As our lawns in Colorado are finally turning green and the Red Rocks Amphitheater summer concert tickets are going on sale, I am experimenting with Leopold Bros. Absinthe Verte. Connoisseurs of the “la fée verte” (the green fairy), both in the US and Europe, agree that Denver-based Leopold Bros. distillery is one of the highest quality absinthes produced in the US and can stand alongside the best in the world.
What is Absinthe
All absinthe is made with grande wormwood, anise and fennel. However, the spirit base and additional botanicals are what makes each brand of absinthe different. The distiller creates the recipe, even the resulting color, and the symphony of flavors. For example, the Leopold Bros. Absinthe Verte is steeped with lemon balm and hyssop (a blue or pink-flowered mint with camphor and pine-flavored components) after the distillation to add color and produce its distinctive shade of peridot. A colorless absinthe is called blanche, as opposed to verte.
Even though absinthe gets its name from wormwood (artemisia absinthium), absinthe’s primary flavor is anise. The anise contributes to the body of the spirit, which can be perceived as sweetness, and is directly responsible for the licorice taste and the louche (aka cloudiness) effect that happens when water is added to absinthe.
A Bad Reputation
Without going into too much detail, the danger of drinking absinthe, or any beverage containing wormwood, is a ridiculous falsehood. Wormwood, and other plants such as sage, contain a compound called thujone, which at extremely high doses can cause seizures and death. The amount of thujone found in absinthe isn’t anywhere near the level of concern, but governments can and do regulate it. Leopold Bros. released their first absinthe in 2008 after the US changed its regulations on thujone in 2007.
The hallucinations and horrific stories about absinthe from the late 1800s are simply stories and folklore. Absinthe was traditionally more alcoholic than other spirits, and even today can garner 130 proof. The strength of the alcohol and quantity of consumption had more to do with people’s behavior than the thujone concentration.
Tasting Leopold Bros. Absinthe Verte
Colorado is home to over 100 distilleries, but Leopold Bros. is a two-time nominee for a James Beard Award. The distillery has been in the press countless times since it was founded in 1999, and brothers Scott and Todd Leopold care deeply about the provenance of their ingredients, a zero-waste facility, and the best crafted stills. Their absinthe is proof of that.
Just smelling the Leopold Bros. Absinthe Verte awakens the senses, widens the eyes and deepens the breath. It is spicy and tingly with mint, licorice, citrus peel, and tea aromas. The herbal and medical notes throw an energetic punch. On the palate, the alcohol is warming, the licorice is savory, and the flavor explosion is wildly persistent. A true aperitif and a reset for both mood and palate.
Shaken or Stirred
Besides the traditional absinthe cocktail served by adding 3 oz of ice-cold water drop-by-drop into a 1 oz pour of absinthe, there are a few famous drinks that use absinthe as a key ingredient. Ernest Hemingway created the cocktail called Death in the Afternoon by adding absinthe to his beloved Champagne. The Sazerac is a classic whiskey drink with absinthe, although not an easy one to master. And then there is the silky and satisfying Bruenelle cocktail which consists of equal parts absinthe, lemon juice and simple syrup. I can’t say that absinthe is for everyone, but I’m confident when I say that Leopold Bros. Absinthe Verte is for every absinthe lover.