NEW YORK FAIRY
Doc Herson’s – the first Absinthe distillery in New York
“I sit at my door, smoking a cigarette and sipping my absinthe, and I enjoy every day without a care in the world.”
FACTS AND LEGENDS
Absinthe is a distilled spirit, very high in alcohol content (usually 55% to 72% – 110 to 144 proof) and flavored with aniseed, fennel, and wormwood: Artemisia absinthium. The name for this species comes probably from Artemis – Hellenic goddess of the hunt, animals, childbirth, and virginity. For a long time, wormwood was called “women herb” in Europe and was used as an analgesic during painful periods and labors, thanks to thujone – the primary volatile oil in this herb.
Absinthium in Latin means: “bitter yet healthy.” “Absinthities” – the wine fortified with an extract of wormwood, was known from the 1st century, but the form of this drink we know–a strong spirit–was invented much later, at the end of 18th century, in Switzerland, though the main popularity of absinthe began in the next century.
Used first as medicine for soldiers, absinthe quickly became a very popular drink in French society of Belle Époque (beginning of the 20th century).
It was something like beer nowadays: drunk in every café, cabaret, every bar, and a bistro. A part of life and culture. “Happy hour” in Paris was named l’Heure Verte (Green Hour) from the color of absinthe, which was started to be called la Fée Verte (Green Fairy).
Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin and many more–all artists were absinthe drinkers and lovers–because, no offense, it was cheap and commonly available. Seeing “Green Fairy” was caused not by any miraculous ingredient of absinthe, but just the amount of alcohol. Absinthe is not a narcotic or hallucinogenic though it was banned in many countries for a long time. Thujone, which can be dangerous as a pure extract, is present only in trace amounts in absinthe. The rest is an alcohol and a legend.
One day this Parisian legend interested two people from New York: Kevin and Stacey Herson. They established a little distillery–the first absinthe distillery in NYC–in Harlem in 2012. Now they moved to a former Pfizer factory in Williamsburg. They based their idea of absinthe on the old French traditions, but with a modern hint. I was traveling a lot, visiting many wineries and distilleries, and I think it’s the way to produce wine and spirits nowadays: take the best from the old masters and remember we live in a modern world. And, in my opinion, Doc Herson’s All Natural Spirits managed to do this. Their absinthe reminds of Moulin Rouge, Montmartre, Paris cafés, and nightlife, but it is also extremely modern.
HOW IS IT DONE
First, Kevin gets the grains: barley and spelt from organic farms in upstate New York
He puts the grain into closed containers, and the fermentation starts.
After one week, he runs that ferment through a stripping still to get raw alcohol, and transfers it into a pot still.
At this moment, various botanicals are added and macerated for one week: grand wormwood, anise, fennel, dried lemon, mint, and others. Next: the concoction is boiled, distilled, proofed with water and mixed with additional herbs for color and flavor.
At the end: the spirit is strained off from the botanicals and absinthe is bottled up, protected with wax and labeled.
I love these old Parisian labels, but I have to admit that I also think at once about today NYC. Doc Herson’s Absinthe remarkably combines two worlds: Parisian Belle Époque and a modern urban style of young New Yorkers
Green Absinthe: the most traditional yet a bit softer. Anise and mint flavors. Subtle bitterness.
White Absinthe: macerated with a poppy-seed. Silky texture, subtle notes of vanilla and mild bitterness.
Red Absinthe: with addition of hibiscus. Citrus, flowers, subtle acidity and bitterness.
HOW TO DRINK
Absinthe is sometimes described as “liqueur.” Liqueurs are pre-sweetened alcoholic drinks, so it’s not true: absinthe is not a liqueur. It’s distilled spirit which can be used as an apéritif or digestif. Or added to drinks.
Traditionally absinthe was served with ice water at a ratio: three to five parts water to one part absinthe. Diluting absinthe with water causes effect looking like “clouds” in a glass. In France it is called “louche”: cloudy, turbulent. Louche also releases aromas and flavors, so the best way to serve it “saute” is to slowly drip ice water into the glass with absinthe. Parisian restaurants of Belle Époque used carafes frappées – decanters with frozen water. The most interesting is how they froze those carafes: they put the decanters with water into big tanks of seawater and reduced the temperature below freezing inside this “little sea” by the vaporization of ether. Simple? Simple.
However, I don’t use my tub and ether to freeze a carafe when I want to drink absinthe. I just put a bottle with water into my freezer and then drip water very slowly into the glass. I don’t serve sugar, either. Usually, absinthe was served with a sugar cube which was put on the special spoon at the top of the glass. Water was dripped onto the cube. If you prefer a sweeter drink and you don’t have “traditional tools,” prepare a wine glass, put the fork on the top, place a sugar cube on the fork and drip water on the cube. We live in the 21st century, and I doubt we should make drinking wine and spirits “new religion” with its priests and gurus. It’s a part of our life that is intended to give us pleasure and a good time. So have a good time with absinthe!
I confess I use Doc Herson’s Green Absinthe very often as a digestif. With ice water from the bottle and without a fork. It helps to “move down” a huge slice of pizza or a bowl of carbonara and not to be stuck. And I always use Green Fairy during writing. It makes me feel like I’m a real artist.
Just kidding, of course.
Anyway, I also love this absinthe in drinks.
Green Absinthe can be served with club soda, lemon, and ice. I like to put fresh mint inside (Vincent van G. loved it too!). But I have to admit I am a “bubble freak,” so I often mix Green Absinthe with Prosecco or Cava.
White Absinthe: Prosecco, Cava or simply soda, lemon, and ice.
Red Absinthe: my favorite -reminding me of Moulin Rouge, Montmartre, and Le Chat Noir. I drink it with ice, water, and orange slice, eating chocolates from MarieBelle. That’s it. Although it’s gorgeous with Prosecco and ice.
Telling the truth, I don’t prepare more complicated drinks at home, so when I need one, I just go to the bar, find a handsome, nice guy with a big shaker and ask him to make magic using absinthe. And it always works.
Then “I sit, smoke a cigarette and sip my absinthe, and I enjoy every day without a care in the world.” Exactly like Paul Gauguin. Or Henri. Or Vincent.
My big thanks to Kevin Herson for telling me about his dreams that come true and for showing me his unusual place in Brooklyn.
I had found this absinthe in Some Good Wine. Check the calendar for the next tastings there.