. And had another drink ...


So that was my working week in NOLA. Delta seemed determined to extend my stay in the USA, so I returned from NOLA via Nashville, Atlanta and JFK to Heathrow. My suitcase took another 3 day holiday in Boston. Maybe we just couldn't bear to leave.

NOLA and Tales were amazing. The best experience of my 24 years in the drinks business in a great city with wonderful food and even better company. People I had never met before became life-long friends. And the Tales team from Ann and Paul, the full-time staff and then the Apprentices: all played their part in making the event unforgettable.

And the absinthe in NOLA? Lucid, Nouvelle Orleans and La Clandestine were in most of the bars I visited, although some of the more traditional bars prefer to serve Herbsaint. There is nothing like the element of burning absinthes that I had been led to believe. Maybe the battle to get good absinthes served correctly has nearly been won in NOLA.

Maybe I'll go back in 2014. Just to check.