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Learn to Louche

June 25, 2010

I love New York’s microdistillers.  Recently I got to sit down with Cheryl Lins.  She is the Delaware Phoenix distillery.  It is just her.  And she is doing it her way.  Which I might add is wonderfully.

Delaware Phoenix truly seems to define microdistillery.  It makes the folks at Harvest Spirits and Finger Lakes Distilling look like corporate giants.  The still at Harvest Spirits can make batches up to 100 gallons.  Delaware Phoenix tops out at eight.  Yes, eight.  And Ms. Lins makes what she likes to drink.  Right now that’s absinthe.

But she makes two kinds.

My spirit guide F. Paul Pacult endorses both of them.  You can find these reviews online, but to save you from scrolling down the page here are his impressions of the two.

Meadow of Love Absinthe; 68% abv, $75
Only 1,500 bottles per year. Yellow/greenish tint; very good clarity. Robust, prickly first inhalation is intensely chalky/shale-like and almost minty; further time in the glass allows for scents of vinyl/plastic, dried fruits, and gumdrops. Entry is hot but nicely herbal and leafy and licorice-like; midpalate is not as torridly hot as the entry, but amazingly herbal/botanical and medicinal. A hot Santa Ana wind of alcohol livens up the botanical, minty finish. Hoo-wee.
Spirit Journal 2009 Rating: 3* Recommended

Walton Waters Absinthe; 68% abv, $75
Only 1,500 bottles per year. Olive green color; impeccable purity. Lots of anise/licorice in the opening round of sniffing; additional aeration time stirs up added fragrances of wax paper, fennel, scallions, licorice candies, and dried herbs. Entry is very hot, raw, blustery, and biting – hey, it’s absinthe; midpalate is a tad less aggressive as the mint/licorice/anise/root taste profile emerges and tastes seriously tangy and good. Finishes scorching hot yet somehow divinely herbal and anise-like. Crazy that I like this so much but I do.
Spirit Journal 2009 Rating: 4* Highly Recommended

Rarely does F. Paul get something wrong.  But he made a critical error in his review of these products.  He didn’t louche.

I had the same instinct as F. Paul.  Out of respect for the distiller’s craft and to truly experience the spirit, I like to enjoy quality spirits neat.  Perhaps with literally a drop or two of water, which amazingly does wonders to release some of the aromatics from a glass.

But absinthe is different.

I know that F. Paul is fastidious about coaxing out the aromatics from a spirit with lengthy aeration, and I commend him for it.  But absinthe needs something more.  It needs to be louched.  And that takes water.  A lot of it.

Ms. Lins insists the proper ratio for her bottles is 4:1.  Thus an ounce of absinthe should be diluted with four ounces of water.  It sounds like a lot.  But some would argue that you are not truly experiencing absinthe without it.  Right now, I’m inclined to agree.

If you have ever experienced the pleasure of watching a properly poured Guinness cascading in the glass, you have some idea about the joys that await you in a properly prepared drink of absinthe.  Historically a dose of the spirit was served in a glass, a slotted spoon with a sugar cube rested on the rim, and a pitcher of iced water was brought on the side.  One would very slowly pour the water over the ice cube and let it melt into the drink.

As the water drops into the glass, you can see it swirl into the spirit.  Before too long, those swirls form an opalescent cloud at the bottom of the glass.  This is the louche.  The cloud undulates and slowly grows as more water trickles in, until the glass is filled with a milky fully louched absinthe.

I love rituals.

With spirits as well-made as these, a sugar cube is totally unnecessary.  Absinthe used to be a lot more bitter than the better ones of today.  Some of the lesser bottles that were imported from Europe during the 100 year ban on the spirit were particularly in need of sugar.  It should also be noted that lesser absinthes may not actually louche. 

In this form I personally think the Meadow of Love is the better of the two.  It is what I am drinking right now.  Walton Waters is made in a more traditional style, and it is amazing, but I found it to be a bit overpowering for me.  If you can call a 136-proof spirit with two varieties of wormwood delicate, that’s what I would say about the Meadow of Love.

Regrettably Delaware Phoenix isn’t a farm distillery, and therefore they cannot have a tasting room or direct sales at the distillery (which looks more like an artist’s studio anyhow).  So to taste these incredible handmade spirits, you will either have to find some bar that has one, or go to one of Ms. Lins’ tastings at area liquor stores.

She has one coming up on Friday, July 2 from 4p to 7p only an hour south of Albany.  Check out the events section of her Facebook page for details

You should go.  Or if you can’t make it, check in periodically on her facebook page to find the next event.  Because this stuff is great, but before you kick down for a bottle you should see which one is better for your palate.

I’ll need to write more about absinthe and Delaware Phoenix in the weeks to come.  I think I might have caught the fever.  Consider yourselves warned.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 25, 2010 9:20 am

    I love your passion for spirits. You should host tastings somewhere. Perhaps that’s just selfishness on my part as I’d just like to learn more about spirits and you seem like a good teacher.

  2. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    June 25, 2010 9:48 am

    I enjoy your use of the term your “spirit guide.” Like a Native American vision quest.

  3. wendalicious permalink
    June 25, 2010 10:25 am

    “…additional aeration time stirs up added fragrances of wax paper, fennel, scallions, licorice candies, and dried herbs.”

    Wax paper? Come on. Wax paper doesn’t smell like ANYTHING. That was the most pretentious bit of puffery I’ve ever read.

    But, now I want to try absinthe. So, thank you for that!

  4. Stevo permalink
    June 25, 2010 11:25 am

    Hmm, you’ve sparked my curiosity.

    Note to self: must, try, absinthe.

    Never was a fan of licorice/anise. But as I get older, I’m really starting to appreciate what a wonderful flavor it is indeed, and I have Sambuca to thank for that.

    And the wax paper bit… classic.

  5. mirdreams permalink
    June 25, 2010 11:58 am

    Perhaps Professor you can let us know some of the more easily accessible Absinthes you approve of? Though I will definitely try to get to the tasting, and given what goes into their production $75 seems a fair price, it’s going to be out of a lot of people’s range.

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