The Return of Absinthe

The green fairy is back in vogue and here to delight

By John Garvey

 Photo credit: Rick Souder

Photo credit: Rick Souder

The story of REDUX absinthe is, in a word, colorful. It includes junking for booze, stumbling into a distilling subculture, an illustrious private library, conniving industrialists, malarkey, myths and debunkery. It just doesn’t involve “tripping” because, for better or worse, absinthe is not hallucinogenic (sorry to disappoint).

Stephen Gould’s first brief foray into distilling 26 years ago wasn’t a smashing success. He decided to pursue another career, but fortunately his fascination with distilling didn’t wane. Since founding Golden Moon Distillery in 2008, he’s won more awards than you can shake a stick at, and has become an internationally recognized absinthe expert.

Junking for booze

Ever the spirits connoisseur, Gould has long had a hobby he calls “junking for booze.”

“I go to junk stores, garage sales, estate sales and I’ll pretty much buy any sealed, full bottle of anything, no matter how strange or weird.”

At a junk shop in Detroit circa 2000, Gould found an entire case of mid-1950s Spanish absenta (absinthe) that had likely been imported illegally by way of Canada. He snagged it immediately.

“It was a brand name absinthe (Argenti) and I tasted it and I was totally intrigued,” he said. “It was like nothing I had ever tasted before.”

Gould’s knack for finding ridiculously rare things paid off again two weeks later when he found a mid-1800s distilling manual called the Roret Encyclopedie Agricul. And so began his journey to distilling notoriety.

“I went way down a rabbit hole, networking in what at the time was a fairly secretive community of underground absinthe distillers around the world,” he said. 

Gould struck up friendships with several absinthe distillers who helped him acquire the skills and knowledge to distill good absinthe. All the while, he also curated one of the largest North American collections of rare books on distillation. Gould’s library today has over 600 titles dating back to the 1500s. It’s the foundation of Golden Moon’s R&D. With one exception, all of the distillery’s spirits are Gould’s own formulation.

Since 2008, Golden Moon’s REDUX Absinthe has won some of the top distilling awards on the planet at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London, the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and several others.

Vilification and exoneration

The three botanical elements that help define absinthe — grand wormwood, sweet fennel and green anise — have been used in combination for medicinal purposes for about 300 years. Modern absinthe, however, emerged in late 18th century Switzerland. In time, absinthe became wildly popular in much of Europe, especially France. As testimony to absinthe’s cultural relevance, the French equivalent to happy hour in the late 19th and early 20th century was dubbed l’heure verte – literally, “the green hour.” The spirit was even personified as la fée verte, or “the green fairy.” 

Due to a combination of factors including a fictitious disease called absinthism (thank the French wine industry for that fakery), la fée verte was banned in most of Europe and the U.S. in the early 20th century. It was legalized again early this century, when distilling advocates debunked the century-old myths about absinthe insanity and hallucinations. That’s why you can now legally drink it in downtown Golden at the Golden Moon Speakeasy.

REDUX Colorado

Of the 18 spirits made at Golden Moon, REDUX is the most widely traveled. 

“I regularly get photos from people traveling all around the world with bottles of our absinthe in bars, restaurants (and) private homes,” Gould said.

On the horizon is the exciting release of REDUX Colorado Absinthe, made with locally sourced wormwood from Larkspur. 

“Even though the formulas are very similar, the character and the flavor of the absinthe are significantly different,” Gould said. “That’s all because of the terroir and the soil and the climate that the wormwoods are grown in.”

Absinthe en marche!

“Prior to absinthe being banned, absinthe was one of the most common cocktail ingredients used by bartenders,” Gould said.

The most famous bartending guides in history, such as Harry Craddock’s “Savoy Cocktail Book,” contain hundreds of cocktails where absinthe is listed as an ingredient. 

“Bartenders tend to logically know its history if they’ve been trained well, but emotionally they don’t realize that absinthe is an incredibly flexible and powerful tool in their toolkit as bartenders,” Gould said. “A few drops, a splash, a rinse, a spritz of absinthe can change the entire character of a cocktail and just make it so much better.”

As the public becomes familiar with absinthe as a libation rather than a peculiar historical footnote, Gould hopes to see it regain its rightful place as a premium spirit in American cocktails.

A business journalist and freelance writer, John Garvey writes about architecture, sustainability, clean energy R&D and anything that entertains and inspires.  View his portfolio at Clippings.me/johngarvey.

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