There are few competing liquors approached with as much trepidation and respect as the green fairy. Indeed centuries ago, when making my first tentative steps into the wondrous world of alcohol, absinthe was very much the final taboo - mysterious, overpowering and pretty much instantly nauseating. Nowadays, the venerable anise spirit seems far less intimidating - an absinthe drip or suissesse holds no terrors - but, for me, its potent qualities are best employed in minute doses as a dashed modifier.
With its strong fennel notes and complex herbal aromatics, a few drops absinthe shine through in even the toughest surroundings. Perhaps the most celebrated and effective example of this technique is found in one of the earliest cocktails - the sazerac. Originally a cognac old fashioned showcasing Antoine Peychaud's classic bitters, the phylloxera crisis that decimated France's vineyards led to the partial and eventually full substitution of rye whiskey in the drink. Presumably somewhere along the line, some bright spark utilised the absinthe rinse to complement the anise flavour of the bitters, and one of the world's great, great cocktails was perfected.
2 shots rye (or cognac, or a mix thereof) - I like Rittenhouse bonded for the rye or Hine for the cognac
1/4 shot 2:1 gomme syrup
3 dash peychaud's bitters
1 dash angostura bitters
3/4 shot absinthe
Fill a rocks glass with the absinthe, some water and crushed ice to chill. In a seperate glass, stir the other ingredients well over ice. Discard the absinthe from the first glass (into your sink, your mouth etc) and strain the contents of the second into the now-cold, absinthe rinsed rocks glass. Twist a lemon peel over the glass and discard. Feel appropriately smug.
In the case of the sazerac, the absinthe makes perfect sense, providing an aromatic partner to the lemon oils, intensifying the anise of the Peychaud's and adding a complex, herbal finish to the spicy rye or rich cognac. However, another great use of absinthe in a small package is a little less intuitive. The corpse reviver no.2, one of the best Harry Craddock creations, soars or sinks on the handling of the green liquor. A glorious quartet of gin, lillet (or cocchi americano), cointreau and lemon juice, the corpse reviver is harmonised and enlivened by the merest drop of absinthe. It is a tremendously clever balancing act. In a properly made corpse reviver, each sip is an intriguing march of flavours - first citrus, both the deep bitter sweetness of orange liqueur and lillet and the sharpness of fresh lemon juice; then the lillet's tannic consistency bridging to the astringent juniper of dry gin; finally, the absinthe dancing madly between them all, never clearly detectable in itself but always apparent in effect... Got a little carried away - time for a drink, I think.
The Corpse Reviver No.2
1 shot gin (I like tanqueray for its dryness and strong juniper flavour, plymouth is also popular)
1 shot lillet blanc or cocchi americano
1 shot lemon juice
1 shot cointreau
1-2 drops absinthe
About this point, I would post my original absinthe rinsed creation, a sort of gin sazerac with elderflower liqueur. Unfortunately I learnt about a month after coming up with the drink that Jamie Boudreau, a great blogger and even better bartender, had come up with almost exactly the same thing before me - called l'amour en fouite. It's a good drink - which you can find here http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/lamour-en-fuite-cocktails-2009 - but it leaves me in somewhat of a bind. In its place, I offer The name of the rose, a very aromatic martinez variation.
The name of the rose
2 shots hendrick's gin
1 shot martini rosato
1/4 shot rosemary infused maraschino
2 dash peychaud's bitters
1 drop rosewater
Stir first five ingredients over ice, strain into absinthe rinsed coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist.