St. George Absinthe: Now With 60 Percent More Cowbell!
You may have heard: Absinthe is back, legal and a bartender’s new best (old) friend. Yesterday Lance Winters, the distiller at Alameda, California’s St. George Spirits—who makes great eau de vie and Hangar One vodka, among other booze—brought by a bottle of the first domestically produced absinthe, which he released in late December to much anticipation (in the absinthe’s first six hours, Winters sold 1,800 bottles out of his tasting room). At 120-proof, the sage-colored spirit is a monster, but cut with some cold water it revealed complex layers of hyssop, lemon balm and all sorts of anisey, licoricey action derived from star fennel, tarragon and—naturally—wormwood. For anyone who’s only drunk sweet, synthetic-tasting ersatz “absinthe,” give the spirit another chance. It took Winters and his team 32 tries (and eight official rejections from the TTB, which approves all alcoholic-beverage packaging) to get the bottle and label for his Absinthe Verte approved. One of the earlier versions featured a howling monkey beating a human skull with femur bones. The TTB rejected this display of primal percussion, so Winters swapped a the skull out for a cowbell—a reference to the most-quoted Saturday Night Live skit of the YouTube era. When the TTB rejected the human skull version, Winters said, “I asked them: ‘How about a monkey wearing a suit, reclining in a wingback chair?’ They said, ‘Fine.’ The TTB doesn’t have a tremendous sense of humor. They’re like a bunch of nuns. I don’t think they got the cowbell thing, either.”
Winters also shared news of a few projects he’s working on at St. George, including a clear version of his absinthe (“Once people become comfortable with absinthe, we’ll show them it doesn’t need to be green”), a mezcal-like spirit made from imported agave (“We can’t call it mezcal or tequila, so we’ll probably go with something like ‘agua azul’”) and a rum produced in the style of rhum agricole, made from 80,000 pounds of sugarcane Winters recently purchased. “Maybe we’ll call it ‘rum agri-cool,’” he said. I think he was joking. But he was serious about the cowbell-banging monkey, so who knows?