I've been on an absinthe kick at work lately. I've been trying to get my coworkers on the bandwagon, but they keep wrinkling their nose at the black licorice aroma that I find so alluring. All the more absinthe for me, I suppose.
For most people, absinthe is easier to handle if it's mixed into a cocktail. It's almost the time of year that breakfast can become a festive brunch simply by adding a patio and a cocktail. To find great brunch drinks, all one has to do is turn to one of the world capitals of brunch, New Orleans.
The brunch tradition in New Orleans is strong, with all manner of indulgent dishes served, and equally indulgent cocktails to match. One of my favorites of the New Orleans brunch cocktails is a little number called Absinthe Suissesse.
The history of Absinthe Suissesse is a little funny, in that I can't turn up a lick of any detailed information about it. We know it was invented somewhere in New Orleans, but that's as far as the trail goes. It might have been invented before the United States banned absinthe in 1912. I'd bet that it was created some time after the end of Prohibition.
After absinthe was banned in most of the civilized world, a new style of liqueur called pastis cropped up. The flavor is similar to absinthe, but without the grande wormwood (Latin name artemisia absinthium) that gives absinthe its name. It's also lower in proof, usually 80 or 90 proof to absinthe's 120 proof minimum.
Most pastis liqueurs are French, but one called Herbsaint is made in New Orleans. Herbsaint's original name was Legendre Absinthe, but since it wasn't a true absinthe (which was very illegal at the time), The Powers That Be forced a name change, when it became Herbsaint. As far as I can tell, the Absinthe Suissesse most likely cropped up in that short time before Herbsaint was called Herbsaint.
But there's the Suissesse deal. My best guess is that some Swiss lady (une Suissesse, n'est-çe pas?) living in New Orleans drank her pastis with milk at brunch, and an enterprising bartender embellished it from there. You'll notice the base is similar to the classic Ramos Gin Fizz, but without the citrus juice. It wouldn't surprise me if a small squeeze of lime would be a pleasant surprise in this drink. You can also change up the drink by omitting either the orgeat or creme de menthe and doubling the amount of the other one.
When making your Absinthe Suissesse, the main thing to keep in mind is that as a brunch drink, it shouldn't be too sweet. Keep a light hand on the orgeat and crème de menthe and you'll be fine. On the other hand, if you want to serve it as a decadent dessert drink, ditch the half-and-half and blend the whole thing with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
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As always with drinks involving raw egg whites, keep in mind who is on the receiving end. Someone who is infirm shouldn't be drinking one of these, but they probably aren't drinking to begin with. The lowest risk path is to use pasteurized egg whites. Personally, I throw caution to the wind on matters like this.
Absinthe Suissesse 1-1/2 oz absinthe (or Herbsaint) 1/4 oz orgeat 1/4 oz green crème de menthe 1 egg white 1 dash orange flower water (optional) 1 oz half-and-half Shake vigorously without ice for 30 seconds. Add ice cubes and shake well to combine. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Alternate preparation: Blend in a blender or milkshake machine without ice for 10 seconds. Add ice, shake well, and strain.