Brothers Dimitri and Mike Uhlik are trying to begin a new conversation around a spirit called absinthe — one that, unlike this article, doesn’t need to begin with disclaimers about absinthe's legal history, or the bohemian rituals that see imitation products (“crapsinthe” to those who know better) dyed green and lit ablaze, or the secondhand claims of hallucinogenic properties that absinthe may or may not have in some quantity, depending on whom you ask.
The difference between how the brothers approach changing the conversation around absinthe and, say, how peddlers of craft vodka and rare Japanese whiskey might do their shtick, is by changing the way the spirit is consumed. The Uhlik brothers don’t sell absinthe, you see. They sell a new absinthe experience.
What they sell is a new type of absinthe glass called the Slipstream — a drinking vessel that holds ice and cold water in one chamber situated above sugar in another, and the absinthe in another chamber below that, all connected to a glass straw. It’s a clever device that facilitates what absinthe aficionados call the louche, a process by which the alcohol-soluble herbs such as anise and fennel and oils of wormwood, are slowly drawn out by cold water and emulsification. A cloudy drink emerges, but one that is properly louched leaves no flavor behind. The brothers demonstrated this for us at Vom Fass, a store on the Scottsdale Waterfront in Old Town that sells its own brands of oils, spirits, and even absinthe and the Slipstream glass.
“Our goal is to help people understand absinthe and how to enjoy it properly, how to prepare it properly and help them explore and discover real absinthe in the modern era,” Dimitri says.
Unlike some spirits, absinthe was always intended by its distillers to be unlocked in this complicated manner.
“Absinthe is a very civilized spirit. It was meant to be respected and enjoyed using an absinthe ritual,” Dimitri says.
But critics of the device will say all the convenience of the Slipstream throws a bit of the tradition of absinthe out of the window. The usual process involves a slowly dripping fountain, a metal slotted spoon that holds a sugar cube in place as the water drips onto it and through it, and decorative glassware to receive and commute the whole process. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, and it’s fun, but the lack of accessibility by price and function couldn’t usher the slowly prepared, ritualistic drink into modern times. Plus, absinthe was banned for nearly the entire 20th century in the Western hemisphere, where it was most popular. Today, some craft cocktail bars carry the full setup, but most do not. Traditional setups can set someone back a couple hundred dollars, while the slipstream sets you back about $50.
The Uhlik brothers know what they’re up against. There are entire online communities dedicated to traditional absinthe and its preservation. The Wormwood Society may not side with the new product, and according to the brothers, many Czechs, Swiss, and French — people from countries that historically hold the spirit closest — have been a little outspoken about not liking the idea of absinthe being consumed outside of traditional ritual.
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But the brothers argue that absinthe only stands to grow from being ushered into the modern era, not only through new brands, distillers and circulation, but also through a modern device. And there are many who agree. Vom Fass sells the Uhlik's product at their Scottsdale store, and major absinthe sites (including absinthes.com and absinthe-house.com) do as well. Perhaps most impressively, the Aria Resort in Las Vegas is a client, using the devices at the Sage Bar, which carries some of the pricier and rarer bottles of Swiss absinthe.
So it’s not that the brothers are turning their backs on the old ways — in fact, just the opposite. The device is, after all, named after a legendary Swiss stream where absinthe was kept when it was outlawed.