March 8, 2007

Absinthe Clandestine & Capricieuse Review

Usually, when we think of absinthe we think of green. After all, the drink is often known as the Green Goddess, or La Fee Verte (the green fairy). We've known for a while that you could get the drink in other colors and varieties (we've even heard tell of red absinthes, though we're not sure we'd trust them), but we never really paid that much attention.

Recently it was brought to our attention that there is a whole subset of the liqueur known as "La Bleue Suisse" (or is it Suisse La Bleue?) that was made illegally in Switzerland after absinthe was banned in Europe. We've gotten our hands on two bottles of the stuff from the Artemesia Distillery in Switzerland, which apparently started production on March 1, 2005 when the drink was once again legalized in that country - though they cut their teeth as absinthe bootleggers. How cool is that?

So how do the two bottles we got - Clandestine and Capricieuse - match up to their green brethren?

Absinthe ClandestineLa Clandestine Originale
Clear Absinthe Distilled in Switzerland
106 Proof (53% ABV)
Typical Price: About $55 for 700ml
Product Page

The color of the Clandestine bottle was blue, so we were hoping the absinthe might somehow appear in that color as well, but instead we found it was clear and bright. In fact, it was clearer than the water we planned to pour into it, with no sediment or other ickiness. We enjoyed the louche because it let us watch this clear liquid go suddenly opaque, traced with blue and what one intern called an "octopus fight" in the oils tracing the top. After the addition of the water, the absinthe was creamy white with a slight bluish tint in a halo around the top.

The scent before the louche was much more laced with fennel than anise, and the odor of alcohol was very present up front. Once we louched in the water, it opened up very nicely with a sweet wave of honey and a delicate floral back end. The smell became more balanced with the water as well, with both star anise and fennel making themselves known.

The mouth feel was thinner than we expected, without the oily roundness we've experienced in other absinthes, but it was silky smooth and warming on the tongue. The flavor maintained the delicate gentleness we got from the first whiff, along with the nice balance of anise and fennel flavors. There was less of the bitterness we'd have expected from wormwood, but it made for a nice smooth drink, and we're glad this fine absinthe is no longer the secret its name implies. A testament to the lack of overwhelming kick was the fact that one of the interns shook his head as he stared mystified at the bottle and said "I can't believe this stuff is stronger than tequila."

Absinthe CapricieuseArtemesia Capricieuse
Clear Absinthe Distilled in Switzerland
144 Proof (72% ABV)
Typical Price: About $60 for 700ml
Product Page

Once again, the Capricieuse was completely clear and lacking sediment, but it somehow seemed a touch less bright than the Clandestine. The louche was a bit quicker than we expected, but it also had a nice bluish tint to it. The final product was an opaque bluish white, with a clear halo on top and a nice blue smear of oil running down when we tilted the glass.

When we sniffed it before adding water, one of our intern accomplices said "Yep, that's vodka." It did have a more alcoholic vibe to it than the Clandestine, which is unsurprising since there is so much more in it. Once we added the water, it opened up massively and had a similar scent to Clandestine, with a more herbal and even pepperminty smell.

The mouth feel was big and thick, with a solid, growing heat on the tongue that lasted for a surprisingly long time. The taste was largely anise up front, with a pepperminty finish. Or was it pepper? There was a spice we couldn't quite define, but we liked it nonetheless. We detected a bit more of the wormwood bitterness in this one, and all in all we found it to live up to its whimsical name.

One intern winked at us as he said "I can see myself sitting in a rocking chair on a Sunday afternoon, drinking this stuff and yelling at non-existent children to stay off my lawn." We're not sure exactly what he meant, but we're sure it was very profound as he spoke it.

Overall Verdict
We like both of these absinthes a lot, especially since they gave us a different experience than we had expected. Between the two, the Clandestine was the more popular, and as we tasted it we found we were much less inclined to set our glasses down to move on to the next bottle. We liked the Capricieuse for its minty back end and unpredictable nature, but we found we were returning to pour the Clandestine even after the official tasting was over.

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Posted by Jake Jamieson at March 8, 2007 9:43 AM
Recent Comments

I enjoyed your reviews and wonder if you had compared La Clandestine to the Duplais Blanche. Also-- if you like La Clandestine, you might try the Recette Mariane as well. Delicious stuff. Santé!


Posted by: salsa at March 8, 2007 3:50 PM
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