Words by: Simon Difford
The original absinthe was made on the Franco Swiss border so even from the outset it had something of a split personality. As production has moved to different countries, each country’s distilling traditions and national taste preferences have affected the absinthe they produce. Just as gin is made to several different styles around the world, so is absinthe.
Authentic French absinthe is made by distillation and is typically green (verte) but clear (blanche) absinthes were also historically produced. The traditional addition of herbs after distillation and the colour produced by the chlorophyll within their leaves is where the term verte and 'the green fairy' arise from.
The dominant flavour in French absinthe is anis, both Green and Star. When water is added to French absinthe, traditionally it will turn cloudy, known as the louche.
Bitterness across the back of the pallet when tasting French absinthe indicates the presence of wormwood and the bottle should be referenced to ensure this is grand wormwood.
French absinthe is typically 68% alc./vol. and should be served with 4 to 6 parts iced water poured through or with sugar to taste.
Production of authentic Swiss absinthe remains small scale. What is now available tends to be subtler in flavour than is typical of French absinthe with softer anis notes and a higher fennel content. Sugar is not usually required due to the naturally sweeter notes of Swiss absinthe. Typically Swiss absinthe is bottled at a lower strength than most French absinthes at 50-55% alc./vol.
Czechs are apparently not huge fans of anise so accordingly absinths from the Czech Republic tend to have very little anise. (Note the missing 'e' in the Czech spelling of absinth.) When the first Czech absinth was produced is not known but it was certainly after the French 1915 ban and was not on a large scale until after the Velvet Revolution of 1989.
As well as its lack of anise, Czech, or 'Bohemian' absinth as it is sometimes known, are typically electric blue-green in colour and do not louche when water is added. Bohemian absinths tend to be 55 - 70% alc./vol. and are favoured by some bartenders for cocktail use due to their lack of aniseed and louche.