I hate black licorice. I don’t drink pastis or ouzo or sambuca, so why the hell was I standing outside Hangar One–St. George Spirits on a December morning in a thin jacket waiting for them to throw open the doors to Absinthe Verte, the nation’s first absinthe? If you had asked me at 10:30, my wind-numbed lips wouldn’t have issued anything more intelligent beyond, “…’cuz?” At 12:30, my absinthe-numbed lips told a very different story, “Frabjous! Refulgent! EUDEMONIA!” Quite frankly, if the Jabberwocky had a signature drink, Absinthe Verte would be it.
With the doors set to open at 11:00 on a Friday morning on December 21st, we thought we were playing it safe by arriving in Alameda at 10:30. However, as there were about 160 people in line ahead of us, clearly others were playing it safer. We were in line not even 20 minutes when the line behind us snaked and bulged exponentially. When the doors did finally open at 11:00, the news came out that they were allowing in groups of 10.
St. George Spirits made 3600 bottles and after they distributed to their choice stores and bar and other accounts, they had 1600-ish bottles left to sell to those of us who showed up on this chill December morn. Given that they weren’t restricting the amount each customer could carry off, it was going to be tight for some.
Once inside, we smiled at those buying up cases of four, secured our single bottle for $75.00*, and headed to the tasting room for our $10 sip of liquid envy. Sporting green shirts announcing, “Green is the new black,” St. George Spirits’ alchemists slithered bright green, one ounce-pours into elegant and keepable glasses and slipped a small shard of ice on top. We were advised to taste quickly before the ice melted and blanched the clear cheeks a pearly green. Happily complying, I felt my lips go numb and my tongue tingle. I tasted not the dreaded intensity of black jelly beans, but a gossamer haze of fennel, lemon balm, and mint.
Clean and herbaceous, Absinthe Verte is unlike other varieties that often summon up a traditional sugar cube filter to mitigate their bitter edge. Alone or with the tiniest splash of cold water, Absinthe Verte blew my muse to a brillig place of spongy clouds, buzzing with emerald bees. As I swam through my happy mist that also warbled about stinging nettles, basil, tarragon, hyssop, wormwood, meadowsweet, and star anise, it hit me: absinthe does make the heart grow fonder, the meaning of life is easy to find if you just look for it, and St. George Spirits has lusted up one happily wicked drink.
While I have absolutely no desire to profane this blithe spirit with anything beyond ice or water, I spoke with Dave Smith, Assistant Distiller, about cocktail ideas. His eyes glowing, he told me about a cocktail his friend whipped up: simply shake some citron vodka (I think Hangar One’s Buddha’s Hand might do well) with ice and pour it into an absinthe-rinsed cocktail glass. (Rinsed right into your mouth, I would think!) However, at this celebratory time of year, Hemingway’s famous Death in the Afternoon might get your party started (or ended) with just champagne and absinthe. Finally, you can try this historic and area-appropriate tipple from the Stork Club.
1 ounce gin
1 ounce bourbon
3/4 ounce absinthe
Shake with ice and serve in a cocktail glass.
All over the city Bay Area bartenders are rushing to create absinthe-based cocktails, because for the near future, absinthe definitely replaces St. Germain as the new It spirit.
For any unfortunates who didn’t manage to wrap their cold fists around any of the first 3600 bottles, don’t despair. Dave said that while Absinthe Verte is their “most complicated product” that they “can’t just make on the fly,” they do hope to have their next batch bottled by the end of January. Get in line now.
*(In the interest of full disclosure, I did pay the full amount for my bottle of Absinthe Verte and my $10 taste. I also didn’t muscle through the patient crowd, flashing my KQED press badge, and jump the queue. Nope. I stood there and waited my turn with everyone else and I’m proud of it.)