A couple of weeks ago, I blogged very positively about the new Absinthe from Germain-Robin. I was a little perplexed, therefore, to receive an anguished voicemail from Crispin Cain, who distills the spirit. He was happy with my enthusiastic review, but had one complaint.
I called his absinthe "sweet".
Now, I can feel his pain. I know from bartending at Cantina that the one thing you can say about my cocktails which makes me upset is that they're too sweet. Certainly, most drinks have some form of added sweetness, but we try to balance that out perfectly, so that it tastes neither sweet nor sour. It's the cocktail that walks that line which is the most complex and delightful. Likewise, in spirits, added sugar is often used to cover up for flaws and deficiencies. It's a badge of pride for distillers to make a spirit that tastes round, rich and full without being artificially sweetened.
Cain said that my error on his absinthe was understandable. "I might think so myself if I didn’t know better. Really high quality absinthe tastes like that, it doesn’t have to be bitter and tart." Even though there's no sugar in the spirit, the sensation of sweetness comes, he says, from a combination of the apple-honey base distillate and the combination of green and sweet anise.
The absinthe it turns out has a fairly interesting story. The recipe is from Switzerland and is 300 years old. Cain has made some modifications, such as the apple-honey distillate, which itself is based on a recipe that came from his grandfather. "It was my grandfathers hooch," said Cain. "He made the best stuff in the state of Minnesota. I talked to my uncle frank who’s 93 and was the last person to work in my grandfathers distillery. He said I got the recipe right." Cain uses local apples and honey to make the base spirit and then macerates and distills again. No herbs are added after that, meaning that there's none of that signature green color of absinthe. "We don’t see why we'd want to add herbs back," he added. "You’ve worked so hard to distill it, why ruin it by adding anything else." Indeed, which is why there's no color . . . and no sugar.