Hometown Tourist, Ch 10: Absinthe Tasting

After successfully checking off the “something touristy” on my BFF’s itinerary, we found ourselves in danger of a major sugar crash. Maybe that had something to do with our decision to try something neither of us had ever even considered: absinthe.

To be clear, an absinthe tasting is not exactly on my “bucket list” or “missing stamps” list. As you may know, i am a 4HB believer so i only drink red wine. Even before i discovered how well 4HB worked for me, i was never too much of a hard liquor person, aside from the occasional bourbon. But especially not absinthe., because I don’t like the smell or taste of licorice—which is a large part of the whole “absinthe” thing.

In all honesty, the idea actually came from Mr. Os. He was brainstorming local things to do and commented how there is a surge of absinthe tastings. In a way, absinthe is DC’s latest cupcake –style fad. My aversion to licorice, aside, I had to admit it sounded like a solid adventure. I wanted a large group to go, but unlike cupcakes, it turns out absinthe is a fad for the brave few—at least for the moment.

After a little research, i decided the three of us would try Libertine in DC’s Adams Morgan neighborhood. This absinthe themed bar opened three months ago and as it turns out, Libertine is my new favorite ”non-neighborhood” bar. The absinthe menu is impressive. If you are novice, i strongly recommend putting your faith in the bartender and taking whatever their suggestions are—and here let me just say that my reason for liking Libertine so much had everything to do with Libertine’s staff.

We were going to have the absinthe flight of three. Even though this was recommended on Yelp, our server Susan had other ideas. She said the three selections have a very strong licorice flavor and we would not enjoy it given two of the three voiced an opinion that we didn’t like licorice. (Yes, Susan gave us a questioning look of “then why are you ordering absinthe” but she made some great recommendations)

We settled on three different versions, each a full glass: Absinthe de Vinchy (my BFF), Mata Hari Absinthe Bohemian (me) and Absinthe Jade (Mr. Os). See below for details and price on each of our choices.

Our absinthe choices @LibertineDC
Our absinthe choices @LibertineDC

A few interesting things Susan shared with us as she prepared the absinthe:

  • It is very bad to light absinthe on fire. Because it’s a super high proof alcohol (highest they had on stock was 170 proof), burning it can change the taste resulting in a very bitter change to the flavor profile. She did recommend sugar, but this was also not the way it was originally consumed.
  • Not all absinthe is green. The color actually depends on the herbs used by the distiller, and it can be a milky white instead.
  • Absinthe Spain (high proof hemp flavored) actually does not mix well with water

The Wormwood Society is the association for absinthe. Their website has some interesting information about the drink’s history.

Old school (and we were told proper) preparation of absinthe
Old school (and we were told proper) preparation of absinthe

Absinthe de Vinchy (90 proof/$15): This was the lightest of the three. It had a very refreshing taste, my friend said it was not unlike drinking a Hendricks gin and tonic.

Mata Hari Absinthe Bohemian (120 proof/$14): This was shockingly easy drinking, be warned. I was expecting to turn my nose up in an attempt to avoid hurling but not so. The anise flavor in this absinthe is stronger than the de Vinchy and the licorice does not dominate the taste. A great choice for beginners, this one (from Austria) would be  my recommendation.

Absinthe Jade (150 proof/$18): This had a very strong licorice flavor. Susan mentioned this is the choice of connoisseurs because it numbs the roof and back of the tongue. It does, that’s for sure. Mr. Os loved it, and gave it high marks, which is significant because he’s been enjoying absinthe since 1999.

You won’t find me drinking absinthe every weekend, that’s for sure. But Libertine is a DC gem thanks to its bartenders, and it’s a great place to take out-of-towners or to have an amazing specialty cocktail. The staff are real mixologists, the syrups are created by hand, the vegetables are pickeled on premise and they work together to make unique specialty drinks.

After having absinthe we stayed on and enjoyed some fabulous conversation with them and enjoyed a few of the drinks. The mulled over is terrific, if you like spice try the bad hombre and Mr Os says they make the best Manhattan in town. Again, that’s high praise, because it is his drink of choice. It didn’t hurt that the bartender shares his opinion that shaking a Manhattan is a huge no-no.

They don’t have a website but if you are on Twitter, you can follow them @LibertineDC. In case it wasn’t obvious, I also recommend visiting them at 2435 18th Street in the Adams Morgan neighborhood.