10 Feb 2008

Absinthe Minded?

‘Boche had known a joiner who had stripped himself stark naked in the rue Saint-Martin and died doing the polka - he was an absinthe drinker…’
[Émile Zola]
I HAVE BEEN asked to look at an Absinthe site. On the face of it this is perhaps a curious request for the author of a wine blog. However the popular rise of this curious, evocatively tinted liquor served via elegant fountain and perforated spoon paraphenelia was in large part thanks to wine’s - thank God- temporary demise.
As aphid Phylloxera 'the devastator' voraciously begun its tour through Europe’s strings of vines in the 1860s, it left viticultural devastation, winemaker suicides and a major thirst in its wake. In this month’s Decanter Magazine, Denis Saverot, Editor of ‘La Revue du Vine de France’ sagely advises: ‘a glass of Syrah helps one relax – wine is Prozac’s competitor’. However without affordable wine supplies, and prescribed anti-depressants a century in the somnambulistic future, a substitute was urgently needed to placate Europe’s drinking classes. And mixed correctly rather than shot neat in dark bars, absinthe, as with pastis, provided a grazingly good, moderately alcoholic alternative. Indeed by 1910 the French were imbibing 36million litres a year, in the process threatening the output of refreshed vineyards.
So, green spectacles on to review matters concerning the 'Green Fairy', here is a professional distillation of the unambiguously titled ‘Buy Absinthe’

-First impressions suggest the team are proud of their site – ‘Welcome to the Best Absinthe Alcohol Site’. Such enthusiasm is confirmed by the statement ‘The team has one main prerogative: to spread the original Absinthe ritual’;
-It is user friendly and appropriately employs ‘absinthe’ colours;
-Reassuring statistics about Wormwood's active ingredient, Thujone are given;
-Ordering the various brands - none of which I know, but all of which intrigue - looks straightforward, although shipping seems expensive. It would be reassuring to see an address/phone number too;
-Detailed tasting notes written with flair would tantalise more than dubious claims about it ‘being a powerful aphrodisiac!
-I like the way Buy Absinthe circumnavigatges the worwood ban: ‘The only option for American consumers is to order absinthe online and have it shipped as a gift marked “not for human consumption"’;
-It is important to clarify that absinthe was not universally banned in 1915: Britain never caged the Green Fairy;
-Whilst engaging, the given history doesn’t go back that far (medical use of wormwood dates back to ancient Egypt);
-I feel there is a need to mention that Absinthe is the bright green, anise-laden French/Swiss version whereas Absinth (without the 'e') is the Bohemian equivalent, fennel flavoured and blue. And whilst the site depicts the classic sugar straining through spoon method of preparation, it does not detail the popular process of caramelising it (Bohemian version);
-Overall the site could strive to be more fun with Kermit coloured tales. Though clichés, a few Hemingway and Wilde quotes would add atmosphere. It could also mention that Absinthe was used in possibly the first documented cocktail, 'The Sazerac'. And what about L’heure Verte ('green hour') when vast swathes of France's population could be found in bars and clubs slugging the liquid? Another nugget of information - one of Absinthe's prime distilleries in Pontarlier is now a Nesquik factory…
-Apart from the Customer Testimonials page, there is a blog which invites interaction, although this is presently dislocated from the main site.

In conclusion, this is principally a mail order site with more flesh than most to its bones. It really needs to be 'sexed-up', however, and to have new content added often to bring back readers…