Absinthe: Sampling the Green Fairy

Absinthe rose to popularity in the late 19th/early 20th centuries and was fashionable among the literati of Paris. Some famous fans of the drink include Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, and my hometown favorite, Edgar Allan Poe. Absinthe was outlawed in the United States in 1915, but since the ban was lifted in 2007, it has experienced a resurgence. While Absinthe has a reputation for being a hallucinogenic, that label is is merely a result of legend and exaggeration. Sorry.

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Despite my past travels to Europe, I had never had an authentic glass of absinthe. So, I thought that it would the perfect thing to help me unwind during a little après–ski. My friends Lilas and Chris joined me in a visit to The Absinthe Bar in Breckenridge, which boasts the largest selection of absinthe in the United States.

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The menu had 19 types of absinthe from France, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Austria, and the USA. I selected Pernod absinthe, a French absinthe often written about by Hemingway, which is from the original producer of commercial absinthe and has a high alcohol content and a heavy anise flavor profile. It is made using the same ingredients as in the early 1800s.

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There are a few processes through which absinthe can be made. One method, which my bartender used, is classic French absinthe ritual. The ritual involves placing a sugar cube on top of a perforated spoon, which rests on the rim of the specially designed absinthe glass. Ice water is then dripped on the sugar cube, which dissolves into the absinthe. This causes the green transparent liquor to “louche” into an opaque mint green cocktail.

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The result was a fun, cold liquorish-flavored cocktail. The Pernod was slightly bitter, but that was partially offset by the dissolved sugar. While liquorish isn’t my favorite thing in the world, I’d like to sample more because I find the history and process to make absinthe fascinating.

Chilling at an Ice Bar

As the temperature drops, the winter weather activities begin! Every year Gaylord Opryland features Ice, an indoor display of over two million pounds of ice sculptures hand-carved by 40 artisans. This year’s theme is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. (See below for an example of the carvings and a friendly abominable snowman.) The attraction comes with all sorts of festivities including an ice slide, snow tubing, ice skating, and for the adults . . . an ice bar!

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The ice bar, like the rest of the attraction, is only 9 degrees so we were given special parkas to put over our winter wear to keep us warm. (The cold air was a dark preview of the coming months.) The parkas helped a little, but it was still pretty icy in there. The cold wasn’t too bad as long as I wasn’t trying to take pictures. Every time I had to remove my gloves my fingers received an arctic blast.

There were 3 drinks to enjoy: A Goose Island Beer; the Jolly Mint featuring Jackson Morgan Southern Cream and Hangar One Vodka; and a Merry Margarita featuring Milagro Tequila. The Jolly Mint tasted like chocolate milk and the Merry Margarita was the first tequila drink I have ever liked. It was a nice revelation.

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While the ice bar was a cool experience (see what I did there?), I think it may be better suited for places like Las Vegas where you are trying to escape the heat instead of just exchanging one level of cold for another. It also made me rethink wanting to stay in an ice hotel in Québec.

This visit was also a good lesson that my current winter clothes will not cut it this December as I take my very first skiing trip (and that I should perhaps get some of those iPhone friendly gloves). Stay tuned for that adventure in the coming weeks!

Distillery Tour & A Spirit Tasting

Tennessee is synonymous with whiskey, well, really and kind of drinking. In fact, one of our state songs has an entire verse about moonshine. Wanting to embrace my adopted home, I thought touring a local distillery would be a great addition to the list. My friend Loren (from the ballet and the corn maze) joined me for a girls night out at Corsair.

Getting my corn from a jar

All the folks on Rocky Top get their corn from a jar. This is the most Tennessee thing you’ll ever see me do.

During the tour we learned about the history of Corsair, the building, and the spirit making process. To be honest, I don’t remember much of it, so this post will be short. Not because of the drinking that followed the tour, but because it was just a ton of information. Loren and I talked about doing a second tour just to take it all in (and because we had so much fun the first time).

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This machine does something, but I really don’t know what. Too sciencey for me (plus I was distracted by the distillery cat). If I recall correctly, grain is carried via a hopper, goes through a wash, and then is processed and separated. The liquid goes on to the still, and the remaining grain is taken by farmers to local farms to be added to feed. I assume there are some really drunk pigs somewhere in Middle Tennessee.

Whiskey Still

The centerpiece of the tour was a 100+ year old copper still. It is one-of-a-kind and survived Prohibition by hiding out in Canada for a few years. Unfortunately, it has no identifying plaques or markers so they don’t know the manufacturer or the exact year of creation.

Whiskey Barrels

After the spirits go through the distillation process, the liquor is put into barrels and aged. The barrel is slowly rotated so the spirits absorb the full flavor. This room smelled amazing. Well, actually it smelled exactly like what you’d think a distillery would smell like.

Whiskey Tasting

Following the tour we had a tasting of some of Corsair’s products. The tasting included their gin, spiced rum, moonshine, quinoa whiskey, and triple smoked whiskey. Loren and I aren’t big girls, so tasting straight liquor got a little overwhelming by the 5th sample. In fact, our lips went numb rather quickly. Usually I dilute whatever liquor I’m drinking in a large glass of coke (sorry connoisseurs) so I liked being able to taste the unique flavors of each drink. While I normally dislike gin (I think it tastes like rubbing alcohol), I really liked Corsair’s gin. It had a very piney flavor. Also, I could really taste the difference between the quinoa whiskey and the triple smoked whiskey .

Swizzle

After the tasting we stuck around for cocktails and a healthy mix of business and girl talk. I had a Swizzle Me Timbers which had spiced rum, lime, nutmeg, angostura (bitters), simple syrup, and absinthe. Loren had one called Messin’ with Sasquatch. Both were delicious.

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