A Tenneyson Absinthe Royale Cocktail - Why the Air of Mystery?

Vintage French Absinthe poster, by Warren Bobrow, Leica M8
Vintage French Absinthe poster, by Warren Bobrow, Leica M8

The actual story of how Absinthe got "re-legalized" in the US is as follows: There were some businessmen that had an interest in importing authentic Absinthe in the US so they could sell it.  Absinthe had made a recent reentry into the global market and this inspired Ted Breaux, David Nathan-Maister, and some others to do chemical testing on pre-ban bottles.  They went to disprove the common perception that there was a chemical distinction of "real" vs. imitation (read: TTB approved) Absinthe. This difference was proven to be false.  Pre-Ban bottles were found to have scant amounts of Thujone (like today) disproving that old school Absinthes had crazy amounts of the much feared and maligned ingredient.

They lobbied the TTB and got them to allow producers to put the term "Absinthe" on the bottle again as long as it was accompanied by a positive modifying word such as "Superieure." Tenneyson, featured in my cocktail (below) is the only Absinthe on the market to use the word "Royale."

The products still need to be classified as "Thujone Free" to be imported, but the TTB defined that Absinthe may contain up to 10 parts per million of Thujone.  The WHO (World Health Organization) and Europe allows for up to 35 parts per million of Thujone so there is a difference in the amount of Thujone allowed in Europe compared to that which is available in the USA.  However, this difference is basically negligible because the higher amount of alcohol in Absinthe limits the amount that you can imbibe, whether it’s 10 or 35 PPM, this just doesn’t matter.  The distilled pre-ban bottles had a variety of levels of Thujone.  Some Absinthe had fewer than 10 PPM Thujone, while others had over 10. That is why it should be made clear that Absinthe imported into the US has the same Thujone concentration of exactly how some truly classic producers made it during the fin de siècle.

There should be NO distinction.

Contrary to the truth about Absinthe and the effect of enjoying it, consumers and liquor sales people alike, regurgitate the same misconceptions about the spirit.  They often make these same misguided statements like Absinthe will give you uncontrollable hallucinations or that the effect is like that of THC. (The active ingredient in marijuana).  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The case for Absinthe and particularly many new styles of American Absinthe with these incorrect facts makes Absinthe a tough sell.  The consumer is still afraid of the false effects of drinking the distilled herbs, particularly Wormwood, which is the ingredient most associated with Absinthe's mystery.

However, Absinthe is not going to make you have delusions any more than drinking vodka would.

photo by Warren Bobrow, Leica M8
photo by Warren Bobrow, Leica M8

Wormwood, one of the essential ingredients in Absinthe, is a bitter herb, nothing more. Its flavor is essential to the final distillate.  Absinthe should always be made from what is referred to as the Holy Trinity: Grande Wormwood (Artemesium Absinthium), Green Anise, and Fennel.  But because wormwood affects the flavor of Absinthe along with other herbal ingredients, this allows for different styles and brands to taste slightly different.

Look at the varieties of gin on the market; they all have a taste of juniper but the flavors vary on many different levels with many other different supporting botanicals.

A scant portion of the blanche (or clear, instead of colorized) Tenneyson Absinthe, from Distillerie Les Fils d'Emile Pernot in France, a clean, almost "gin-like" product, features into my Absinthe cocktail below. It is mixed with soda and cocktail simple syrup made from tangerines- from Fruitations in Massachusetts, plus freshly squeezed and refreshingly acidic, grapefruit juice.  The use of citrus fruits gives a sweet- tart finish to the drink.  A further hit of the 100% fermented raw honey distilled vodka from Caledonia Spirits in Vermont gives greater depth to the slight amount of Absinthe that this drink contains.  You don’t have to use much Absinthe for a perfectly balanced cocktail. 

courtesy Tenneyson Absinthe Royale
courtesy Tenneyson Absinthe Royale

A Gentleman in Your Condition

  • 3 ml/.10 oz Tenneyson Absinthe
  • 44ml/1.5 oz. Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Vodka
  • 14/.50 oz. Freshly Squeezed Grapefruit Juice
  • 30ml/1 oz. Fruitations Tangerine Soda & Cocktail Syrup
  • 2-4 drops Bittercube Jamaican #1 Bitters (Allspice, Pepper, and Ginger flavors)
  • Hand cut ice cube
  • Grapefruit zest

Add the liquid ingredients (except for the bitters) over the top of a Boston Shaker ¾ filled with regular bar ice. Cover and shake hard for 10-15 seconds. Add a cube of hand cut ice to a rocks glass  (1 cube of hand cut ice is important!) Pour the cocktail over the ice and dot the bitters over the top to taste. Garnish with a long grapefruit zest.