Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Talking Absinthe With Ted Breaux

Because who else would you talk about absinthe with? I mean, if you had the choice.

The green-hued fairy has lost some of its bloom a bit since the heady days when it returned to the market in 2007, after a century-long absence. But Breaux remains a true believer. The man who made Lucid—still the most ubiquitous brand of absinthe—is not retreating, as many absinthe producers have, but has brought out three new artisanal bottlings, all based on ancient recipes.

Here's my Wine Enthusiast interview with Breaux:

Booming Breaux
Ted Breaux has already made his mark in the absinthe world. An early expert on, and advocate of, the green elixir—one of the world's most popular and fabled liqueurs before disappearing for much of the 20th century—his Lucid was the first absinthe to hit the U.S. market when all legal barriers to the product fell in early 2007. Four years later, as absinthe's fortunes have boomed and then somewhat cratered, the world's foremost absinthe evangelist is back with three new products—Jade C. F. Berger, Jade Esprit Edouard and Jade 1901—all replications of original 19th century brands, and all priced over $100.
Wine Enthusiast: Why, after creating Lucid, was it important to you to bring three more absinthes to the U.S.?
Ted Breaux: Because Lucid is a solid upper-mid-market product. It is a product we intend for people to use to make classic absinthe cocktails. It satisfies that need very well. But we felt there would be a growing group who would appreciate the upper premium. These new ones appeal to a niche crowd of, basically, absinthe snobs.
WE: These are all recreations of Belle Epoque absinthes. How did you piece together the recipes?
TB: I owned several bottles of each and analyzed their make-up with the 130-year-old equipment at the Combier Distillery [in the Loire Valley]. Each one is an accurate reproduction of an original brand that existed in the 19th century. This was made possible by my analytical efforts, which started 11 years ago.
WE: If you had to give thumbnail sketches of the three absinthes, how would you describe them?
TB: It's like the difference between Pinot Noir, Cabernet and Malbec. They’re all instantly recognizable as absinthe. The difference is in the nuances in the spirits, in the herb bill, the distillation and the finishes. Even with an amateur palate, you can discern the differences.
WE: OK, say I'm a Pinot Noir man. Which absinthe would you recommend?
TB: I'd say my Espita Eduoard. Despite that it's 144 proof, it's round in the mouth, with a forward herb bill and nice round herbal finish. It's punchy, but elegant.
WE: Absinthe hit the U.S. market with a big splash, but then retreated some after it was seen that demand wasn't as high as expected. How to you view absinthe's future in the U.S.?
TB: We knew before 2007 that, upon getting absinthe re-legalized in the U.S; there would be two phases. In the first phase, availability outpaced education. People rushed out and bought it, just because they could, even though they didn't know what to do with it. I don't care how big a wine or whiskey snob you are, when it comes to absinthe you're an amatuer. This is where phase two starts. Basically we train bartenders and mixologists and journalists and industry people in classic absinthe cocktails and the strategy and purpose of those cocktails. This is what I do every day.

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