Of Sacred Relics and Holy Wormwood – Absinthe Antiques by S.B. MacDonald

Absinthe AntiquesHistory, like art, is something that the uninitiated will more often than not have merely an appreciation, or even a passing empathy for. Those who explore the subject to any degree of depth, ideally because the subject speaks to some part of them, will be able to find bits and pieces of wisdom and beauty in the details. In the case of history, this applies to the written account of a certain period, the art of a certain age, the body count of a certain war or from the subsequent artifacts which survive throughout the years.

Absinthe, as even those who have had an indirect interaction with it would attest, has borne its unjust stigma with a certain amount of austere (and sometimes cynical) pride. The people who truly love absinthe love it reverently and the ones who are passionate about it treat it, its history and its sinister scars with a great deal of respect.

Scott MacDonald, whom I have the privilege of referring to as one of my favourite online acquaintances, is one of these people and his remarkable book, Absinthe Antiques – A Collection from la Belle Epoque, is testament to that respect for the subject. Thoroughly researched over a period of several years, the book draws its reader on a profound and almost Divine Comedy-esque journey through the world of absinthe’s glorious heyday. Not through historical accounts, so much, the journey comes through a systematic study of objects, implements and advertising which the author has collected from all across the world, allowing him to paint for us a unique portrait of the days when the absinthe trade was in its full glory.

Lavishly and lovingly photographed by Scott, the book doesn’t just serve as a catalogue of the artifacts. As you wander its pages, it evolves for the reader into a veritable art gallery. Each chapter is bedecked with beautiful images, giving us an intimate look at the technique and design of all manner of glassware, spoons, topettes (something my collection is sorely lacking) and so on. Some of the detail Scott has captured in his photographs are so rich and evocative that you could almost feel the tooling on a la fuilles #3 spoon or the roughness of an etched dose line on an egg-style glass.

This is one of the most remarkable things about this book – that sense of evocation. The detail, the knowledge and the intimacy of the experience is so immersive that we are, ourselves, transported back in time. When we see the images of the advertizing posters of the day, the saucers with the price-per-glass painted thereon and the exquisite and almost luminescent greenish glow of a well-lit glass of absinthe, you can almost hear a chanson being sung in a bar by revellers, steeped in their own experience of the elixir that is one of Scott’s most revered passions.

If you are an absinthe drinker, and one who takes the drink seriously, you owe it to yourself to look into the history of absinthe in detail. That said, you will be sorely hard-pressed to find a more lucid, enjoyable and evocative window into that history than this book. I would actually go so far as to say that it is probably one of the most essential books on the subject. Vinnie personally keeps my copy safe at my absinthe table.

Vinnie approves of this book

To order a copy, go here.

Brevans HR Giger – The Roller-Coaster

After several months of being too bloody busy to do much, we’re back with another video. This time, Vinnie come just a little more our of his shell.



Kallnacher – Flowers in the Glass

The long-overdue review of Kallnacher, another lovely Swiss absinthe from the folks at Oliver Matter.

I think I’m getting better at this whole video thing. Not sure.


VIDEO REVIEW: La Clandestine – a Pearl of Great Value

And with this, do I now announce that video reviews will be forthcoming.

This is my first one, so be gentle. The new ones will be better, I promise!

A Thinking Man’s Absinthe – Duplais Verte

Absinthe Duplais Verte

Country of origin: Switzerland
Distillery: Matter Luginbühl
LCBO price: Not available through LCBO.
Neat colour: A pale emerald. This is the perfect theatrical colour for asinthe which, while beautiful to the eye, does make me wonder how it got that way.
Neat aroma: Sadly, I stuck my nose in the glass at just the wrong angle and got a waft of alcohol which set my right nostril on fire, figuratively speaking. After that settled down, I noticed a sweet, herbal smell. Strong anise, but not overpowering. Beautifully balanced.
Neat taste: Instantly warm. Strong anise with the intake of breath, with the attendant wormwood bitterness. Tastes a little sweet. I may regret using a sugar cube.
Louched colour: The first few drops of water brought a pair of trails. The louche itself is a prominent pale olive with the usual opalescence. Not quite glowing, but beautiful.
Louched aroma: No alcohol smell, and the herbs are all still present. The mere scent of this makes my mouth water.
Louched taste: Divine and floral, like taking a sip from a stream in Elysium, yet distinctly earthy. The bitterness is present, but not opressive. Instead, it works in harmony with the herbal flavours. Exquisite!

Vinnie approves. Profusely.

In my idle moments, when I am not working on art or something blog-related, I browse for two things: Victorian-era clothing and absinthe. The name Duplais has come up repeatedly in my searches for new absinthes to try and I was recently gifted by a friend with a small bottle of their verte absinthe, along with a few other morsels.

So this is what good absinthe tastes like in the rest of the world, eh? It’s utterly refreshing and, even though its flavour is potent, I would say it stops well-short of being robust, which is a good thing in this case. It’s also not surprising when coming from the same distillery that makes Mansinthe. Instead it presents a delicious yet not-so-delicate jewel in the glass. It’s a down-to-earth work of art.

The buzz from it sits beautifully at the base of the skull. It almost feels as though it’s cradling my cerebellum in a way. This is one of those absinthes that you drink when you make art or engage in philosophical discourse, provided you don’t drink so much of it that your hands become useless and your tongue becomes clumsy. In fact, I think once this review is done, I’m going to throw on some Naked City and work on one of my digital paintings.

Vinnie doesn’t just approve. Vinnie wants to have the distiller’s babies.

Storm Corrosion – a Review of the Eponymous Debut

Whenever an album is released by Opeth or Porcupine Tree, more often than not you never concretely know what to expect until you hear the first cut from it. The main creative forces between those bands (Mikael Akerfeldt and Steve Wilson, respectively) consistently have delivered an ever-evolving and soul-enriching sound, whether it’s the almost literary brutality of Ghost Reveries or the cerebral pendulum of The Incident.

Back in the autumn of 2011, Opeth released their Heritage album, which challenged their listeners, yet galvanized their hardcore fans. Shortly after, Wilson (who mixed Heritage) released his indescribably beautiful Grace for Drowning. I purchased both when they were released and I absolutely adored them. They were and are testaments to unearthly musicianship that make no apologies for beauty and take you on a remarkably cathartic journey.

Then the idea was mentioned by one of them that these were two pieces of a greater (yet unofficial) trinity. A collaboration between them, something anxiously awaited by fans of both, was under way. Even though fans were going mad with expectation (just look at the Facebook page’s wall), they kept the sound deeply under wraps until they set loose the video for the first cut from it.

Now we have the rest of it.

Those who heard/watched “Drag Ropes” will have a good idea what to expect. Storm Corrosion is dark, brooding, intellectual and atmospheric. The melodies are delicate and modest, while the moods and depth are utterly lush. The album is unlike anything I’ve heard and yet you can hear the strains of Opeth and Wilson’s solo project within it.

And that’s one of the most interesting facets of this jewel: you can hear certain melodic hooks that are indicative of Akerfeldt’s song-writing and atmospheres that are all Wilson (and vice versa), yet in spite of this identity, the two blend together seamlessly in the songs, rather like various wine grapes that have been blended and still retain the traits of their original states.

The album has a weight to it that challenges metal for depth of emotional evocation. It’s the foil to the in-your-face chainsaw of so many harder bands. While they are the hordes of warriors, hacking into the enemy, Storm Corrosion is something far more powerful that can conquer with a whisper. You can spin something like “Drag Ropes” or “Hag” and find something more sinister than any black metal band, yet more gentle than the likes of Bach or Mozart.

As a result, those who are expecting the usual heaviness of Opeth will be disappointed. This is not a bad thing, as long as you have an ear for their Damnation or Heritage albums. This is an album for those who can transcend melody and technicality (even though there are both aplenty on this recording) and just let the whole thing wash over you.

In short, it’s my opinion that this is probably the most important album to have been released in 2012, so far. Not for any specific genre (indeed you can’t really classify this as anything but prog-ambient-folk-industrial-classical-jazz-rock and that would still be wrong), but for the contemporary music scene in general.

As soon as I send this off, I’m pouring a glass of Lucid and spinning it on perpetual repeat while I work on a painting.

Versinthe – a Bitter Anti-climax.

Versinthe Absinthe

Country of origin: France
Distillery: Not sure.
LCBO price: Approx. $50 from Vintages when available
Neat colour: A luminescent gold with a hint of green.
Neat aroma: A profound presence of anise which overpowers all. The alcohol smell is felt rather than scented. No wormwood detectable.
Neat taste: Surprising. Very little sting to it. The anise is very present, though the wormwood is an overly-prominent contender. Most noticeable (besides the anise) is the intense sweetness of it. Blatantly and excessively sweetened. I’m thinking I should forego the sugar cube, but protocol’s protocol.
Louched colour: The first few drops through the spoon created beautiful milky swirls. Eventually it settled down into an opalescent greenish yellow.
Louched aroma: The water seems to bring out that herbal smell. Anise is barely there, but alcohol smell is gone.
Louched taste: Definitely could do without the sugar cube. The anise is barely there at all, but that bitter herbal flavour is very prominent in the finish. It almost seems as though it’s a delivery system for sugar and bitterness.

Vinnie is unimpressed not only with the absinthe, but with the author's photographic skills.

When I began my absinthe sojourn, this was one of the few brand names I knew about, and that only for the anise liqueur, which at the time was sans wormwood. When I was presented with this bottle, I was delighted to discover that this was made with actual wormwood, albeit the wrong part of the plant.

Even though it louches beautifully, I find it rather unremarkable. The intense wormwood flavour is grossly out of proportion. It’s not unlike what I imagine the rant of a politically-embittered old man would taste like. The buzz does sit rather prominently in the head, but there’s something a bit belligerent about this, almost as though it’s a kid on the playground trying to pick on the taller kids to prove himself.

In short, this is an absinthe when there’s nothing else in the bar. Since it’s not fair to say that Vinnie disapproves outright, yet cannot justifiably give it his approval, i am going to expand the ratings a bit. Therefore, Vinnie is unimpressed.

The Master of Disguise – Hapsburg

Hapsburg Absinthe Traditional

Country of origin: United Kingdom
Distillery: Not sure.
LCBO price: Not available from LCBO
Neat colour: An unearthly emerald. I note that the label indicates “colour” has been added. It does, indeed, look artificial. It is, however, a perfect emerald.
Neat aroma: There’s a high alcohol content to the scent that almost overpowers everything else. A slight hint of anise, but I can’t quite pick out the wormwood. This kind of worries me.
Neat taste: Wow, there’s the anise and the wormwood. If it wasn’t for the sting of the alcohol, one could almost drink it neat. Very sweet.
Louched colour: No louche. It just turns a pale translucent jade. There are some oily swirls, but no opalescence. This does not bode well.
Louched aroma: It bears a much more pleasent smell after the water. The alcohol smell is gone and the anise lingers. I can’t detect much else, however.
Louched taste: How clever. How very clever. The taste is perfect. The wormwood bitterness is there, the anise is an accent, instead of an overpowering presence and the wormwood.

Fist off, a hearty thank you to Charlotte and the folks at Hapsburg for providing me with this playful sample. I am in your debt.

Hapsburg’s website, when you visit it, gives you the impression they are the rock stars of absinthe. That they know their stuff and proffer it with the same flippancy as a long-haired, leather glad gigolo onstage to a throng of teenage girls.

Indeed, when you go through the motions and see the absence of a louche, it is a trifle disconcerting to the absintheur who expects that. One raises the glass with a certain expectation of disappointment until it touches the tongue.

Hapsburg is an assassin.

The feel of this creeps in at the base of the skull, almost like the swelling of arousal. It’s a strong, enlivening lift, instead of one that simply melts the world around you. This absinthe makes me wonder if the true measure of an absinthe isn’t its louche, but how it sits in the head and in the heart.

It is interesting to note that, in addition to the traditional green, they also have red and black absinthes. I wonder if they are as nefariously exquisite as this one is.

In spite of the absence of photo, Vinnie definitely approves.

Hill’s – the Great Insult to Absinthe

Hill’s Absinth

Country of origin: Czech Republic
Distillery: No idea and it’s probably for the best.
LCBO price: $74.75
Neat colour: A bright blue, in spite of the fact that the photo below makes it look green. Kinda looks a little like mouthwash.
Neat aroma: Alcohol with a microscopic trace of anise, and nothing else. No hints of wormwood or anything. Closely resembles isopropyl.
Neat taste: See below.
Louched colour: There is no louche. It just turns pale and perfectly transparent, like water with a couple of drops of blue food colouring in it.
Louched aroma: Nothing but alcohol. No herbs or flavourings at all.
Louched taste: See below.

Vinnie disapproves

Even though I’ve never been there, I’ve always wanted to visit the Czech Republic. Every image I’ve seen has been beautiful. They produced Jan Svankmajer. The band Master’s Hammer came from there. So far, in my experience of Czech absinthes, I must say they don’t know anything about it (this is not just coming from a Canadian, mind you – absintheurs the world over agree with me).

Aleister Crowley traced the etymology of the word absinthe to the Greek word apsinthion which he translates as “not consumable”, and that is exactly what Hill’s is. It’s like drinking paint thinner when it’s neat and like drinking watered down paint thinner when it’s mixed. There is no louche, so it’s obviously lacking all the right herbs, thereby negating it’s claim as an “absinth” (probably the reason they spelled it that way, so they could get away with saying “well, we never called it ‘absinthe!'”).

In short, if you are a lover of absinthe, or if you are just starting out in your journey as an absintheur, I beg you to please not insult yourself by buying this. Ever. It is offensive to more experienced tongues and misleading as a first impression.

I purchased this bottle years ago and the only reason why I still have it is because I decided to keep the small portion in the bottom as a cautionary tale. The tale is simple: “Avoid this at all costs!!!” The bottle was all but completely drained by friends who just wanted the buzz. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, that is NOT the only reason to drink absinthe!!!! Whenever I confront people about this vulgar obscenity, they usually retreat behind that excuse and I have to restrain myself to keep from slapping them.

I was hesitant to post this review, as I am actually loathe to give this abomination any press whatsoever, but let’s be fair, shall we? I need to have the odd negative review. Therefore, Vinnie disapproves. With violence.

Clearly Refreshing – Lucid Absinthe Supérieure

Lucid Absinthe Supérieure

Country of origin: France
Distillery: Viridian Spirits LLC
LCBO price: Not available from LCBO
Neat colour: Almost no green at all. Very clear, which makes me a little nervous, to be honest.
Neat aroma: Sweet and floral, almost has smoky hints of chocolate.
Neat taste: Sweet and spicy. Lots of alcohol burn. Nice herbal aftertaste.
Louched colour: Louche comes on like a storm, starting in the center and swelling outward preceeded by lovely, chaotic waves of oils swirls.
Louched aroma: No surprises. Alcohol traces are gone, but still has the floral and smoky aspects it has when neat.
Louched taste: The water, in normal proportion, almost dilutes it too much. Flavour has potent anise in it and a lingering, subtly bitter aftertaste. Next time, I will mix it a little stronger.

Vinnie Approves.

Someone told me ages ago that you could get Lucid from the duty-free at the border. I never bothered to go hunting for it, but when I managed to hop across the border, I couldn’t pass up the chance to grab a bottle.

All in all, I would say it was worth the wait. Of the absinthes I have tried, it has one of the most distinctive aromas and flavour. It’s still got the wormwood harshness, but it’s got something else giving it a floral twist. I was actually susprised at how sweet it was. One could almost get away with drinking it neat, if it weren’t for the fact that the ritual is part of what makes the absinthe experience for me.

Like so many of its cousins, Lucid has a surprisingly, nicely-blended flavour, which serves to enhance the uniqueness. I must admit, the paleness of it’s green tinge made me a little nervous, at first. It’s almost water-clear, and that, in my experience, makes for an alcohol experience that’s more agonizing than anything else. Nevertheless, I found the overall experience of Lucid to be refreshing and delightful. As noted above, however, I found it’s mix with the normal proportions to be a little watered-down (I usually fill the reservoir of my Pontarlier glass a bit over its rim, then add the water). I think a stronger mix should remedy that.

In the end, Vinnie approves.

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