In 1905, a Swiss fellow named Jean Lanfray murdered his family with a shotgun. His lawyer argued that he was a victim of “absinthe madness” even though he was a habitual alcoholic. The trial became known as the “Absinthe Murder,” alcoholism and absinthe-ism became synonymous, and absinthe was banned almost worldwide within the next 10 years. Luckily, the fate of absinthe wasn't sealed forever. Today, its shady past forgiven, it is again being bottled with artistic zeal, and absinthe cocktails dot the menus of many of the city's bars.
In these upcoming weeks of holiday excess, there will be moments when you need a respite — and the requisite refreshment to go with it. Despite its image as a murder maker and hallucinogen (neither of them based in fact), absinthe is the ideal digestive tipple to soothe your stomach. In fact, its anise-licorice-fennel base has long been known to have health benefits to the immune system, especially the liver. Whether it's poured into or misted over a glass, absinthe adds both an invigorating and a comforting element to modern cocktails. Here are five drinks that use absinthe to create refreshing, intense and calming concoctions for a season when madness is always a possibility.
With its curved brick ceiling and dimly lit interior, Black Market Liquor Bar is a moody escape from L.A.'s bustle. Transport yourself by ordering an off-the-menu London Fog, whose greenish color is meant to resemble the soupy green fog of old Londontown. Pea soup very much aside, this cocktail is a refreshing long drink whose mist of absinthe imparts a lovely whiff of anise that complements the drink's gin aromatics. It's basically a gin buck (gin, ginger beer, lime), but the absinthe takes it in a uniquely different direction. And while this cooler might seem more at home at a summer lawn party, there's a brooding depth to the flavors that's fully at home in the winter chill. 11915 Ventura Blvd., Studio City; 818-446-2533.
4. Comme Ça
As many people shy away from the basic flavor of absinthe, Tim Loden of Comme Ça wanted to create an absinthe drink that “featured the flavors of the spirit but didn't overpower and scare people away.” Half an ounce of Vieux Carre absinthe marries with half an ounce of vodka, a neutral flavor adding a bit more of an alcoholic kick. The orange-y bitterness of the digestif Aperol, which is similar to Campari, complements the full ounce of house-made curacao (equal parts Bauchant liqueur and simple syrup) as well as lemon juice. Topped with crushed ice, this drink does exactly what Loden wanted it to do: “Bring absinthe out of the dimly lit taverns of yore.” 8479 Melrose Ave., W. Hlywd.; 323-782-1104.
Bartender Andrea Scuto is doing some interesting cocktail tweaks over at Trattoria Amici at the Americana at Brand in Glendale. His Chamomile Sazerac is a clever riff on the classic New Orleans absinthe-defined cocktail, which usually employs rye and the anise-forward Peychaud bitters in an absinthe-rinsed glass. As many bartenders do, Scuto has softened the absinthe's potency — but retained all of its magic — by misting it over the drink, thus allowing its subtlety to meld with the equally subtle application of chamomile. The floral herb, an organic loose-leaf variety, is infused into the rye, highlighting its inherent spiciness. 783 Americana Way, Glendale; 818-502=-1220.
On the surface, you might not think the Indy Stutz (Jameson whiskey, absinthe, creme de cassis, strawberries) would work as a cocktail. After all, strawberry and licorice aren't necessarily kissing cousins in the flavor universe. But Absinthe Mata Hari, the absinthe of choice here, is quite soft on the anise side and more pronounced in its cinnamon-spice notes. While this might be a disappointment to some absinthe purists, the spirit makes a fine match with the fruit, as well as creme de cassis's blackcurrant sweetness and the whiskey's kick. By turns zingy and gutsy, this is a surprisingly elegant drink that's perfectly at home in the L.A. autumn, which is warm enough that we still need a bit of a bracing refresher at times. 10899 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles; 310-842-8066.
1. 320 Main
If you find yourself further afield of L.A. proper, namely in Seal Beach, then by all means make your way to 320 Main, where proprietor and bartender Jason Schiffer mixes up modern and old-school cocktails with equal aplomb. Schiffer's Antique Lemon Drop is a marvel of cocktail subtlety, taking a rather maligned modern sipper and transforming it into a bold expression of flavors by marrying the malty notes of genever with the equally powerful but perfumed quality that absinthe often imparts.
As Schiffer notes, “The genever is utilized to present one of the most complex spirits in a familiar way. The malty quality is great in a citrus drink. The drink is finished with an absinthe mist, which imparts the most aroma because it sits on the top of the drink. The idea is for the absinthe to play as an aromatic more than part of the flavor profile, as absinthe can tend to overwhelm.” There's nothing overwhelming in this drink but rather a balanced presentation of two complex spirits, working in tandem to produce something quite transcendent. 320 Main St., Seal Beach; 562-799-6246.
Lesley blogs at 12 Bottle Bar, tweets at @12BottleBar and is the author of the book “Gin: A Global History.” Email her at email@example.com. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.