Last week, we posted a blog series on absinthe that included pointers on how to distill absinthe and how to make absinthe from kits. Some readers expressed kit absinthe is not "real" absinthe, with one reader commenting he'd love to see the looks on our faces if we actually tried it.
So this weekend, we made "absinthe" from a kit we purchased at the Brew Your Own Brew store in Gilbert. The entire process was an alcohol adventure we won't soon forget. We'd heard that trying to make absinthe from a kit was the equivalent of trying to make a fine wine from Welch's grape jelly. That was a fitting analogy.
Brew Your Own Brew carries two kinds of absinthe kits: bags of dried herbs that must be steeped for several days, and a liquid "spirit essence" of absinthe that's simply added to 100-proof alcohol. We bought the latter, along with a bottle of Smirnoff Triple Distilled Vodka, chosen for its high alcohol content and neutral flavor. We couldn't imagine the absinthe essence, which looked like green cough syrup and reeked of black licorice, tasting good in anything fruity.
The bottle of absinthe essence was Still Spirits Top Shelf Brand, made in New Zealand. There's no alcohol in the essence; it's just a liquid blend of herbs commonly used in absinthe. Still Spirits doesn't list ingredients on the bottle or their website, but the essence smells and tastes strongly of anise (which smells and tastes like black licorice). There might have been fennel in the blend, or even wormwood (it was slightly bitter), but really, it was hard to tell what exactly comprised this concoction.
Still Spirits' instructions dictate adding the entire 50ml essence bottle to 2,250ml of alcohol. We didn't want to make that much kit absinthe, so we did some math, triple-checked our calculations, and added 8.5ml of essence to 375 liters of vodka. This created approximately four servings of pseudo-absinthe.
One thing all absinthes should do is louche when water is added. Louching is just a fancy way of saying the absinthe becomes cloudy and takes on a milky-white color. We set a glass of kit-made absinthe next to a glass of St. George, a pricey American-made absinthe. Then we added water to each. You can view video of our louche test below (the yellowish St. George is on the left; the kit-made absinthe is the mouthwash-looking stuff on the right).
As you can see, our kit-made absinthe did not louche at all, whereas the St. George immediately started to cloud. Then we took a big drink of the kit-made absinthe. We knew it wasn't the real deal, and figured it would just taste like absinthe-flavored vodka.
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It didn't even come that close. It tasted like vaguely spicy vodka, inferior to even cheap Mexican or Czech absinthe. So it turns out, our readers were right. Absinthe from kits is not real absinthe, and tastes like flaming crap. Good thing we know of several great absinthe brands we can just go out and buy.