Last year's absinthe boom yielded some beauts (St. George) and some duds (Pernod). But while the St. George Absinthe was, by a long shot, for me the best of the lot, as Eric Asimov noted in the Times, it's not for everyone. It wasn't the tasting panel's favorite, which Asimov explained, saying: "The next rank, particularly the St. George—with a spider monkey on its label beating on a skull—and the Jade Nouvelle-Orléans, offered greater complexity, with more pronounced floral and herbal flavors, and less focus on anise. Absinthe connoisseurs often seem to prefer these to the bottles that we favored." Indeed, it's the complexity that makes it so compelling, though it might be a shade more bitter than some other versions.
Northern California's second boutique absinthe (arriving in stores now) is from Mendocino's Germain-Robin distillery and should please all comers, both the connoisseurs and the casual tasters. It's brilliant. It's also not what some people might expect because it's not green. Rather, it's what they call an absinthe blanche, meaning that the spirit wasn't macerated with botanicals after distillation to give it that telltale green that so many people seek. Clear in the bottle, the absinth louches into a pure, cloudy white when hit with a little water.
The absinthe of green doesn't bother me at all, because this absinthe is so delicious. The personal project longtime Germain-Robin assistant distiller Crispin Cain, it begins with an apple-honey mead that's distilled on G-R's orginal pot still. Its irresistible complexity comes in part from such botanicals as rose geranium, lemon balm, wormwood, hyssop, lemon verbena, star anise, fennel seed, and lemon peel. The apple-honey base gives it a lovely internal sweetness, which is obviously bolstered with a fair bit of added sweetness. It is not an absinthe that you need to add sugar to. (in fact, I'd love to taste a slightly drier version).
Right now this beaut is only on sale in Northern California. To find a bottle near you, feel free to call Germain-Robin at 707-468-7896.