Absinthe. Just the word stirs up a flicker of apprehension in the hearts of casual and veteran imbibers alike. I too had my concerns, my mind filled with images of naughty green fairies, straight jackets, and mad googly eyes. But despite all that, curiosity—especially since tasty drinks are involved—got the better of me. This is why on my last trip out west, I made it a point to sample the stuff.
On this particular excursion to San Francisco, absinthe seemed to be everywhere. In fact, it was clearly on display in many of the spots where we bellied up to the bar. At Range, while Sarah and I sipped our 1794 cocktails, it was hard to ignore the bartender as she wrestled with a bulky absinthe drip, which had just arrived that day. After getting the faucet contraption positioned correctly, she began to fill it with ice-water. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to stick around.
We did get a chance to have a Sazerac made with genuine absinthe at Cantina, a really raucous house of mixology. I have to say that though the drink was nice, it couldn’t hold a flame to the Sazerac (non-absinthe version) made at our beloved Flatiron Lounge. Even so, the tropical tequila, rum, and sangria drinks on the menu looked absolutely amazing—I’m definitely going back.
The last stop on our absinthe journey was, fittingly, Absinthe Brasserie & Bar. We dropped by this French-themed hot spot on our last night in the city. When we asked the sharply suited barman for an absinthe-infused bevie, he produced the Death in the Afternoon, a Champagne-based drink popularized by Ernest Hemingway. With its potent taste of licorice and star anise, absinthe isn’t for the squeamish. That said, our cocktail was mixed with craft distiller Hanger One’s absinthe, which is as complex as it is balanced. Though my energy was flagging before my first sip, a pleasant invigorating calm took hold of me once the drink was down the hatch. No wonder the old man liked to throw a bunch of these back before facing the bulls. I suggest you take an absinthe trip yourself.
DEATH IN THE AFTERNOON
5 ounces champagne (the colder the better)
For my libation I used absinthe from Lucid, who claim to employ a more authentic 19th-century recipe than their competitors. The method is dead simple. Just pour a half ounce of absinthe (one ounce if you dare) into a Champagne glass, then top off with bubbly. Ideally, the mixture should cloud up, attaining an almost milky appearance.