Absinthe Any Tradition…

If the Holidays are nothing else, they are indulgent and reverential traditions wrapped around culture and imbued with great meaning for many.

I happen to like traditions very much, whether ecclesiastical or cultural. I like how they mark and illuminate profound ideas. But for someone like myself, who isn't quite as taken with the full set of traditions and meaning associated with the Christian and Jewish holidays that mark this time of year, or even with their cultural and merchandising offshoots, I nevertheless look for tradition to pull me into the Season.

Generally, it has been enough to simply be a part of other's immersion into the Holidays. Generally it has been matter of watching the smiles on children's' faces, sitting around a table with family, and even gathering where others gather, in churches or in rooms.

This season of tradition is a little different for me than most past Holidays. And I found I needed something, anything really, to mark the time of year.


Having recently discovered I like the taste of Absinthe and enjoying its festive color and moody history, I've decided that Absinthe, its service and its moderate consumption, would make for a lovely Holiday Tradition.

The Tradition of Holiday Absinthe will work like this:

-There will be a gathering of close friends between Christmas and New Years.

-They will gather around the table, sitting, with their Absinthe glass.

-Upon the encouragement of the Host, they will build their drink in the manner of Prague
-Each will place their glass filled with 1.5 ounces of Absinthe in front of them

-They will proceed to soak a cube of sugar in their glass to the point before it melts

-They all will remove it and place it on their slotted spoon that sits on the glass

-A match will be struck and the Absinthe-saturated cube lit

-The room will glow from the light of the green/blue/yellow flames around the table

-After the sugar drips into the Absinthe and the fire is out, stirring begins

-Then each fills their glass with 3 parts water from a vessel each has beside them

-The Host will raise his glass and toast to friendship

-And consumption of Absinthe among friends will proceed.

Traditions need not be ancient to be special. They need only a form of ceremony and a meaning associated with them. Particularly at the end of a year when whatever moves us needs acknowledgment and cultivation, traditions, new and old, become important.

Posted In: Personal


27 Responses

  1. el jefe - December 24, 2008

    hi Tom – I recently acquired a bottle of absinthe and needed to look up the “procedure”, but you’ve saved me the trouble!
    May your holidays be filled with warmth and love!

  2. Ken Hallenius - December 24, 2008

    Wow. This is an absolutely terrible plan.
    First off, the burning sugar cube “in the manner of Prague” is a bunch of marketing BS. As a self-professed wine industry analyst, you should be able to see right through such dreck.
    And “dreck” is the correct word to use to describe Czech absinth (or, as true Absinthe fans refer to such swill, “assbinth”). Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if you crack your cocktail glasses with flame and torch your house down when you light the 60%+ ABV assbinth (cf. any number of YouTube videos of people losing hair and burning themselves while attempting the “Prague ritual”).
    May I suggest that you substitute instead the beautiful color of a true Pontarlier-style Absinthe, “verte”, and enjoy a glass of the opalescent green beverage? Nothing appears more wintry and lovely than a well-produced and louched Absinthe, like those enjoyed in Belle Epoque France.
    Burning your eyebrows off is no way to celebrate the holidays, son.

  3. Tom Wark - December 24, 2008

    Thanks for the tip. However, in my experience (and it’s not that limited), you’d have to pour the entire bottle over the table and light it with blow torch to burn houses down or eyelids off. Here we are working with an ounce and a half. If I crack my cocktail glasses, then they deserve to be cracked because they are worthless.
    And as it turns out, I’ve tended to be working with various French Absinthes.
    Happy Absinthe Day,

  4. mattortman - December 24, 2008

    Hi Tom,
    Do you have a favorite? I’ll be trying Mata Hari tonight. Though I thought the only reason to light the cube was to cook the bit of opium on top, something I’ll take a pass on…
    Either way do be careful as some absinthes are much stronger than typical vodkas and very flamable.
    Happy Holidays!

  5. mydailywine - December 24, 2008

    Happy Holidays Tom!
    Look forward to burning sugar cubes and sipping sublime spirits with you in 2009!

  6. Benito - December 24, 2008

    I prefer pastis over absinthe, but regardless, Merry Christmas Tom!

  7. Arthur - December 24, 2008

    I’m glad to see you’ve come over to the green side. I guess I can open the bottle of Pernod pastis I’ve been saving for when you come over. Still, I have a few bottles that you might enjoy trying.
    I prefer my absinthe sans sucre but I’ve heard that burning the sugar kills the drink and is more a matter of showiness.
    I’d recommend that you take a look at wormwoodsociety.org for great recommendations.
    Happy holidays!

  8. Pumpkin - December 25, 2008

    “wormwoodsociety.org for great recommendations”
    Yes they especially recommend their in-house brand made by the crank that runs the website. Drop by some time and they’ll sneer at you for not knowing stuff.
    Stick two fingers up at the snobs – set absinthe on fire! Happy Holidays!!

  9. Arthur - December 25, 2008

    I believe the wormwoodsociety.org site was up and reviewing absinthes for several years (since ’04) before Gwydion Stone started producing his absinthe.
    I have compared my opinions and observations with their (editorial and user) reviews and have found those to generally be fair.

  10. Pumpkin - December 26, 2008

    >Gwydion Stone started producing his absinthe.
    “So, what have we learned? Well, according to the topic of the thread, that the first Marteau product, created from a recipe developed by Gwydion Stone, the admin. of WS known there as Hiram, in America with a distiller’s license of dubious legal applicablity to the task, and physically produced by Matter in Europe, without the two ever meeting over an actual still for the purpose, was and is an inferior, if not out-right terrible product” FeeVerte.Net Dec 10 2008, 07:48 AM
    “That stuff was the worst absinthe I’ve bought in several years, and I’ve bought some bad absinthe in my time. I’m sure the new version must be better” FeeVerte.Net Dec 7 2008, 05:20 AM
    Can you remind me what score was awarded to his absinthe at the Wormwood Society by those “users”, Arthur?

  11. Arthur - December 26, 2008

    I believe Absinthe Marteau is being produced stateside now.
    Have you had it?

  12. Thomas Pellechia - December 26, 2008

    Oh boy, Tom has started an absinthe war.
    I have it on relatively poor authority that most of the stuff referred to as absinthe is not.
    I’m with Benito on the pastis.
    The best way to burn a sugar cube is to hold one in your mouth and then drink Cognac over it…

  13. Dylan - December 26, 2008

    I enjoy the spirit of this post. Traditions start somewhere–if none suit you; make your own. If it’s not a cultural tradition, or religious tradition; make it a family tradition. Or, in your case, a tradition among friends.

  14. Pumpkin - December 27, 2008

    Arthur, you didn’t answer my question. What were those scores?
    The Marteau Verte Classique got 4.5/ 5.0
    The hastily renamed “Marteau Absinthe de la Belle Epoque” 4.8 /5.0
    Amazing scores!
    The person above who wrote that the Marteau Absinthe “was the worst absinthe I’ve bought in several years, and I’ve bought some bad absinthe in my time” is one of the grandads of American absinthe and knows his stuff.
    I tried the Marteau VC and did not like it. Is the next incarnation better? According to the Wormwood Society there is is only a 0.3 difference.
    The other thing that confuses me is that Marteau was launched as a “cocktail absinthe” and used celery seeds in the recipe which gave it a bizzare vegetable soup quality. The latest one is being sold to punters as “the first and finest luxury absinthe in America” Quite a shift, what?

  15. Ken Hallenius - December 30, 2008

    I’m not entirely sure you’re not just an anti-shill, but your entire thread of discussion seems to center around Marteau Absinthe, and echoes a longtime pissing match between members of Fee Verte and the Wormwood Society. None of that has anything to do with the quality of the absinthes available in the USA. Have you tried many?
    I have, and I can vouch for the tastiness of the new Marteau, as well as La Clandestine la Bleue, Kubler, and even (to some extent) Lucid. I also have bottles of Trillium, Obsello, Le Tourment Verte, Serpis, Absenta Deva, and Pernod, and have additionally tried Jade Edouard, Leopold Brothers, Sirene, and Belle Amie. Tonight I’m going to louche up a glass of Vieux Pontarlier, which has just become available in the US and won a Double Gold Medal at the SF World Spirits Competition.
    Frankly, with my absinthe tasting and reviewing experience beyond question, I can state that Marteau Absinthe is one of the best I’ve tried, and I keep coming back for more. I vote with my dollars, which is all that any of us can do when it comes to commercial products.

  16. Clarity - December 30, 2008

    Leave the soap opera out of it. The important thing Tom here needs to know is to not ruin his absinthe by burning it. It’s not traditional, advisable, safe, or necessary.
    Would you burn your olives before drinking a martini, or perhaps boil a fine wine before drinking? Of course not. Say no to hype, and yes to taste, don’t burn absinthe!

  17. Ken Hallenius - December 30, 2008

    Indeed. That was the point I made in the my above response to Tom’s original blog entry.
    Seems to me like Pumpkin is the troll here. I write out of a love for absinthe, not sycophancy for a particular internet forum.

  18. Clarity - January 1, 2009

    Agreed Ken, I meant my comment to be general, not directed at you. Cheers!

  19. Pumpkin - January 2, 2009

    The question raised is nothing to do with Marteau Absinthe, which is an obscure and rather silly little brand. What is at question is the activities of the Wormwood Society, it’s paid “consultancy” work undertaken now (I understand) by their “Review Editor” and the “reviews” they publish.
    “I’d recommend that you take a look at wormwoodsociety.org for great recommendations”
    If you read the thread properly you will note that Marteau Verte Classique was used as an example only. One well known absinthe figure / authority (Spoon) saying ” the worst absinthe I’ve bought in several years” and the Wormwood Society awarding it top marks.
    The question is: why the huge disparity? Could it be because the owner of the Wormwood Society is/ was also the proxy manufacturer of Marteau VC? What does this say about their other “reviews”?

  20. Ken Hallenius - January 5, 2009

    Pumpkin, you keep pointing out the “review” of Marteau Verte Classique by ONE person, “Spoon” on Fee Verte. No matter what his qualifications may be, he’s the only “authority” you keep quoting.
    Fee Verte doesn’t even list Marteau (neither the VC from Matter, nor the new US version) in their “Absinthe Buyer’s Guide”, so it’s impossible to find opinions on the quality of the drink over at FV. It’s not even discussed in the forums; I’ve searched many times to no avail.
    So that leaves one other major English site to read reviews, the WS. There, multiple people (myself included) have offered full blown reviews. Not just one sentence claims, but sip-by-sip reviews. All WS reviews are posted as they are written, not after approval by an editor. That’s a different policy than over at Fee Verte, where, as I mentioned, you can’t even review Marteau due to the editors not including it in the brand list.
    So the answer to your question, Pumpkin, is that there’s a disparity because you have one opinion versus multiple opinions. The majority are on the side of “drink it”, not “sink it”. The spoon stands alone.

  21. Ken Hallenius - January 5, 2009

    In the interests of completeness, I just completed a read-through of ALL 47 PAGES of discussion about Marteau on Fee Verte. The discussion thread had been locked since July 2008, before the US-distilled version was released, so there are no reviews of the new product.
    In the 47 pages of discussion (that’s 700 posts!), there are only about 5 reviews of the original, Swiss-distilled product. Actually, only two of the reviews use the full review format, the other three comments are simple tasting notes with no scores attached. The overwhelming consensus of the reviewers is that Marteau is a well-made absinthe, some even say it’s an excellent cocktail ingredient. “Spoon” again stands outside the norm with his negative assessment of the product.
    So, what does this prove? That in order to get any comments about the new Marteau, you have to go over to the Wormwood Society. And, even more important, it shows that you can’t depend on Fee Verte, because they’re actively suppressing information about a product that is well-received. That’s the height of pettiness.
    It’s like if Tom were to both ignore and lock all discussions of Clos Du Bois because of some old pissing match. “NA NA NA NA, I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”
    That doesn’t help the consumer, it doesn’t help the producer, and it doesn’t help the industry as a whole.

  22. Pumpkin - January 6, 2009

    Ken, I understand that recently seven members were deleted from The Wormwood Society for daring to criticise Marteau?
    The storm brewed up after Stone was caught claiming to have been distilling in Switzerland to a newspaper (I think) Stone later claimed that the journalist was mistaken. The guy is very unsavoury in more ways than one and hasn’t even contributed anything to the learned discourse on absinthe. He made his name running a campaign against setting it on fire – my opinion on that is : who cares!
    He is clearly using his organsiation to promote his own commercial interests. That leaves a bad taste in everyones mouth.
    You do know who Spoon is, right? His background and knowledge are impeccable. I share his opnion of Marteau VC and I won’t be wasting my money on this latest hyped-up incarnation. People that have tried Stone’s HG in the past will know why!
    >you can’t depend on Fee Verte,
    You are very wrong.

  23. Ken Hallenius - January 9, 2009

    The Wormwood Society was originally started as a drinking club in Seattle which blossomed into an education and advocacy organization as Absinthe began to be reintroduced to the (non-Spain and Czech Republic) world. It predates the business of its founder, Gwydion Stone, who actually has taken a backseat in administration of the site since beginning fulltime work as a distiller. There is an 8-person advisory board that perform the day-to-day administration of the WS. All of this is publically available information:
    The Wormwood Society Forums are younger than those at Fee Verte, and were established to provide an environment that featured less infighting than the rowdy forums at FV or Louched Lounge. Respect for fellow members is enforced, in order to further the educational and advocacy goals of the WS. As I understand it, the members who were banned had specifically performed actions that ran contrary to the environment of respect. Not just towards the founder, but indeed towards other, non-high-profile members.
    I’m simply a member of the Wormwood Society, which is where I landed when I was searching for information about Absinthe back in 2005, before it was widely available on the US market. I also visited FV and LL, and found that the community at the WS to be more welcoming than either of the other two. It’s worth noting that many members of the WS also cross-post at both FV and LL, so it’s simply a matter of taste wherever one wishes to place their focus.
    As far as your prejudice against Marteau, that is simply unfortunate, because I know that you are missing out on a tasty beverage. Best of luck in future, and I consider this discussion closed.

  24. Pumpkin - January 10, 2009

    I understand that Mr Stone is also now soliciting for donations from members for his “worthy cause” What do you make of that? You seem rather well informed…

  25. Yohan - January 30, 2009

    Has anyone tried Le Tourment Vert? I heard everyone was drinking it @ the Sundance Festival and I have been wanting to try it. Just wanted to get some thoughts on the brand.

  26. green bandit - January 30, 2009

    Absinthe is the truth,havent tried the heated method, is that better?

  27. camille - January 8, 2010

    you can discover absinth and taste many different trades on our Atelier des Caves du Roy in Montmartre Paris!
    We welcome you for the best offer of absinths in paris

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