When it comes to alcohol shrouded in mystery, it’s pretty tough to top absinthe. This wormwood and anise-flavored herbal spirit was illegal in the US from 1912 until 2007, when it was legalized with regulated levels of thujone — the naturally occurring, low-level stimulant that made the spirit so notorious in the first place.
For the record, absinthe has never has been poisonous in any way. The famous “green fairy” hallucinations are due to people being really, really drunk. Like “cut your ear off”-levels of drunkenness.
Regardless of the half-truths, stigmas, and overall air of secrecy surrounding absinthe, spring 2021 feels like a great time to give it a try. To pick a few favorite bottles, we asked a handful of bartenders to tell us the expressions they like to sip and mix with. Check their picks out below.
Chris Hennessy, bartender at Dylan Whisky Bar in Kilkenny, Ireland
The re-formulation of Pernod Absinthe in 2013 reaffirmed my love of Sazerac cocktails. This Absinthe tastes like a more upscale, refined iteration — menthol, hyssop, and savory fennel, with aniseed is present without a bitter metallic twang I’d associate with most Absinthe profiles.
Average Price: $40
Vieux Pontarlier Absinthe
Eoghain Clavin, brewery ambassador for Guinness
Vieux Pontarlier. I am a big fan of the flavor profile afforded by the mix of Provencal fennel seeds, green anise seeds, and aromatic herbs and spices selected by the distillery. It is intense and refreshing and an amazing tonic this time of year.
Average Price: $70
La Clandestine Absinthe
Tom Garvin, beverage manager at Tribeca’s Kitchen in New York City
I really like Swiss absinthe, with La Clandestine probably being my favorite brand on the market. For an absinthe, it drinks pretty delicately. While you definitely taste the anise and wintery spices associated with the spirit, there are some delightful green aromas like fennel that round it out.
The high abv associated with this spirit is more of a whisper than a loud yell in this particular absinthe, making it extremely drinkable.
Average Price: $82
Leopold Bros. Absinthe
Chandra Richter, vice president of beverage development & chief mixologist at Drinkworks
If I had to pick one absinthe to drink in the spring months, it would be Leopold Brothers Absinthe. It’s a bright, fruity expression of absinthe with the anise, which is nicely balanced with wormwood, coriander, and citrus. It works nicely for warm, winter cocktails, like a Sazerac or death in the afternoon.
Average Price: $68
Austin Zimmer, bartender at Le Privé in New York City
The Absinthe Ordinaire. It’s a mix of sweet anise, star anise, sweet balm, and peppermint giving a very refreshing touch to any cocktails. It’s also lower in proof than most other expensive bottles.
Average Price: $23
Copper & Kings Absinthe Alembic
Evan Charest, bartender, and owner of Severance in Los Angeles
While I usually stock it for a quality Sazerac rinse, I use Copper & Kings Absinthe Alembic for most cocktails uses and for drips. It isn’t as high ABV like many others and is much more approachable. Great notes of vanilla and pear.
Average Price: $57.99
Combier Blanchette Absinthe
Johnny Swet, bartender and owner of Jimmy at the James Hotel in New York City
I love the absinthe from Combier called Blanchette. It has a great anise flavor with an herb background and a dryness that works well with the sweetness. It’s also crystal clear the Combier guys are always doing their portfolio right.
Average Price: $64
St. George Absinthe Verte
Joseph Fredrickson, bartender at Society Lounge in Cleveland
I have always loved St. George Absinthe Verte. It was the first absinthe that I didn’t mind drinking straight. It also creates a beautiful louche. On the palate, you are going to obviously see the anise flavor that absinthe is known for, but you will also get pleasant notes of cinnamon and basil. The nose is incredibly floral, and the bottle is a piece of art definitely a great addition to any back bar home or otherwise.
Average Price: $63
Tenneyson Absinthe Royale
This 106-proof French absinthe is filled with aromas of pine trees and sweet licorice. The palate is filled with more pine, subtle wormwood spice, and lingering citrus zest.
Average Price: $60
Tattersall Absinthe Blanche
Fans of absinthe will really appreciate the rich, robust flavors of licorice, anise, wormwood, and citrus. It’s great on its own or mixed into your favorite cocktails.
Average Price: $50