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Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010

The Forbidden Nectar of Absinthe

‘Little Green Book’ offers guide to recently legalized cocktail

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When the United States lifted its ban on absinthe in 2007, it ended a 95-year-long misconception. And now, such a short time later, a broad spectrum of brands and options are available for the elixir that was kept away for far too long.

The Little Green Book of Absinthe: An Essential Companion With Lore, Trivia and Classic and Contemporary Cocktails (Perigee/Penguin) is a compact, informative guide that provides exactly what it promises. Authors Paul Owens, a San Francisco restaurateur, and Paul Nathan, a professional magician and writer for Absintheparty.com (who was actually arrested for selling absinthe during the ban), present the cocktail’s history, basics and trivia. Collaborator Dave Herlong, beverage director and creative mixologist for the N9NE Group venues inside Las Vegas’ Palms Casino Resort, supplies the recipes.

Nathan and Owens identify three major styles of absinthe. Swiss (blanche) is clear, can be enjoyed without sugar and makes “great martinis and spritzers.” French (verte) is typically more bitter and complex and works well in fruit drinks and punches. Bohemian absinthe, “more bitter and less complex than French,” has been criticized for being light on the anise and inauthentic, but the authors say that Bohemian brands should draw criticism for another reason entirely, as “they generally taste horrible.”

A fourth category has only one entry, Le Tourment Vert, which Nathan and Owens identify as “the first cocktail absinthe.” Sweet and versatile, with a lower alcohol content, Le Tourment Vert is found in many of The Little Green Book’s cocktail recipes calling for specific absinthe brands and types.

The book includes 117 recipes, including champagne cocktails, juleps, hot drinks, punches, shots and martinis. The “Largoyle,” Herlong’s first absinthe cocktail, is an interpretation of the traditional lemon drop. The awesome combination of citrus and absinthe is repeated in a variety of refreshing cocktails, like the “Laneside Lemonade” with 1 ounce Grande Absente absinthe, 2 ounces lemonade and 2 ounces 7Up.

Absinthe makes a great warm-weather cocktail, but it also lends itself to hot drinks, mixing well with coffee and hot chocolate (Spiked J-fat Chocolate: 8 ounces hot chocolate 1 ounce Obsello Absinthe) or adding to the classic Hot Toddy to form the “Tourment Toddy.”

A few cocktails are named for and inspired by absinthe enthusiast Ernest Hemingway. “Hemingway Revolution” stars “robust red fruits, raspberry liqueur, cranberry juice, raspberry purée, and crme de cassis,” and is recommended as a dinner or dessert drink.  “Hemingway’s Dream” is where “the daiquiri meets the mojito.” And, of course, among the most famous of absinthe drinks is the classic Hemingway cocktail, “Death in the Afternoon”: half-ounce La Fee Absinthe Parisienne, 4-and-a-half ounces Perrier-Jout Champagne.