...you examine the bottle's pretty label and put it on a shelf. And look at it. For weeks. (If you're me, that is.)
It's not that I'm afraid of absinthe. I just wasn't sure what to do with it. It feels incredibly decadent and, well, sort of wrong to sit around sipping absinthe while watching Number One Ladies Detective Agency. I don't live in an opium den.
My only experience with absinthe was when I went to Europe after graduating from college. It was one of those tours for people under 30, which attracted a mixed crowd of couples, Australians, and a few lone, single Americans, like myself. We all drank our way through England, Amsterdam, France, Germany, Austria, and Italy, where I first tasted absinthe.
We were in Venice, I think—these memories are all hazier than I'd like them to be—at a dinner with a few other tour groups. We sat in a semi-tacky dining room and there was lots of wine and some sort of forgettable pasta dish, and we all sang "That's Amore" at one point. Things were getting sort of rowdy when our tour guide produced a bottle of absinthe. "Dude! That stuff will make you go blind," said one of my American traveling companions. Before I could even brace myself, my head was suddenly pulled back and there was a burning, licorice-flavored sensation shooting down my throat. The tour guide went down the table, just like that, pouring long shots of absinthe into everyone's mouths. The women squealed and puckered their lips and grabbed for their water glasses, the men pounded the table and asked for more. My first real shot of espresso in Rome was much more pleasurable.
Sometimes PR people read this blog and send me products to try, mainly alcohol for some reason. Dan wants to know why I never get sent edible things, like a whole ham. (Honey Baked Ham people, are you out there?) A few months ago, I was sent a bottle of Mata Hari absinthe, which is supposedly good for mixed drinks. I've read about absinthe cocktails and seen them on bar menus—they were all the rage when the liquor became legal in the U.S. a few years ago. And eventually, after staring down that bottle on my shelf, I found a recipe worth trying in Imbibe magazine, a journal of cocktail culture and anything else relating to beverages, alcoholic and not.
The recipe is for an absinthe frappé, which is not what it sounds like: a blended smoothie-like drink. I believe frappé refers to the type of glass, but I could be wrong. Anyway, the cocktail is a peppery mix of absinthe, soda water, simple syrup, and herbs, served on the rocks.
The verdict? Quite a step up from my surprise attack in Venice. It has a very strong herbal flavor from the basil and the absinthe, which also give the drink a pretty, pale green hue. If you like aperol, or drinks made with Campari, I think you'd dig it. But if the mere thought of licorice makes your toenails curl, I'd go with something milder. Like a beer.
The original recipe calls for mint, but I used basil instead. It was unclear to me whether I should strain out the basil or not, so I left it in. I also made a few other tweaks, thus the name. Imbibe editors: I am clearly not a cocktail expert, but thanks for the inspiration.
1 1/2 oz. absinthe (like Mata Hari)
1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 oz. soda water (I doubled this)
6 to 8 mint leaves (I used 4 large basil leaves)