Absinthe is a tough spirit to work with. The flavor profile of anise, black licorice, and fennel is more polarizing than even our current list of presidential candidates—if you can believe that. Personally, I maintain an attitude of tolerance toward the stuff (absinthe, not the presidential candidates). I don’t love it, but I recognize that it’s important and provides much-needed diversity to our vast palette of flavors behind the bar.
Absinthe certainly isn’t the first, second or third booze I choose when I’m looking to make myself a drink, but there are cocktails that lure me in because of their ability to channel the spirit’s bold flavors. For me, I need something to temper its richness and intensity. The bartender in me reaches for techniques at my disposal to tame a distinct spirit, like bright flavors, some dilution and sweetness.
That could be what Cayetano Ferrer thought when he supposedly created the Absinthe Frappé at the Absinthe Room (now the Old Absinthe House) on Bourbon Street in New Orleans sometime around 1874. If there’s one thing I pride myself on, it’s knowing how the bartender’s mind works, and given how this drink turns me from anise tolerant to Absinthe Frappé loving, I can’t help but think Cayetano was reading my mind. The mint provides a crisp, refreshing note to the complex absinthe, then the sparkling water adds some effervescence to give the drink a little extra lift.
I know it sounds unbelievable, but the drink, like so many New Orleans classics, actually makes for a great breakfast cocktail—particularly when the weather turns as hot as it’s been around here lately. It’s crisp, refreshing, and the sweetness actually works well as some hair of the dog treatment. So this weekend, I plan on scrounging up some shrimp and grits, whipping up an Absinthe Frappé, and enjoying the late morning sun from the front porch.
• 1½ oz. absinthe
• 2 tsp. 2:1 simple syrup
• 6-8 large mint leaves
• 1½ oz. chilled sparkling water
In a cocktail shaker, combine absinthe, simple syrup, and mint leaves. Shake with ice cubes until cold (no muddling of the mint is needed, the ice cubes will take care of it) and top with chilled sparkling water. Strain over fresh, crushed ice in a footed highball glass and garnish with a bouquet of fresh mint.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler is the bar manager at Pépé le Moko and Clyde Common, the acclaimed gastropub at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon. He is also author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique.
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