Boutique Bar Show Presents… The Journey Of Artemisia

The final talk of London’s Boutique Bar Show‘s first day was the busiest and strictly standing room only; the reason? Not just that topic of wormwood is one of mystery and intrigue, but that this talk featured a star-studded cast of experts on the subject:

  • Jared Brown & Anistatia Miller, the archaeologists of drink and authors of a new book on vermouth;
  • Ago Perrone of the Connaught Bar and resident vermouth expert on drinkology.com; and
  • Giuseppe Gallo, the Global Brand Ambassador for Martini Vermouth.

The talk opened with Jared & Anistatia passing some fresh wormwood around the audience and explaining how to make wormwood-flavoured gin by steeping the herb in spirit. They noted that you only need to do this for one hour; indeed, some of the flavour comes through after only 30 minutes, indicating how strong a flavour it is.

We then progressed onto a little of the history of man’s relationship with wormwood.

Wormwood & Civilization

ANCIENT EGYPT
Used in medicinal tonic, wormwood was given its name in Ancient Egyptian times as the plants repelled groundworms.

ANCIENT CHINA
Wine infused with wormwood, chrysanthemum and other herbs was used to treat fever.

ANCIENT GREECE
Pythagoras and Hippocrates prescribed Vermouth draughts for pain relief. The concoction was known for being rather unpleasant and often induced vomiting, thus earning it the name “absinthium”, meaning “undrinkable”.

ROMANS
The Romans infused wormwood and Mediterranean herbs, such as Thyme and Rosemary, in wine, which they drank after long feasts to aid digestion.

RENAISSANCE AND ENLIGHTENMENT
Elizabeth I was known to have taken a daily health drink of wormwood wine and a form was also known to have been the aperitif of the Royal Court of Louis XV and Louis XVI in France.

Ago and the team mix up some Vermouth Cocktails

Vermouth

So man has an established history with wormwood, but, by the mid 1700’s, wormwood drinks had become a little passé. In 1786, drinks made with wormwood were rejuvenated by Antonio Benedetto Carpano’s creation of a commercial vermouth. The name came from “vermut”, which was German for wormwood; the use of the German word is thought to have been to find favour with those associated with Holy Roman Empire.

Today, a wide variety of sweet, dry and extra dry vermouths exist, as well as some that are strongly flavoured with quinine or citrus fruits. In tune with its history, Vermouth is also made around the world, with versions being produced in  France, Italy, Spain, the USA and, thanks to Sacred, England, to name but a few.

Absinthe

Before absinthe came along, wormwood had mostly been infused in wine, but this new drink saw it being infused in distilled alcohol, instead.

Absinthe had its big boom during the phylloxera outbreak of late 19th Century. The wine blight came from the Americas and, although this blight had been around for centuries, the long journeys made by the sailing ships of the time meant that none had ever survived the trans-Atlantic voyage. However, with the new-found speed of the steam ship, the blight found new range and spread quickly; it ravished Europe, destroying over 70% of vineyards and causing a severe shortage of wine and brandy.

The European masses, previously fans of the vine, still needed something cheap to drink, so they turned their attention to absinthe. Such was the popularity of the drink that when the supply of wine recovered, its sales did not.

So a plan was hatched to discredit absinthe. Negative propaganda was produced that emphasised the hallucinogenic effects of Thujone, a chemical compound found in absinthe (and also – coincidentally – in high quantities in sage), and that this spirit was the “devil of society” and would lead to moral ruin. The smear campaign worked and, at the beginning of the 20th Century, countries started to ban absinthe, including the USA (1912) and France (1914).


Liqueurs

I was interested to learn that it’s not just vermouth and absinthe that benefit from the flavours of wormwood; many liqueurs use it, too. Examples include: Jaegermeister, Pelinkovac and Galliano. There are also companies, such as Baika, that are making wormwood-flavoured vodka.

The talk was also scattered with a variety of tasty wormwood-related drinks, such as the Balsamic Martinez. Presented to us by Ago, this was a mix of Cocchi Vermouth, Genever, Maraschino and Galliano Balasamico. I thought it was a crisp drink with a good balance of bitterness, and sweet and sour elements.

If you’d like to know more about vermouth, I can highly recommend ‘The Mixellany Guide to Vermouth‘ by Jared Brown & Anistatia Miller. This was launched at the show and I was delighted to get a signed copy! It makes for a very interesting read.

Herbsaint Legendre – Raiders of The Lost Cocktail Cabinet 7

A bottle of Herbsaint Legendre (2009) bottled at 50%ABV

.On 5th December 1933, after nearly 15 years of intoxicating liquors being outlawed, the 18th Amendment was repealed by the 21st Amendment, effectively ending Prohibition. This is the same day that J. M. Legendre launches Legendre Absinthe. As Legendre Absinthe, unlike many of it competitors (such as whiskey), did not need barrel aging, Legendre was able to be have stock for the market before his rivals. Legendre Absinthe was marketed as a legal alternative to absinthe (Absinthe having been banned in the US 1912).

The company was sold to the Sazerac Co. (who now make Buffalo Trace) 1949 and they have continued to produce it since. But (like Pimm’s, Galliano and Lillet before them) Herbsaint’s recipe was modified and this gave it a greater focus on star anise.

Herbsaint Legendre (2009)

To mark the 75th Anniversary of Herbsaint the Sazerac Co. decided to release a variety of Herbsaint based on the original recipe. The company dug out the recipe from their archives and, with the help of Jay Hendrickson, a (if not the) leading authority on Herbsaint, created a reproduction. Mr. Hendrickson has a collection of Herbsaint bottles and memorabilia and so kindly provided some sealed samples from his collection (of Herbsaint Legendre made using the original formula) to taste and compare against the new (old) product. They had a match.

The Taste:

#1) With water

Add 2 measures of Herbsaint Legendre to an absinthe glass and add ice water until Herbsaint changes to cloudy.

Rather tasty cool and full of flavour, strong anise, like pastis, along with some more complex herbal notes. Reminds me of the Blackjacks (an aniseed confection).

#2) Southern Belle

1tbsp Whiskey, 1tbsp Lemon Juice, 2tbsp Orange Juice, 1tsp Sugar; shake with ice and add to a cocktail glass to which two dashes of Herbsaint Legendre has been added

Simply delightful! Complex with lots of flavours that weave within each other; warmth and flavour of rye whiskey, tartness from the lemon juice and the anis and herbal elements from the Herbsaint, the entirety of which is given a fresh edge from the orange juice. Highly recommended.

#3) Big Tomato

30ml Herbsaint Legendre
10ml Genuine Grenadine*
Shake with Ice
Strain into a small cocktail glass

*Flavoured with Pomegranate and not just red berries.

Better than I expected; quite with some pomegranate, but all rather sticky. OK, but there are much better ways to enjoy Herbsaint.

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#4) Sazerac

Rather lovely, smoothness of rye whisky, which matches the sugar and the bitters. The flavours of Herbsaint surround the other flavours of the drink with a touch of anis. well balanced and superb. A favourite of mine.


#5) Summer Fizz

20ml Dry Gin, 25ml Lemon Juice, 15ml Lime Juice Add sugar to taste;
Shake this with ice and then strain into a tall glass,
Top up with soda water, add a dash of Herbsaint Legendre and garnish with citrus fruits

Cooling with a touch of anise as well as being citrus and fresh. Despite only having a dash of Herbsaint, the flavour of the spirit still came though well. This is not a million miles away from a fruit cup and it was just as tasty and refreshing.

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#6) Cola Herbsaint

Fill a tall-thin glass with cracked ice
Add 30ml of Herbsaint Legendre
Top up with 60ml Coca Cola,
Stir lightly and “serve sizzling”

I actually really liked this; it was very cooling and refreshing, with distinctive notes of the Herbsaint at the beginning and cola on the finish. I could drink quite a few, but couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a bit of a waste of the Herbsaint.

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#7) Herbsaint Bracer
Interestingly, the citrus oils made a little vortex on the surface of the drink. The flavour was initially of anise, a bit like Army & Navy sweets, and the herbal notes of the vermouth. This is just to my taste: there were strong liquorice and herbal flavours throughout and it was perfectly chilled. It was certainly bracing and had a very strong, yet fantastic flavour.

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#8) 1933 Legendre Absinthe Frappe

1tsp Benedictine, 2tbsp Legendre Absinthe, 4tbsp of water; Shake with ice until frosted-strain into small glass and serve.

This recipe was added as a comment to our article on Hindenburg Cocktails.
To me, this is the Herbsaint equivalent of a Martini; it has the same grace and elegance. There are notes of black liquorice and anise and it is cool, crisp and delicious. It was possible that the one that I made was a touch too dilute, but it was still packed with flavour. Mrs. B found it delightful and I had some trouble getting the glass back for another taste!

My sincere thanks to Mr. Jay Hendrickson, absinthe historian and Herbsaint specialist, for is help with the history and especially the recipes. Thanks also to the Sazerac Company.

Death in the Afternoon

Death in the Afternoon

A literary cocktail.

The Death in the Afternoon, an absinthe cocktail, consists of the rather unlikely combination of absinthe and Champagne, indeed many afficiandos proclaim the heresy of mixing the two. The drink hails from the mid-thirties and takes its name from a book by Ernest Hemingway.

According to “So Red The Nose” (see bottom), a collection of drinks recipes submitted by prominent 1930s authors, the cocktail was invented by Hemingway himself and he accompanies his recipe with the story of its discovery. The drink was created whilst the author was in the company of three officers on-board the HMS Danae. The four of them had just spent several hours overboard, trying to refloat the fishing boat of a Captain Bra Saunders which had become stuck on a bank during a North-Westerly gale.


On a little historical side-note, the Danae was a light cruiser of the British Navy and was leased to the Polish Navy during World War II. Fans of Hemingway may be interested to note that Captain Willie Adams from his 1937 novel “To Have and Have Not” is thought to have been inspired by Bra Saunders. To have inspired both a cocktail and a Hemingway character surely is some achievement!

Champagne has often been considered a cure for seasickness and so it has been suggested that, during the gale, this is why Hemingway chose this ingredient for this drink. That said, stout and ginger ale have also both been considered potential cures for this ailment and, although I am partial to a drop of ginger, I don’t think that the combination of an anise-flavour spirit and dark beer is quite to my taste.

So does the Death in the Afternoon ruin both the Champagne and the absinthe or do both add up to something grander when mixed?

As with many aspects of drinking and flavour this is a matter of personal discretion. I very much enjoy the cocktail and have shared it with a few friends who find it does work well with other good sparkling wines; however, I would perhaps recommend reserving your bottle of Dom Pérignon, 1952 for another occasion.

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