I can think of no better way to kick off The Goodist than a review of the first traditional absinthe allowed into US borders since it's prohibition over 90 years ago - Lucid by Ted Breaux. A wildly popular beverage in western Europe in the late 1800's and legendary for it's "more than just booze" effects on the mind, it's a topic swirling with controversy and confusion due to it's long absence. Fear not, for today your burning questions will be answered at long last with the help of The Goodist and some very willing friends.
If you've yet to digest my primer on absinthe, I highly suggest you start there for crucial background before continuing on with this review. A very special thanks to my lovely and endlessly supportive girlfriend, Amy Rose, for picking up a bottle for tasting from her new gig at Pearl Specialty - a haven of all things fine and the first store in Oregon allowed to sell booze right along side beer, wine, and specialty foods.
Lucid is distilled in France by Ted Breaux, the same gentleman chemist made famous by his analysis on pre-prohibition absinthe which revealed that nobody in the 1800's was getting high on thujone (the mind altering chemical in wormwood blamed for it's rumored psychedelic effects). Breaux quickly went on to start distilling his own absinthe in France at an old distillery designed by none other than Gustav Eiffel. Jade Liqueurs has been reverse engineering classic pre-ban absinthes ever since. Although Breaux has made some very fancy (and pricey to acquire in the States) reproductions, Lucid is intended to be an easily approachable, yet very authentic absinthe for the US market.
Our tasting took place on an undisclosed patio late on a Sunday night with girlfriend Amy, and close friends Todd and Melissa. Apart from Amy and I having a couple 'Absenta' style absinthes in Barcelona this spring and Todd having tried some sort of absinthe years ago, we were all quite new to the spirit. We scrounged together some random wine glasses, filled a squeeze bottle with ice water, and got down to business.
The mystery and sensory experience of absinthe begins long before you even take a sip. Since absinthe is typically upwards of 120 proof (124 in the case of Lucid), it's a bit too strong to drink undiluted. Dilution also releases the aroma of the non-water-soluble oils produced by the herbs. Slowly adding ice water (almost drop by drop) until you reach a water to absinthe ratio between 3:1 to 5:1 is called the "louche". Try to savor this portion of the experience in good light, sunlight if possible, as the show created by the oils slowly turning the clear liquor opalescent and cloudy is equally intriguing as the scent that begins wafting around as the herbal aromas come alive. In absinthe's heyday the louche was performed by special absinthe fountains that slowly dripped water into your glass. Being that we're not nearly as fancy as all that, we used a squeeze bottle to drip the water (a bottle of water with one of those 'sport' nozzles also worked quite well the next night).
We plunged our noses into our oversized glasses and came away with some interesting reactions. The anise and fennel created a very concentrated Good and Plenty licorice smell that dominated our first impressions, yet lingering in the finish was a bitterness that made it very clear that this is not just an ouzo-type anise liquor. I detected white pepper and cardamom, almost like the bitter hit of a strong chai, while Amy picked up on wet wood and old barrels. It was very heady and pleasingly alluring.
We melted a cube of sugar over a fork during the louche on our first glass but settled on skipping it for subsequent glasses, it was sweet enough on it's own and the herbs came through clearer without.
The flavor left little to surprise after the revealing aroma, it was anise-sweet with a background of bitter wormwood and almost mint-like herbs, a very satisfying balance of flavors, even for Melissa who typically doesn't enjoy the licorice/anise thing. It finished with a pungent lingering of over-steeped chamomile and numbed your tongue in lips before you were an ounce through the glass.d
So did you get high or not?!
Much has been made of absinthe's rumored psychoactive properties, but we didn't cut off our ears or even see colors for that matter. The effect was very similar to what Amy and I experienced in Spain, a very immediate clear-headed talkativeness (Matt described it as "chatty" the next night) and a warming lack of tension (Todd described it as: "womb like"). This clarity, pared with the inebriating power of high-proof booze, spurred intense conversation that was very focused and honest, it's no wonder it was once a dietary staple of an artistic and philosophic revolution. Absinthe would be (and was) a great aid in doing honest art with a single minded fervor. A word of warning at this point, absinthe makes a great apertif or digestif while enjoying an engaging evening with friends, but it could be stupefyingly dangerous if you've already got a good booze buzz going, enjoy it when it's appropriate. I'll temper all this with a point from Amy, these effect are subtle, like the difference between a wine buzz and a tequila buzz - they're there - but think herbal tea, not LSD.
I really like it. Growing up eating boxes of Good and Plenty's at every movie outing (thanks mom!) makes it easy for me to give a thumbs up, and the incredible diversity in herbs definately hits my complexity hot button. It's especially impressive that even those with anise aversions seem to find respect for this spirit, considering it's very potent licorice flavor. It also leaves me wanting a more complicated version, Breaux made a style that's clearly geared for the American-absinthe-newbee audience, but he's got me hooked, and I can't wait until we have an estimated 25+ styles to sample from by the end of '08.