Inside the top-secret absinthe tasting room. Photo: Daniel Maurer
A second brand of wormwood absinthe has been approved for U.S. sale (Lucid being the first). Yves Kubler, the fourth-generation distiller of Swiss Absinthe Superieure Kubler, told us he got permission to import his product after five years of haggling with the U.S. government (the turning point was when the Swiss embassy intervened). All the while, he says, he refused to tweak the recipe from what his family produced in 1875. For help determining which brand is more worthy of ingestion (and to gauge their authenticity), we invited the Green Fairy, an underground authority who for years has sold his own home-brewed absinthe in elaborate kits, to taste-test them. Are either of them good enough to put him out of business?
How does Lucid strike you when you drink it straight?
I’m smelling more of the pastis than I am of the wormwood. But as it evaporates I do feel a slight bitterness on my tongue that lets me know it’s in the absinthe family.
What about Kubler?
Much more complex. I’m feeling that bitterness at first — that twiglike flavor that a lot of people describe as very “green.” I’m enjoying Kubler a lot better. I’d like to take them both outside and light them on fire!
Right now you’re diluting the absinthe with water by pouring it over a sugar cube that you’ve placed on a spoon over the glass. How do you recommend doing this?
I’m adding one-to-one; you can add as much water as you like. Some people dilute it to an entire glass. Historically people would put in a certain amount of absinthe, a certain amount of sugar, and just keep adding water and adding water, consuming maybe three times water to the amount of absinthe. When the water is poured through and dissolves the sugar, it sweetens the taste of the absinthe, which is very bitter. Some people choose to drink it without sugar.
How do these compare to the absinthe you make?
It’s not as bitter as what I make. Mine is a very intense experience: you may never go near it again and the very conversation of it may make you gag, but I feel it’s very authentic to re-creating a drink that only a certain amount of refined people gravitated towards.
The producer of Kubler told me that the hallucinogenic effects of wormwood and its derivative thujone are much exaggerated. Do you think absinthe does produce a different sort of “high” than other liquors?
Yes. Drinking anything with the accurate amount of wormwood produces a different experience. A lot of people report not feeling drunk or down but feeling up and exhilarated.
Have you seen this for yourself when you’re serving it?
A gentleman set himself on fire by spilling a large amount of the bottle on himself and then trying to use a lighter to try to light the glasses on fire. He went up like a momentary rocket. I’ve heard of a lot of people running pretty rampant on the streets.