Why you should care
Because there are but few real pleasures. Sipping this absinthe is one of the more delightfully decadent ones.
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Sitting in a hotel bar in Prague, one is asked, “What’s your pleasure?” with a genteel hand wave at the displayed wares. Amber, ochre and clear liquids, familiar spirits and liqueurs line the bar shelves, and the eyes come to rest on an arresting bottle whose label features a flying woman amidst floating flowers on a moonlit night.
“Ah, La Clandestine Absinthe Superieure.”
And there it is, the drink of Byronic legend. Anise flavored, made from wormwood and dribbles of the chemical thujone, it is purported to be both addictive and capable of causing hallucinations. Banned for some 100 years all over the world since the early 1900s, absinthe has only been legal in the country of its birth, Switzerland, since 2005 (the EU relented in 1998, but the U.S. not until 2007). It’s a drink whose legend has preceded it since the 19th century, when it first started to rack up drinkers from among the ranks of the well-heeled and super-adventurous.
Picasso? Drinker. Aleister Crowley, Erik Satie, Charles Baudelaire? Drinker, drinker, drinker. Ernest Hemingway? Oh, don’t even start.
The flavorful drink goes around the table, consumed by all and sundry with nary a hallucination in sight.
Even with the hoo-ha about thujone’s hallucinogenic qualities debunked, absinthe can still be as much as 148 proof, making it a pros-only type of drink. Which is to say, not a “lunchtime at work” drink or even a “quick snort before driving home” drink. An intimidating notion that’s somehow softened by knowing that a glassful of La Clandestine Absinthe Superieure is a glassful from the home of absinthe, Neuchâtel, Switzerland, flavored with herbs from the same place, Val-de-Travers, where the distiller has always gotten them.
Pouring it out, the first thing to note is that this fairy is not green at all, as would be in keeping with one of the earliest nicknames for absinthe, “the green fairy,” based on its traditional color. La Clandestine is clear, in the Swiss style. And if you’re even more in the know, you should know that the rituals usually associated with the consumption of absinthe — sugars, flames — here will mark you as either a nutter or a tourist.
No, La Clandestine goes into the glass clear, and when mixed with water turns milky and opalescent. It goes down smooth, the anise biting a bit. The flavorful drink goes around the table, and at about $70 per 750-milliliter bottle, is consumed by all and sundry with nary a hallucination in sight.
Until it is time to leave, and those in attendance imagine that standing up from the table will be easy. This, in fact, is a hallucination. The reality was that La Clandestine Absinthe Superieure, this pros-only drink at about 106 proof, was presently amidst amateurs.
“Relax, and think about your life,” said Michal, the able-bodied and all-too-accommodating Czech barkeep. “There’ll be plenty of time for standing later.”
And he was absolutely right.