Volpane In Love

Decade Archive of my personal blog from 1999 to 2009.

Friday, August 19, 2005

An Absinthe Memory

I remember in my youth reading absinthe mentioned in reference to the color chartreuse. It was also mentioned in reference to Van Gogh, but later I was surprised to learn how popular it was during the Belle Epoch and commonly drunk by everyone, not just crazy artists. My first encounter with anise flavored liqueurs occurred in 1988 while I was visiting a friend in Kansas City, MO. At a recommended Italian restaurant I ordered, on a whim, an aperitif made with anisette, knowing it was similar to absinthe. I still have the swizzle stick featuring a penguin serving a drink on a tray.

In 1998 I purchased Conrad�s book Absinthe: History in a Bottle for my friend Purple who�d been talking about making it at home, and printed out what information I could find online for him. While doing that research I found the La F�e Verte site and signed onto their forum but only managed to lurk mostly. I also read an online article about a woman in San Francisco going by the name Absinthia, who was hosting absinthe parties.

Purple�s steeped concoctions turned out to be potent and redolent of secondary effects. At the party where he served his first results I remember seeing yellow halos after the second glass and feeling very comfortable standing in his tiny apartment for most of the party next to the window. I�ve never before or since been so comfortable being a wallflower.

The next year I attended Burning Man determined to find the real thing, only to come up mostly empty-handed. Absinthia was there, but I found myself excluded from the crowd where she was serving partly because I wasn�t pushy enough to get a glass. I also encountered the guy who sells absinthe steeping kits online and was really put off by his supercilious attitude to anyone questioning the accuracy of his information, which I knew from La F�e Verte to be bogus anyway.

Eventually I found some guys from Southern California who had brought their own concoctions and were gifting Dixie cup samples of their various flavor experiments to anyone who wandered into the camp. I don�t know if their product was distilled but it was sufficiently sugared to drink without water. To my unrefined sensibilities almost every single flavor I tasted was palatable and several were quite tasty. I was talking to people about what I�d learned historically from the Conrad book, so the servers invited me to keep sampling and soon I had a very decent buzz. I don�t remember being too hung over, but I had no ambition to leave my campsite the next day.

Several years later, having followed the development of various commercial offerings through the reviews at La F�e Verte, I convinced my father, a teetoler, to pick up what he could find on a trip to London. I should have known he would bring back a bottle of Sebor, a mediocre Czech brand, the he�d picked up at the last minute in the duty-free store at Hethrow airport. I doubt he ever went to Harrods as I had instructed. The Sebor was bitter and anisey, but I am convinced that its flavor improved over time and by the time I�d finished off the bottle three months later the flavors had melded into a less bitter although somewhat burnt finish.

Soon after that I met Hiram and the Wormwood Society was formed and my palate matured and the rest is history.