Monday, November 22, 2010

The problem(s) with Absente and their sister brands

I've made a lot of stink in the past year about Pernod and their misinformation campaign, but there are other brands that have been just as difficult to deal with, if not moreso, and whose advertizing campaigns have proven detrimental to the idea of informing today's absinthe consumer.

Case in point: Crillon Importers. Their products include Absente, Grande Absente, Absinthe Ordinaire and now Michel P. Roux Supreme Absinthe.




I had my first dealings with Crillon a few years ago when they sent me a bottle of Grande Absente to review. The product itself was billed as an authentic 18th century recipe; one that included grande wormwood, thus qualifying it as real absinthe. Well, suffice it to say, the product itself was middle of the road, at best: harsh star anise flavor and artificially colored. The spokesman I talked with over the phone was surprised to hear I didn't find it great, which should have told me something.

Over the next two years or so, I'd run across some of their marketing, which was for the most part, misleading and/or incorrect, but I didn't think much of it, since it didn't seem to be a very popular brand in the U.S.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago.

While surfing around on Facebook, I ran across a new fan page called 'Absinthe - The Green Movement'. While it seems to be putting itself out there as an absinthe resource, it is in fact run by Crillon as a main page for all four of their brands. Due to their marketing ventures, the page has quickly garnered more than 8,000 members, which in my estimation is more than any other absinthe brand. A shame to say the least.

As I began to read through a lot of the posts made by the brand reps, I couldn't believe my eyes. A large amount of what they were posting was blatantly false and/or misleading. I reluctantly 'liked' the page, solely to enable me to comment on their posts, and correct some of the information. Well, let's just say they didn't like that too much. They got defensive quite quickly, and within a week or so, suspended my priveleges to post, and erased my comments. Apparently, they prefer censorship to true education.

Because of the huge following the page now has, I felt it was important for me to call them out on a lot of their statements. So that's what this post will be about. I'm going to break it down into several sections: Brand, Irresponsible representation, Absinthe History, and the dreaded Thujone.

BRAND
1) In one advertisement, they claimed that their brands are the best selling brands in France and Switzerland.




Well, since we know that Switzerland has a law that prohibits artificially colored absinthes from being sold in their country, we know for a fact that their claim cannot be true, since all three of their original brands are all artificially colored.

2) In multiple ads and FB posts, their representatives claimed that their brands were now being made with Northern Wormwood, which they claim make it authentic. There are two possibilities here: 1) The reps are so uneducated that they don't know that Northern Wormwood is not the same thing as Grande Wormwood, or 2)They aren't really using Grande Wormwood and they accidentally tipped their hats. My guess is the former, but unless we are able to examine their herbs, we'll never know.


IRRESPONSIBLE REPRESENTATION
On multiple occasions, I've seen the brand reps commend or endorse practices that can be extremely dangerous and/or illegal. A couple of examples:

1) On their flikr page, they featured a bar which lights their absinthe on fire, then had the patron first huff the fumes, then down the shot. As I mentioned there, the brand might have a legal battle on their hands when someone burns their mucous membranes by inhaling strong, hot alcohol vapors.

2) On their FB page, they rebuked me for criticizing a gentleman who was bragging about passing out a homemade 'bathtub' absinthe. They fully supported his actions until I explained to them the seriousness of their endorsement. Not surprisingly, they pulled their comment soon after, yet still published another comment criticizing me for calling them out. Here is the passage:





Shortly after the exchange, all of the comments were removed, apparently after they realized what they were endorsing.


ABSINTHE/BRAND HISTORY
The reps are a total mess here. I wouldn't be surprised if they just make stuff up, or at the most, do a cursory google search before posting something. Some of the highlights:

1) Absinthe was a treatment for malaria (no, it wasn't)

2) They claim that Absente was the first absinthe available in the U.S. market since 1912, and was available years before any other brand. This is misleading because the original Absente did not contain wormwood (the herb that gives absinthe its name), thus can't be considered real absinthe by any rational argument.

3) They claim that their product comes closer to original absinthe recipes than the majority of products made in the U.S. or Europe. Yet, on their Absente page, they also claim that they don't know what absinthe tasted like back in 1915. Try as I might, I can't figure out how both statements can be true simultaneously.

4) On their Facebook page, they claim: "We are committed to providing our consumers with only the highest quality absinthes possible by adhering to the same ingredients and artisinal methods used in the mid 1800's through the turn of the century." Three things wrong with that:

  • during the height of absinthe's popularity in France, there was a identity standard, which regarded artificially colored absinthes as lower in quality than naturally colored products. Thus, they cannot be the 'highest quality'.
  • Same ingredients. We know that FD&C Blue wasn't created until 1896, and FD&C Yellow #5 not until 1949. So we know they aren't adhering to the same ingredients used in the mid 1800's.
  • I won't even go into the whole use of the term 'artisinal'.


THUJONE
Here is where I feel the most irritated. Mainly because they claim to be educating the public, but in reality, they are being complacent in leading consumers to believe that thujone is an important part of absinthe. I think they believe that if they truly make an effort to play down the importance of thujone, they will lose customers who are buying absinthe strictly because they think thujone is a drug or has some recreational potential.

Instead of telling the truth, which means letting people know that the legal limits of 10mg.l in the US and 35mg/l (for bitters) in the EU essentially means thujone free, i.e. NO THUJONE, they instead use their best marketing speak to say they contain the MAXIMUM amount allowed by law. While what they are saying is most definitely true, it also reenforces the belief that more thujone is desirable.



If they were truly interested in educating the public they could simply reference the recent studies that show that pre-ban absinthes, for the most part, didn't contain much thujone, contrary to previous assumptions.

But I think that might be just too much work for them. I think they'd prefer to retain those potential customers by luring them in with MAXIMUM thujone amounts.


So, in conclusion, looking at the facts, one can only conclude that Crillon and their brands care more for extravagant marketing than they do about creating a superior product. Why is it that so many of the firms that have the most available capital tend to skimp on the product?

If Crillon had any sense about them, they'd hire someone who actually has a large amount of experience with absinthe and its history to work with their marketing department.

Yours in absinthe,

Brian

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Arrette Unique from Tequila Rack

Several weeks ago, I was in my local ABC store on Leesburg Pike, when I spotted some interesting bottles in the 'tall cotton' case. Right next to the Glenlivet 21 (picked up a bottle of that too), I saw several tequilas I'd never seen before.

Always one to experiment with new findings, I asked the owner what he knew. Apparently not much... However, he did mention that other connoisseurs he knew were buying them on a regular basis. I said 'What the heck', and picked up one of each.

Tequila Rack tequilas are designed for tastings. From their website:
The International Tasting Group has sourced several of the finest boutique Tequileras in Mexico and assembled their products of Micro Tequilas as a collection to be sampled and compared. Each Tequila has its own unique story.
The flavor variations come from the differences in the soil within the appellation of origin where the Weber Blue Agaves are grown, as well as the kinds of water and yeast used in the distillation process and the length of time and types of barrels used for aging. The color of each brand depends on how long it has been aged and what type of barrel was used. These differences all combine to give an array of flavors, aromas, textures and mouth-feels to our collection of Mexico’s finest Tequilas.


So let's take a look at each brand. I'll be featuring a new one every few days.

Arrette Unique



Named after the horse ridden in the 1948 Olympics that led to two gold medals for Mexico, Arette is distilled at the Tequileria El Llano, one of the oldest Tequilerias in the town of Tequila.
This tequila is classified as 'Extra-Anejo', having been aged in white oak casks for 6 years. It lends a wonderful woody flavor, with a smooth texture.
Lots of aromas and flavors of vanilla and caramel with touches of flowers and a lovely earthiness.
Flavor is a blend of very nice agave with baking spices, wood, and even some orange peel. The finish lasts forever.
This is a fantastic tequila. Seriously. While it's on the expensive side, and hard to find, it's worthwhile for ANY tequila lover to find a bottle. I'd buy it at twice the price.

Tesseron Cognacs



I've been a fan of Tesseron cognacs for quite some time, but they have remained in relative obscurity until a few months ago. At least in the circles I run in. Thanks to David Nathan-Maister at Finest and Rarest, some light has been shed on the brand. So much so, that I thought I'd go out and replenish my supply and do some reviews. A big shout out to Joe Riley at Ace Beverage in Washington DC, who had a good selection from the line.

First, a bit of brand history, blatantly copied from David's Tesseron page, which is one of the most informative I've found on the brand:


Cognac Tesseron is one of the great secrets of Cognac. Abel Tesseron created the company in 1905, relying at the time on two separate estates, one situated in the Grande Champagne area (Boneuil) and the other in Petite Champagne (Saint-Surin). He adopted a long term policy of buying up stocks of the oldest and finest eaux-de-vie, carefully conserved in a twelfth century crypt. Despite a very low public profile, this little known firm is today revered in the region, as owners of the largest stocks of great old cognac in existence. In their legendary innermost cellar or paradis, lie an incredible 2200 glass demijohns (most around 25 litres) of cognac dating from between 1825 and 1906, painstakingly built up by three generations of the Tesseron family. This treasure trove of 19th century cognac is supplemented by hundreds of oak casks of the very finest cognac dating from the first half of the 20th century. There is no comparable collection in Cognac or anywhere else - the Tesseron holdings are unique, and irreplaceable.


And now my thoughts on each:

Lot 90 'Selection': aromas of pears, membrillo, maple and soda bread. Taste is young, with leather, honey and dried fruits. A great ever day cognac. Good for Earthquake cocktails too.

Lot 76 'Tradition': Only made from Grande Champagne cognacs. A deeper and richer color than the 90. The aroma is also more delicate. Tea and mulled fruits. Flavor is citrusy with a noticeable rancio from the aging. The grape base is quite evident. Very smooth finish.

Lot 65 'Emotion': A special gift decanter edition. Nose of plums, leather and nougat. Flavors consist of tobacco, nuts, honey and baking spices. A dash of water brings out wonderful dark chocolate notes both in the nose and the flavor.

Lot 53 'Perfection': Absolutely gorgeous topaz/copper color. Deep and exotic. Lots of chocolate and old books on the nose. Figs as well. The flavor and texture is thicker and spicier than the younger line. Lots of dark chocolate and white pepper. Fantastic stuff.

Lot 29 'Exception': The only cognac to ever score a perfect 100 from Robert Parker. I can see why. This is exceptional cognac. Lots of leather, chocolate, oak and even cherries on the nose. The flavor is full of the same, along with a wonderful rancio (organic, earthy, mushroomy, umami type of aroma and flavor indicative of aged eau de vies). Spectacular.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Mixology Monday is All About Absinthe this week!




Thanks to Sonja at Thinking of Drinking for letting me know about this week's theme for Mixology Monday.


I'm submitting a cocktail that I worked on at the request of a dear friend of mine who wanted to have a cocktail made in her dearly departed cat's honor.



This wasn't designed to be a strong drink. I went more in the vein of a spritzer, or even something similar to a Pimm's Cup. It was designed to be tasty, complex and still refreshing.


So, without further ado, the Purring Schubie cocktail:
0.5 oz Meyer Lemon juice
0.5 oz absinthe (I used Leopold's for it's light, fruity aroma and flavor)
1 oz Sazerac rye
1 oz gin (Plymouth or Voyager)
4 oz dry ginger ale (preferably Fever Tree)
healthy dash of Angostura bitters


Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with plenty of ice and stir until chilled. Split the mixture between two cocktail glasses. Lemon peel to garnish.


Another version calls for Green Chartreuse in replacement of the absinthe. It adds a more savory and peppery flavor and overall feel. I actually prefer it to the absinthe based one, but they are both tasty. Due to its spicier character, that version has been coined 'Schubie is pissed'.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ten Gins and how to best drink them

As many of you know, I'm a huge fan of gin. Not only is it a staple for creating many of the best cocktails, but it also works so well just splashed with some club soda or, more widely, with tonic water. And where would the martini be without gin? Yes people, martinis are made with gin, not vodka!

In any case, as gin has grown in popularity due to the cocktail renaissance, more and more brands are being discovered on local shelves. With that in mind, I decided to put together a list of 10 that you'll commonly find in the DC area. My hopes are to give you a good idea of how you can use many of them, since the flavor spectrum is quite wide-ranging. In the next few weeks, I hope to add another 10 or so, including some of the more household names, like Tanqueray, Bombay and Beefeater. But since those already probably have a place in your bar, I wanted to give you some info on brands you might be considering adding.

Keep in mind, this is only one man's (my) opinion on each of the brands and what suits my palate best, but I though it might be interesting for those of you who like gin.


Plymouth
Nose: Juniper and citrus
Taste: Light with hints of lavender. A bit drier than Voyager (below)
Best for: Any normal gin cocktail, but especially for those sensitive to too much juniper
Best Tonic accompaniment: Fever Tree, Stirrings or possibly Q


Voyager
Nose: Clean, flowery, a touch of mint and pine
Taste: Also very clean. Refreshing juniper with just a hint of sweetness
Best for: Any cocktail calling for a good gin. Works equally well in sweet, citrusy or savory cocktails.
Best Tonic accompaniment: Fever Tree, Stirrings, Q or Fentimans.


Leopold
Nose: Pine, earthiness, some flowers and a touch of caramel
Taste: Minty and a bit on the savory side due to the orris. Light flavors of peppermint, Pumello and anise.
Best for: Cocktails that call for gin as well as a darker spirit such as a whiskey. Also for gin cocktails that call for Chartreuse. Good G&T also.
Best Tonic accompaniment: Fentimans


Bulldog
Nose: Mainly Juniper, but an extremely weak aroma overall
Taste: A bit sweet. Unbalanced and a bit more viscous than most gins
Best for: Cocktails involving fruit juices
Best Tonic accompaniment: Not recommended for G&Ts, because it gets overwhelmed by the tonic, but if pressed, I’d recommend Schweppes.


Bluecoat
Nose: Pine and aloe with crisp and dry juniper and citrus
Taste: Herbal. Juniper and orange peel. A hint of candy cane
Best for: Most gin cocktails will work well, but citrus ones especially.
Best Tonic accompaniment: Fever Tree


Hendricks
Nose: fresh citrus, juniper, flowers and cucumber
Taste: bright and refreshing with hints of juniper, white pepper and lavender. Cucumber as well, of course.
Best for: Artisinal cocktails. Especially those calling for tea, vegetal or savory ingredients.
Best Tonic accompaniment: Fentimans


Barcelona
Nose: cloves and mint. LOTS of vanilla.
Taste: Extremely sweet for gin. Flavor similar to vanilla mints with hints of juniper. Similar to an Old Tom style more than a London Dry style.
Best for: Sweeter cocktails that might get adversely affected by too much juniper flavor.
Best Tonic accompaniment: Not recommended for G&Ts because of the sweetness, although it worked OK with Hansens.


Sunset Hills
Nose: Juniper and alcohol
Taste: sweet and a bit chalky. Unbalanced.
Best for: basic house G&Ts.
Best Tonic accompaniment: Schweppes or Canada Dry.


Genevieve
Nose: similar to a beer spirit with hints of distilled barley, not unlike an unaged malt whisky
Taste: sweet juniper, with spices and an earthy texture. Again, eerily reminiscent of an unaged whisky
Best for: Old style cocktails; many of which used Dutch style gins.
Best Tonic accompaniment: I don’t recommend this style of gin for G&Ts.


Haymans Old Tom
Nose: extremely light. Not much discernible.
Taste: very sweet with hints of holiday spices and pecan pie
Best for: vintage cocktail recipes calling for Old Tom gin
Best Tonic accompaniment: I don’t recommend this style of gin for G&Ts.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Busy much?

OK, so I've totally fallen off of the radar when it comes to posting entries. It's been a hectic year. I haven't even been able to keep my bar list up to date. But things have calmed down some, so I've got some things in mind that I'll be posting soon.

Check back later this week for an interesting commentary on the marketing of a certain absinthe brand!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A closer look at Pernod

As Pernod begins to revamp their current absinthe product (we'll talk more about that later) with a brand new website and a new label, they are making more and more claims about their 1805 distillery in France being the first absinthe distillery.



“In 1805, Henri-Louis Pernod partnered with Major Dubied to found Pernod Fils and the first commercial absinthe distillery."


A similar statement is also made on their label, again suggesting that the distillery in France was the first absinthe distillery.

Really? This doesn't match the information on Pernod's own website http://www.pernod.net/histoire/index.htm where it states:

"At the end of the 18th century, a man by the name of Major Dubied began distilling the elixir professionally. A few years later in 1805, his son-in-law, Henri-Louis Pernod, opened a distillery in France."
Collectors have located and posted a 1896 Maison Pernod Fils promotional booklet http://www.oxygenee.com/1896-Pernod-Fils-Translation.pdf which states:

"Little by little, however, thanks to its fragrance and pleasant taste, the elixir came to the attention of not only the sick, but to that of more and more fans, so that the recipe had already acquired monetary value when when Mr. Henri-Louis Pernod acquired it to exploit it commercially. This happened in 1797. It was at that time the first absinthe factory was built. The establishment was created under extremely modest conditions, even for Couvet; the building where the industry was born still exists; it measures eight meters long by four meters broad by four meters high. Subsequently enlarged, the factory was not long in becoming too small and, in 1805, Mr. Pernod not being able to satisfy demand by the French customers which had taken to his product with a marked favor, fixed upon Pontarlier as the place to avoid the high taxes levied by the tax department upon Swiss Absinthe."


In short, literature produced by Pernod in 1896 and on their internet site today contradicts the 1805 claim at the top of the article: Switzerland, and in particular, Couvet remain the birthplace of absinthe, despite Pernod's attempt to annex it! Not to mention the fact that the evidence above shows Pernod wasn't the 'creator' of absinthe.

Now let's move on to the marketing of the product and the product itself.

Having researched absinthe's history for years, I've run in to multiple accounts of the controversies surrounding absinthe, and its prohibition throughout much of the world in the early 1900s.

Many of the myths surrounding absinthe, such as its ability to case hallucinations were largely popularized during the 1990's, during the rise of 'Bohemian style' absinths, which bear no resemblance to the Belle Epoque products of France and Switzerland. Mentions of hallucinations during the Belle Epoque were in relation to end-stage alcoholic patients who were going through alcohol withdrawal in sanitariums, and were not directly related to absinthe consumption specifically.

However, on Pernod's website, this passage can be seen:



Why would a brand which was victimized by prohibitionist fears and competing interests during the Belle Epoque use the same information that was once used to bring about its demise? Has Pernod eschewed quality, integrity and truth in favor of a campaign that attracts a crowd that cut its teeth on Bohemian brands looking for the next high?

Well, why don't we take a look at the product itself? From Pernod's marketing material:

Pernod® Aux Plantes d'Absinthe Superieur is based on the original absinthe recipe and today returns to restore its reputation for quality and handcrafted excellence. This 136 proof spirit is distilled from three primary ingredients, Grande Wormwood, Fennel, and Star Anis producing a light green and hint of amber color with a dominant flavor of anis, balanced with wormwood and a citrusy finish.

Having tried samples of Pernod Fils from multiple bottles ranging from the late 1800's through its Spanish brands in the 1960s, the new product bears little resemblance to the original. In a sense, the above statement is true (you can base a recipe on something, but have it be completely different). But in the same sense, ALL absinthes are loosely based on the same original recipe.

Here are some comparisons.

1)Pernod Fils absinthe of the Belle Epoque was naturally colored by soaking herbs in the distillate and drawing out the chlorophyll. The new brand is artificially colored as noted on its label.

2)Pernod Fils absinthe of the Belle Epoque used a recipe with high quality wormwood. The new brand has a barely detectable wormwood flavor. What flavor is there doesn't speak to high quality herb choice.

3) Pernod Fils absinthe of the Belle Epoque had a flavor that was dominated by high quality green anise. The new brand has the telltale flavor and aroma of lower quality star anise. Which by the way, is SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper as well.

4) Pernod Fils absinthe of the Belle Epoque exudes quality and points to high quality base alcohol and herbs. The new brand does not. It would not surprise me in the slightest if I found out much of the flavor came from oils and extracts as opposed to distilled herbs.

5) During the Wormwood Society's first annual blind tasting event, held in September of 2009, Pernod absinthe scored 17th out of 22 brands. Below Pernod were Le Tourment Verte, Mata Hari, La Fee, Koruna and Green Fairy. Several of those aren't even considered absinthes by experienced drinkers. That doesn't point to quality.

Make no mistake. Pernod Fils was THE gold standard of absinthe during the Belle Epoque. I just wish they took the time to employ the same level of quality and care in their new brand. Especially since they advertise it as a product of high quality. It's extremely disappointing to see the direction the new product has taken. It's even more disappointing to see so many of their regional reps having little or no education regarding absinthe, its history and its preparation.

For reviews of Pernod absinthe, please check out the Wormwood Society's review page.

*Footnote: Calls and emails to Pernod to get their comments on the above have not been returned.