Pros:Less expensive than Kubler or Lucid. Absinthe if not for a technicality, and tasty.
Cons:Artificially colored. Anise flavor too strong relative to other herbs.
The Bottom Line: Absente lacks the refinement of more expensive absinthes, but is highly drinkable, and could be considered the baseline of quality.
In my review of Le Tourment Vert I noted that absinthe was until very recently illegal to import or sell in the U.S. not due to any harmful constituent but rather because it was absinthe, made in part from distillation of extracts of Aretemisia absinthum, the common wormwood. Thujone was the post-hoc rationalization of the ban--in high quantities, it can be deadly, just like wintergreen or cinnamon oil--but thujone itself was never regulated; thujone from wormwood was, and in the most absurd twist in the matter, the TTB did not want to allow the importation of absinthes meeting its thujone guidelines simply because they were called absinthe.
Recommend this product?
Absente appeared on the U.S. market a few years before legal absinthes, because it is and is not absinthe. Like the much older Herbsaint (familiar to anyone who's visited the Old Absinthe House in New Orleans), Absente is a pastis intended as a substitute for absinthe in cocktails and traditional preparations and given a double-entendre name to match. Unlike Herbsaint, Absente may as well be made with Artemisia absitnthum; to avoid various countries' bans on the real thing, it's made with Artemisia arbotanum, or "Southern Wormwood". I've never seen an arbotanum in person, but in the eight years I worked at a flower-and-garden shop, I never saw an artemisia which didn't smell and taste similar to any other. At worst the difference is as between Italian and Thai basil.
Judged as pastis, Absente is ahead of the curve; judged as absinthe, it's mediocre. It louches quite nicely when mixed with water--four parts cold water to one part Absente is best--and has a very full anise flavor. Star anise, the cheapest source of anethole, predominates, but there's almost certainly some common anise and some fennel in the mix, too. But so powerful is the anise flavor as compared to the herbs that the herbs are an afterthought. There's a very pleasant wormwood note in the background, but it stays there. Any other herbs that may have been in the mix are indistinguishable. Absente is artificially colored with Yellow #5 and Blue #1, and thus doesn't look unlike Mountain Dew. This is better than the electric blue Tourment Vert, but it's silly; it would have been better to make this clear. Green color in an absinthe should indicate something about the process--post-distillation maceration of lemon balm or hyssop. This shows no trace of neither, hence its lack of natural color.
Absente lacks the refinement, the balanced herbs and anise, of upmarket absinthes like Kubler, but it's highly drinkable and a definite step up from Pernod. Have it on its own in the traditional preparation, or as a New Orleans-style absinthe frappe. At $35 per bottle it's cheap enough to use in cocktails or Oysters Rockefeller, too, something that can't be said about the new traditional absinthes, nor about Grande Absente, the nearly identical but more expensive brandmate made with Artemisia absinthum.
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