Absinthe Available in DC?
I stopped by ABC Liquors and was surprised by a bottle of Absente in a tall box decorated with pictures of Van Gogh. The box claims that, "Absente, Absinthe Refined, is a modern version of the original Absinthe recipe. It's still the same aromatic, dazzling emerald green liqueur made from a combination of exotic botanicals. The only difference is we replaced Wormwood, the botanical that caused the initial ban, with a less bitter cousin called Southern-Wormwood, also known as 'Petite Absinthe,' which allows us to offer Absente in the United States." The box even includes an absinthe sieved spoon and diagrams explaining how to pour the water over a sugarcube like they did in days of yore. I asked the shopkeep, "Is that real absinthe?" He looked bewildered, took an unfamiliar glance at the box and wordlessly handed it to me. It looked real enough from the outside until I spotted its 110 proof.
First off, don't get excited. US Customs codes state, "The importation of Absinthe and any other liquors or liqueurs that contain an excess of artemisia absinthium is prohibited." It doesn't contain any thujone (the chemical in wormwood that is in all real absinthe). What's more, true absinthe is usually about 150 proof (75% alcohol). What the fuck is the purpose of drinking absinthe without the possibility of going insane like Van Gogh and all the rest of the 19th century hipsters?
Likely because of its illegality, absinthe has taken on a mysterious allure and is often touted as having medicinal or druglike properties. The fact is that you can buy other anise-flavored liqueurs that taste hundreds of times better. I've only had absinthe from Amsterdam and I haven't tasted the stuff they're selling as absinthe in the US, but be assured that it's going to taste like vodka and mouthwash. You're better off saving $36 and buying the cool spoon and adding some green food coloring to a bottle of Pastis.
Here's a link to an excellent article from Wired Magazine on the chemistry of absinthe that dispells some of the myths.