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Bartenders, Celebrate National Absinthe Day with T.A. Breaux, Research Scientist, Creator of LUCID and Jade Absinthes

T.A. (Ted Breaux) is a world-renowned absinthe expert, who carefully reverse engineered vintage absinthes.

DeGroff Bitter Aperitivo and DeGroff New World Amaro event photographed by Rose Callahan at Amor Y Amargo on May 10, 2023

“I’m a research scientist and New Orleans native, both of which factored into my falling down this deep rabbit hole,” jokes T.A.

“Although I bartended for several years, the spirits business was not in my career plans. Absinthe changed that in 1993 when I became captivated by the mysteries of the spirit. I had found several sealed bottles of antique absinthe and was familiar with its history in New Orleans.”

Back in the day, Absinthe was very popular. It was imported to New Orleans by 1840; The Old Absinthe House was established in 1874; and by 1900 as a key ingredient in the Sazerac and Absinthe Frappé. Yet, by 2000, absinthe was nowhere to be found, and what was presented as absinthe in Europe was nothing like the beautiful liquid inside the intact antique bottles T.A. had managed to collect. He had to find out why and make it right.

Tell us how the image of Absinthe has changed through the years.

Like many, I wasn’t sure what to believe about absinthe. In 2000, I became the first to analyze a sample of antique absinthe, and my findings catalyzed a paradigm shift that uncovered truths and erased myths. When distilled true to tradition, authentic absinthe embodied a beautiful spirit that made an indelible impression on art and culture, including cocktail culture. Like the events which gave gin the nickname “mother’s ruin” in the mid-1700s London, absinthe’s reputation was tarnished by unscrupulous profiteers who made cheap, adulterated, and dangerous imitations, marketed primarily to poor alcoholics.

Learning the truth – that absinthe crafted according to traditional methods posed none of the harm claimed by the propaganda of the late 19th century – provided the basis for us to petition the TTB to repeal what had been a 95-year ban on the sale of absinthe in the US. The repeal was granted on March 5, 2007, the day LUCID Absinthe Supérieure was approved for US distribution. The sticking point had all been about perception: The TTB wanted no part of the outlandishly marketed, artificially flavored and chemically colored “absinthe” plaguing the EU market.

Earning the trust of the TTB required months of discussions. Even so, with no legal definition for absinthe, we wanted to establish the high ground and stake the claim that authentic absinthe, worthy of the best cocktail programs was distilled from 100% botanicals, with no sugar or fake colors (e.g. FD&C Yellow #5).

What would you like today’s bartenders to know about the spirit?

For decades, absinthe owned an authentic place in cocktail history and therefore deserves a place in modern cocktail creation. The original “Savoy Cocktail Book” (1930) includes dozens of cocktails that call for absinthe. Absinthe was an indelible part of American cocktail culture, an object of global export, and every decent cocktail bar in North America stocked it until 1912; every good cocktail book until Prohibition included it.

Today, when crafted according to authentic recipes, which don’t include sugar or artificial ingredients, absinthe is a powerful ingredient which can amplify cocktails and provide a depth of flavor customers want.

Bartenders are embracing strong flavors nowadays—tell us how Absinthe fits in?

When I first began distilling Jade absinthes in France more than 20 years ago, the world was awash in vodka and flavored vodka. Now that the tide has turned and the volume of agave spirits has eclipsed vodka, there are new opportunities to condition American palates toward strongly flavored spirits. We are witnessing a renaissance of classic Italian bitter spirits, aromatized wines and aperitifs, and absinthe stands among these. Americans have lagged European palates in embracing strong and stimulating herbal flavors, and this is a great opportunity for us to reclaim our pre-Prohibition identity of creating the most unique and beautiful cocktails by embracing strongly flavored spirits and modifiers, like absinthe.

How can bartenders use absinthe and why should they incorporate the spirit on beverage menus?

The French/Swiss absinthe service of dripping ice water into absinthe, like the Japanese tea ceremony, is pure art. The American equivalent was the famous absinthe frappé. As for classic cocktail mixology, C.F. Lawler remarks in The Mixicologist (1895), “the flavor of a cocktail is much improved by the addition of a small amount of absinthe, like cocktail hot sauce.” Absinthe adds dimension to a wide range of cocktails, even tiki drinks. Not only does the inclusion of absinthe add a measure of intrigue to a cocktail menu, it also adds a bit of pop that benefits an array of drinks. Experiment!

Where do you see the category headed in the future?

When we first reintroduced genuine absinthe in 2007, it was largely a vodka world. Absinthe mixology was an uphill battle and it was an effort for absinthe to be considered more than a “rinse.” Now, with a new generation of curious and creative bartenders entering the scene, absinthe is experiencing a renaissance. Having replicated vintage brands and traditions, I view our LUCID and Jade absinthes as staunch guardians of original pre-ban absinthe flavors and quality. Authentic absinthe will continue to play a strong role in modern cocktail culture on the merits of its storied history, uniqueness, and elegance.

The post Bartenders, Celebrate National Absinthe Day with T.A. Breaux, Research Scientist, Creator of LUCID and Jade Absinthes appeared first on Chilled Magazine.

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