Robb Report Vices

Absinthes Make the Heart Grow Fonder

Absinthe was never the most popular spirit on the bar; the high-proof alchemy of macerated or distilled herbs has always been an acquired taste. Unlike many finely crafted spirits, absinthe is not one to be enjoyed neat. Instead, it’s best consumed with water and sugar added in a specific and time-consuming ritual known as louching (click here to learn more). Furthermore, absinthe is not your everyday, after-work libation, but rather a spirit to ponder while whiling away the hours.

The ban on absinthe in the United States was lifted more than five years ago. In that time, curious consumers have tasted the once-taboo spirit, and connoisseurs have grown more discerning about the absinthes that they drink. For that audience—the impassioned imbibers attracted to absinthe for its taste—the following five brands are sure to impress.

St. George Absinthe Verte – The San Francisco–based company St. George Spirits entered the craft distilling business in 1982, long before the term “craft distilling” existed.  Absinthe Verte was the first U.S.-made absinthe to hit domestic shelves after the ban was lifted, and it remains one of the best. The unusually dry absinthe delivers aromatic notes of basil, tarragon, and cinnamon, in addition to sweet anise and bitter wormwood.

Vieux Carré – Though it pays tribute to New Orleans’s absinthe-soaked past, Vieux Carré is actually made in Pennsylvania. Regardless of its provenance, the spirit is among the finest U.S. absinthes and a great introduction for those who are new to the spirit. Vieux Carré offers up notes of anise, fennel, mint, and a hint of citrus, with just enough wormwood to let you know it’s there.

Pernod – During the almost century-long ban on genuine absinthe, Pernod became synonymous with the next best thing. It was not the genuine article, but it delivered the core absinthe flavors. These days, the centuries-old company has returned to its pre-ban roots and revived its original 19th-century recipe. During the ban, Pernod relied on a grain-alcohol base, but it now benefits from a healthy dose of brandy, which gives the final product a fuller, more robust flavor.

Jade Esprit Edouard – Before Ted Breaux created Lucid, the first post-ban absinthe sold in the United States, he was converting skeptics with a line of vintage absinthes that he faithfully recreated using original machinery and recipes. Esprit Edouard was the first absinthe that he reverse engineered from sealed antique bottles of the original spirit, and at 144 proof, it isn’t for the faint of heart. However, those brave enough to try it—or smart enough to not skimp on the water—will revel in its big, earthy, and well-balanced flavors. 

La Clandestine – Absinthe is called the green fairy for a reason—the vast majority of expressions are various shades of green, thanks to the herbs with which they’re macerated. La Clandestine, on the other hand, is distilled—not macerated—and the resulting clear liquid turns a milky white with the addition of water. It’s not quite as anise forward as many absinthes vertes, but it’s dry and herbal, and it offers a welcomed bit of spice.