I was thrilled to come across this book. I had always loved absinthe as sort of a cultural obsession and I had quite the supply personally imported during the forbidden years here in the States. But it honestly never occurred to me there was much you could do with it except drink it straight or with water and/or sugar. But there are over 50 recipes in here!
When I know about something, I am kind of a snob about it, so I was cynical about the historical and cultural content of this book, but it was well done and well written and I may have learned something after all. It's a well put together, neat looking book that just begs for attention from your coffee table - enticing pictures and interesting designs throughout. Fun to look through for any fan of a good drink.
And the drinks are good. But this book is definitely not for everyone:
In preparation for this review - and my own curiosity - I counted my liquor this morning. I have literally 144 different liquors and liqueurs in the house that I brought back from all over the world, and I can only make a couple of recipes in this book exactly as the author describes. There are even a few things I hadn't heard of before. The drinks have been fantastic without much need for reapportioning or anything like that, but it astounds me just how much my bar is missing. It will cost quite a sum by the time I get all this stuff, but the research and shopping will be fun, indeed. But only if that kind of thing is for you.
Some of the less common mixers asked for frequently in the book are Peychaud's bitters (you can get them here on Amazon), Cherry Heering, Creme de Violette, St. Germain, Benedictine, and Ginger Liqueur.
Also note that these are all drinks for people that like good cocktails. There are no recipes in here for college kids who want everything to taste like pineapple juice (thank God). And please don't buy artificially flavoured versions of the mixer liqueurs...
Oh, and quite a few recipes require egg whites for frothiness. I absolutely love 'em, but some people don't, I suppose.
All in all, a great book ...if you're into that sort of thing.
There are a few things to know about this book.
First, it is a coffee table book more than it is a practical manual of "mixology". This is evident from the beautiful photos and the fact that more attention is paid to style than to substance. In part, this is probably due to the fact that most people are more familiar with absinthe as a stylish drink than they are as a viable spirit.
Second, absinthe is still a little faddish. This goes with the first. Realistically, if you tell people that absinthe is your favorite spirit, they're likely to think that you're either a poser or that you're a lush. In reality, the complex flavors of absinthe mean that (for those inclined to spend money) it is as reasonable a drink to enjoy amongst company as a fine Scotch. While I have tried a few of these cocktails, I vastly prefer absinthe mixed with something simpler, like Tarhun (a tarragon-flavored soda) or with water. I roll simple, but deep.
With those things in mind, it's not really that surprising that I don't really think that actually MAKING the cocktails is the point. Rather, you are supposed to put this book somewhere obvious (preferably near your absinthe glass and spoon), and have people marvel at your worldliness. Then, when they suggest a recipe to try it out, you mention that you're just fresh out of a few of the ingredients. In this way, your bluff isn't called.
If you ARE forced to actually make some of these cocktails, though, there are two things to keep in mind.
First, many of the ingredients in the book are relatively expensive. If you are willing to drop a significant amount of money, you can try most of the recipes. Many of the liquers required were things that I have never even heard of. Most of them were things that I've never tried. Be prepared to use a lot of things only once, and be prepared to spend. As such, you should perambulate and dodge it as long as possible.
Second, due to the obscure nature of absinthe, most of the cocktails don't really USE absinthe. They involve glass rinses, and a few drops of absinthe. Does that get the flavor in there? Probably a little. But often times, unless you're drinking top shelf, the delicate flavors of absinthe are not going to come through. You might as well just grate a little fennel into your rye and call it good. And if you're dropping stacks on top shelf for every ingredient, well...I guess that you have the dime to spare to buy this just for satisfying your curiosity. But, if you are avoiding making these, as I have suggested
As a reward, though, if you do have to mix one of these, the recipes are generally very interesting sounding, they usually look beautiful and have luscious, exotic names (like Necromancy or Sazerac), and the few I've tried are pretty decent. That said, as Eric C. Sedensky said, substitutions would have been welcome. But, it is important to recognize that this is not really a recipe book so much as it is to showcase the purchaser's sophisticated palate and interest in the forbidden, so I can't over-fault the author for providing a book that Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar would be proud of.
(Finally, I am taking a star away from this for the recipes that say, "Coat the glass with absinthe and discard the excess." Never discard absinthe. Ever.)
When I open a book of drinks recipes the flavor of a drink is subjective but there are some important things I want to see which are not. These include does the writer make the drinks sound fun? Do they seem to be writing for me and not some elite club in darkened hallways with secret handshakes and is it possible to approach the drinks for experimentation without having to lay out lots of cash? Thankfully in Kate Simon's "Absinthe Cocktails" the answer to all these is yes.
For those who don't know absinthe, it is a very potent, licorice flavored, green liquor that was popular with the `in crowd' of artistic communities, most famously in Paris, during the `belle epoch.' Having the good fortune to hit Paris as the cocktail was being invented and the French wine industry was cursed by blight it became the in drink for many people but it fell out of favor and was banned due to cheaper production causing brain lesions and a resurgent French wine clique putting pressure on the culture. It is now enjoying something of a revival in a new, safer version.
Absinthe Cocktails explains this in more detail without being pretentious and manages to keep a sense of humor about the whole thing. After all this is about drinking. More than just the history of the liquor and the horrors its faux impostors created, Simon explains how it acts and why many recipes in an Absinth book have only a trace amount of the liquor.
When it comes to the drinks themselves anyone with a halfway decent bar set up will be able to start experimenting right after getting a bottle of absinthe. Beyond the recipe themselves Simon includes a few words on the history of the drinks and suggestions for altering them slightly if you don't like the taste.
Some of the drinks do have some expensive ingredients and a few odd mixes, but she provides recipes for some of the more obscure mixers and gives ideas how to get around some of the more off beat ingredients. The bottom line is that you can experiment without a massive outlay of cash and if you like it and want to get further into the subject, you're enjoying yourself enough to be willing to pay this.
The book is nice to look at with good pictures of the drinks and easily read instructions, a co-worker who doesn't drink even enjoyed leafing through my copy because it was so attractive, but the black pages with white lettering have the disadvantage that you can't really make notes on them about what you liked or didn't. since this is my only real quibble with the book and many people may not mark up their cook books it really doesn't affect it.
The bottom line is that Simon has produced an attractive and informative book that will let the inquisitive explore the world of the "Green fairy" easily and without too much outlay. Whether or not you like the flavor is subjective, that Simon has written a book that is approachable is not. Her tone is light and avoids being ponderous and since the ultimate aim is to have a drink and a good time, isn't that a good thing?
on January 18, 2015
I was brought up eating lots of black licorice, and when I discovered absinthe 2 years ago I fell in love with it. It's a wonderful liquor whose anise wonderfully mimics that licorice taste I was so fond of growing up. I primarily prepare my absinthe the traditional way of using sugar cubes and water, but I was interested in having this book by my bar to look at other ways it can be enjoyed.
This book is very wonderful to glance through and opened up my eyes about the possibility of the drink. However, the cocktails in here are not for the novice bartender. Many of them are not simple and require rather obscure/expensive/rare ingredients. This is not to say the book is bad, but it merely posits different ways in which to enjoy such an iconic drink.
The beauty is that absinthe can still be best enjoyed with ingredients found in every home....sugar and water. But this book gives me the aim to try and concoct new complimentary tastes for such an iconic drink.
In some ways, this is a very good book for the basic absinthe enthusiast, with lots of good information on buying and serving the once-forbidden liqueur. And many of the basic recipes for absinthe-based cocktails are excellent and can be whipped up by someone with a basic bar set-up.
However, in chapter four, which takes up half the book, it gets bogged down. This features lots of cocktail recipes from upscale lounges and formulated by swank bartenders, and frequently these drinks will only be something you can fantasize about. They frequently will either call for specific varieties of absinthe or for esoteric ingredients that will force you to drop a packet at your local specialty liquor store...if you can find one. And some only call for a drop or two of absinthe, or only enough to coat a glass. A few too many are merely drinks where absinthe is a minor flavoring agent rather than something truly incorporated into the drink, which may be an issue for some. It could be seen as an economizing measure but many of these drinks also have expensive ingredients so if you're going to drop a ton of cash on those esoteric ingredients you're really not saving much by rationing the absinthe.
I'd still recommend this to absinthe fans, but it's of limited usefulness.
I got this book to supplement some existing books I have on the subject of cocktails.
Though I doubt there are hoards of anise-flavored spirit lovers out there, I happen to enjoy Absinthe. My first impression of the book was that it was a very attractive volume, suitable for display on the coffee table. Rich with photos, the book doesn't disappoint on visual appeal. There is a nice historical context presented about Absinthe, and tips on brands and glassware.
As with most cocktail references, there are some hard-to-find and/or expensive ingredients listed in some of the cocktail recipes, so it pays to be selective about what you want to experiment with. You will need to know up front that Absinthe is not going to be cheap, and don't expect to mix cheap ingredients with it. My local liquor store had Lucid and Pernod brands, as well as La Clandestine and Koruba, amongst others. I ended up getting Distillerie Vinet Ege Absinthe Le Tourment Vert, for whatever reason.
That said, I did try some of the recipes, starting with the classics (Sazerac, etc). I have to say that I am as impressed with the recipes as I am with the gorgeous book. If you are looking for a great reference book on Absinthe...this is it!
on December 20, 2013
Since Absinthe is new to me I felt it would be wise to purchase a book to help with the basics. I have found this book to be very insightful and helpful and look forward to trying the different recipes. The only challenge is the pages are colored black with white print. It is a little hard to read but is a beautiful book.
on June 16, 2014
For those looking to explore the making and some history surrounding the drink known as the green fairy this could serve as a good starting point. The book contains various recipes along with pertinent background information which allows one to reproduce the various iterations of the drink known as Absinthe.
I realize that this will sound odd but even though I'm a teetotaler (almost allergic to even the smell of alcohol) I've been fascinated by absinthe ever since I saw Lana Turner's Madame X drown her sorrows in la fée verte on late-night TV when I was a kid, so much so that for several years, I've been on the Oxygenée mailing list. I jumped on Kate Simon's Absinthe Cocktails because I not only wanted to see what else could be done with absinthe other than serving it in the traditional manner (sugar cube, spoon, fountain filled with icy water) but because I suspected (correctly, I was delighted to discover) that this book would be a proper release rather than yet another uncorrected proof. :)
First, let me say that it was a PLEASURE to be offered the opportunity to review such a well-written work; I was able to pretty much shift out of editor/proofreader mode into overdrive, and a smooth ride it was, too. Kate Simon not only has possesses exactly the skills needed for excellent food writing but she has a real feel for her subject as well. She manages to cram a lot of lore into the pages between the recipes, all of it fascinating. I wish she'd mentioned that "verte," as it ages, metamorphoses into a beautiful golden topaz color and I also wish that she'd called a spade a spade when she cited the proliferation of the bogus product being sold online for what it almost always is: Czech-made "absinth," a vile abomination marketed to ignorant consumers who think absinthe (which, technically, has never really been illegal here) is supposed to be an hallucinogenic. Perhaps this was considered non-PC, perhaps she didn't know. Well, now everyone reading this does.
Many possible treatments of absinthe are covered, including the aforementioned traditional spoon-and-fountain. Mercifully, the flaming sugar cube (another Czech affectation) is given the short shrift it deserves--it is evident yet again that Ms. Simon has done her homework. And Lara Ferroni's photographs are absolutely delightful--beautifully composed and shot, they show off The Green Fairy to her best advantage. I don't think there's anything I'd change.
If you have any interest at all in this legendary spirit, don't hesitate. Ms. Simon's and Ms. Ferroni's collaborative efforts will grace any bookshelf, serve as an engaging conversation piece, and will undoubtedly prove useful for readers who--unlike myself--actually drink.
Written by Kate Simon, "Absinthe Cocktails" gives present-day cocktail drinkers the opportunity to see what American imbibers have missed since the early 1920s. If you like Pernod, you will find a similar anise flavor in absinthe. Quite often, just a few drops of the liqueur are added to a complete drink such as the Dolores Park Swizzle. Some drinks, notably the Cherry Blossom Brocade, contain a large proportion of absinthe - combined with gin and ruby red grapefruit juice, which is delicious. For those who are not inveterate drinkers yet enjoy reading about cocktails (especially when accompanied by Lara Ferroni's colorful photographs), Simon's book will provide the ideal tonic.