Friday, July 27, 2012

Libertine Absinthe Supérieure

Several months ago, a friend of mine wrote a piece about Absinthes that intrigued me and piqued my interest in the spirit. Some time passed and I pretty much forgot about that until I was recently given the opportunity to check out Libertine Absinthe Supérieure. By given the chance, I mean my friends at the US Importer of the beverage sent me a whole bottle of the 58% alcohol blending.

So I did a little research on absinthes. Absinthes are anise-flavored spirits that are not diluted to typical spirit strengths, rather being bottled at 55-72% alcohol (I used that range because that's what this particular distillery offers, though I'm betting it is probably a little wider). Absinthes are herbal spirits distilled from grand wormwood, green anise, and sweet fennel. A multitude of other herbs can and are often added to make the final recipe. Some absinthes have a natural green coloring, while some, like this Libertine, are colorless or Blanche.

Libertine Absinthe is made by the Paul Devoille Distillerie in Fougerolles, France. Xavier Devoille founded the distillery in 1859, and it is named after his son Paul. The business today is still family owned. In addition to grand wormwood, green anise, and sweet fennel, the distillery also lists star anise, licorice, coriander, lemon balm, hyssop and speedwell among the plants and seeds used in distilling their absinthes. I'm willing to bet there are a handful of other secrets as well. Each of the plants and herbs are individually macerated and distilled before being blended into a final product.

Absinthes can be enjoyed neat or as a louche, a term that I had to look into. Basically, since the spirit is bottled at such high alcohol content, what you are doing is diluting (and sweetening if you desire) to a drinkable level. Since I am really tough and I have the lower-alcohol-end 58% bottle, I decided to check it out directly from the bottle. Don't do what I did and pour too much, though!

But to create the louche, pour a small amount of absinthe into a glass. Put a slotted spoon over it and place a sugar cube on the spoon. Drip cold water on the sugar cube until you have a 3:1 - 5:1 ratio of water : absinthe. Alternatively, you could just use cold water and no spoon or sugar cube. It's about preference. In addition, cocktails can be made with absinthe.

I love the art work on the bottle label, which depicts absinthe drinkers at a French cafe. It was done by a local artist, commissioned by the distillery.

One last thing. The Paul Devoille website says Libertine is offered in 55%, 68% and 72% alcohol blendings. I guarantee you that my bottle says 58% (actually, you can see that in the photo yourself). The website also lists all of its different sizes and products, with their 70 cL bottle being the largest volume. I'm guessing my 750 mL bottle and the different alcohol content discrepancies have something to do with export to US, though I have been know to be wrong from time-to-time.

So let's get on with the tasting, right? Finally! Great licorice base for an aroma, but as you keep smelling, you grasp onto many really interesting components of the bouquet. Lemon and orange peels, honey and a very distinct herbal character. Quite pleasant.

Holy Cow! This is freakin' intense! I clearly poured WAY too much (see photos). Great anise introduction. I love black licorice candy and this has plenty of that character. But there are way more flavors that will grab your attention. Let's start with the bright citrus. Really great. And the candied orange on its heels is also terrific. Fennel stands out as well.

Hot alcohol quickly fades, revealing an excellent bitter background. Sweet, spicy and bitter all at the same time. It really is incredible. The level of complexity is terrific. Loved this experience, and considering how little you need to pour, I'll be having it many times in the future. Maybe next time I'll try the louche. Join me if you'd like. This could easily be the spirit that will make you switch.


  1. This is definitely one of my favorites. I've never had this one before but I love the style in general. I wish I would get mailed a bottle lol. Anyway, I've never diluted mine with water but I have used the slotted spoon to pour the absinthe over a sugar cube and lit it on fire. I think I saw that in a movie once... Great write up though. This could easily be the one to make me switch back.

  2. That's a good idea, just dissolve the sugar with pure absinthe, no dilution. Somewhere in the course of reading about absinthes, it was said that the setting on fire part was just the stuff movies are made of and that it actually was not recommended, might negatively alter flavor.

    Nice drink, for sure.

  3. Yes - please don't light the sugar cube on fire - it completely destroys the taste (and was invented by companies that sell very inferior products to hide that they are selling dreck.)

    Actually the louche with ice cold water is an important part of the experience, as it releases even more flavor and complexities. You started with a decent absinthe for your first; check out Kubler or Pacifique when you are ready for your next step in your journey - they are worth it!