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Travel & Tourism
While wormwood and halucinations are absinthe's cultural trademarks, absinthe tastings seek to set the record straight.
Absinthe is one of the most misunderstood and storied spirits. The drink tends to conjure images of tortured belle époque writers and artists, hallucinating green fairies after consuming the emerald-color spirits—but the truth is absinthe is no more capable of causing you to see things than other liquors. By 1915, absinthe was illegal in the United States, and had long remained the stuff of legend until the 1990s, when the spirit began to enjoy a worldwide revival. It wasn’t until 2007 that production returned to the United States, but now bars like the Under Current Club are trying to dispel the misconceptions about the drink—while indulging in its storied history.
On Tuesday, Under Current Club held an absinthe tasting, featuring five absinthes and absinthe cocktails as well as plates of oysters to act as a pairing for guests. On hand were several wine and spirit educators to talk about the history and making of absinthe, as well as to guide guests through the complex flavors of each beverage.
Educators illuminated misconceptions, such as the well-known myth that the wormwood in absinthe causes hallucinations (it doesn’t; absinthe’s high alcohol content of 50-70 percent is the culprit there) and explained absinthe mythos (such as the ‘green fairy’ actually being the cloudy suspension in absinthe when water is added to it).
“I wanted to do absinthe for several reasons,” said Amy Eldredge, assistant manager at Under Current Club. “I want to get away from this misconception of absinthe being a hallucinogen, a ‘don’t drink it!’ kind of a thing.”
“[Events like these] are to increase the education of beverage in our community. It’s just to make things more approachable, make them enjoyable,” added Jim Santangelo, beverage director for LaSalle Restaurant Group and wine educator. “I think when people learn about the product, the food and beverage, they seem to enjoy it more, instead of just overindulging in it.”
Santangelo says that the pairing of cocktails and oysters—the base concept of Under Current Club—works on several levels. Cocktails, he says, mimic some of the characteristics of white wines when it comes to cutting through the brininess of the oysters, but their light bodies keep from destroying the delicacy of the oysters’ texture.
“We stand behind our oyster passion. To have a pairing of cocktails and oysters, that’s the essence of enjoyment,” says Santangelo. “To sit down with a handmade cocktail, with all these layers of flavors, and then having such a pristine oyster to complement that is something to be shared—and to be educated about.”
Eldredge designed one of the cocktails in the tasting, called The Siren. The Siren is made with beehive gin, absinthe, lemon and egg white—a new twist on a sour. The beehive gin has notes of rose petal and sage, while the absinthe adds an herbaceous flavor and the lemon gives the cocktail an overall refreshing flavor. Elredge, who has over 14 years of experience in Philadelphia and Salt Lake City, has been hard at work crafting the best possible cocktails for Under Current Club. At the root of her passion is a desire to make a pleasant and enjoyable space for her patrons.
“The whole root of the concept here is to make people feel happy,” says Eldredge. “Instead of the dark bar cocktail thing people have done for so long, this is a light airy happy place. We want to make people feel good. Absinthe makes people feel good. Oysters make you feel good.”