Nicknamed the “Green Fairy” due to its supposed hallucination-inducing properties, absinthe often conjures visions of a bygone era. Some are reminded of a time when writers and creative types like Ernest Hemingway passed nights in Parisian cafés.
Others think of the drink’s native Swiss canton of Neuchâtel, where locals warm themselves with this potent spirit. But it’s fair to say that few people, if any, associate absinthe and its culture with the American South. A handful of Southern distilleries are out to change that, including Louisville’s Copper & Kings, whose head distiller Brandon O’Daniel believes the South is the perfect place to make the anise-flavored spirit a hit.
“The South is synonymous with culinary complexity and deeply rooted traditions, especially when it comes to the artisan culture,” said O’Daniel. “Close ties to the land and rich heritage bind Southerners together. Absinthe’s history marches to its own drum — like most of us in the South. When you think about it, the South and good absinthe were made for each other.”
Copper & Kings currently makes four types of absinthe — a traditional blanche absinthe and three vapor-distilled varieties — in addition to its limited edition Zmej, an absinthe aged for 18 months in Serbian juniper barrels. “The American absinthe market is really entering an exciting phase,” said O’Daniel. “We felt there was room and demand for all four types.”
Doc Porter’s distillery in Charlotte, North Carolina, is also working on an absinthe that it hopes to have on shelves later this year. Master distiller Andrew Porter says the spirit will have a base of the company’s 190-proof vodka, which uses North Carolina winter wheat as its main component to stay true to the distillery’s roots. From there, the producers add anise and essential wormwood on top of a variety of herbal and floral ingredients, including fennel and hyssop. Angelica root, which grows in North Carolina, is another key ingredient in the absinthe, and Porter says the distillery is looking to source it locally as soon as possible.
Porter says the quest to make perfect Southern absinthe is about the joy of creation. “I’m trying to make something I’m proud of and I like drinking,” she said.
Though nearly 500 miles separate the two distilleries, O’Daniel’s heart is in the same place. “The main reason why I like making it so much is because it’s simply fun,” he said. “It’s hard to beat tasting absinthe straight off a still. Something about it just makes me smile.”
Whether it was last in a still or a freshly opened bottle before being poured into your glass, there are several ways to drink absinthe. Drinking it neat as a shot is one option, and you can whip up a variety of absinthe cocktails, but the smoothest way for newcomers to start is with the traditional method of dripping ice water over sugar into the spirit.
Whatever your choice, the following are a few of the best ways to set your date with the green fairy.
1 ounces absinthe
One sugar cube
5 ounces ice water
Slotted absinthe spoon
Absinthe fountain (or a small pitcher)
Pour absinthe into glass and put ice water in the absinthe fountain (or pitcher). Place spoon across top of glass and place sugar cube on top of the spoon. Position glass under fountain and slowly drip water over sugar cube until it dissolves and the absinthe turns opaque. (If you don’t have a fountain, slow drip the water over the sugar cube from a small pitcher.)
1/2 ounce absinthe
1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey
Three dashes Peychaud's Bitters
One sugar cube
Swirl the absinthe in a rocks glass to coat the interior. Discard excess. Add crushed ice to glass and set aside. In a separate mixing glass (or shaker), stir together the rye, bitters and sugar cube with crushed ice. Empty the rocks glass of ice and absinthe and strain the cocktail into the glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.
Death in the Afternoon
1 1/2 ounces absinthe
Chilled brut Champagne to fill flute
Add absinthe to a Champagne flute and top with Champagne.