Among the new things I tried over this New Year's weekend was absinthe AKA the green fairy. Absinthe is a distilled spirit with a very high alcohol content (between 45%-75% ABV). Having been banned for most of the 20th century here in the U.S., I've been wanting to try it since the ban was lifted in 2007. The spirit was banned because it was thought to cause madness and hallucinations but the only real danger is from the high alcohol content.
I ordered the drink during our New Year's Eve celebration at the Girl and the Fig restaurant in Sonoma on the Square. They served the drink with 1 part absinthe to 3 parts water in a small pitcher. They provided me with a glass, a special slotted absinthe spoon, and the all important sugar cube. You pour the drink very slowly over the sugar cube, letting it dribble into the glass. This is the traditional "French Method." The resulting liquid is soft green and cloudy (known as the "louche"). This little ritual felt very exotic when everyone else at the table was drinking champagne and cocktails.
Absinthe has flavors of anise, fennel, and star anise which means it tastes and smells like ultra powerful black liquorice with menthol at first. I thought the drink would be super sweet like a liquor, but the sugar cube seems to smooth and mellow out the flavor rather than add any sweetness. I sipped it slowly while eating croque monsieur. Over time, absinthe mellows considerably and I enjoyed having it with my meal. I was surprised I enjoyed it so much since I can't stand the taste of black liquorice.
I did get a buzz on but eating a good dinner kept things from getting out of control. It was a strange buzz. I didn't actually feel all that drunk but I was definitely not sober. Another side effect of absinthe is it completely screwed up my taste buds. For the rest of the evening and all the next day and night everything I drank tasted awful. Eating was no problem but we stopped at a winery on the way to a sparkling wine/champagne party and I couldn't really pull any flavors from the wine. I seemed more aware of the textures than anything else. When we got to the party I couldn't drink any sparkling wine/champagne. All of it tasted TERRIBLE. Our hostess opened a magnum later that evening, and everyone assured me it was really good but it tasted harsh and bitter. Oh well.
I had been concerned about being able to taste properly because the next day I could still taste anise. It was almost like garlic coming out of your pores the next day. Very interesting. Now I know never to drink absinthe during a wine tasting weekend.