Death in the Afternoon

Master food scientist and writer Harold McGee writes in the New York Times about trying to clear absinthe’s reputation (which is happening, I believe, despite the U.S. ban on the liquor and a flood of awful stuff from the Czech Republic) and reminds us of one of its many cocktailian applications:

Readers of Ernest Hemingway know Death in the Afternoon as a book about bullfighting. But to drinkers with a taste for obscure booze, it is also a cocktail that Hemingway contributed to a 1935 collection of celebrity recipes. His directions:

“Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”

When I heard about this concoction last week and wondered how Champagne bubbles would fare in the milkiness, I couldnt just go to my local liquor store and buy absinthe. I had to substitute one of the anise-flavored alcohols that took absinthes place when it was banned in France and in the United States about a century ago.

Apparently it didn’t work too well for Harold with regards to the drink regaining its effervescence, but sparked an interesting discussion about how Champagne bubbles work (I’ll bet you didn’t know why it bubbles as it does).

2010 update: Now, of course, absinthe is legal in the U.S. and there are myriad varieties available. Beginners might want to start with Lucid or Kübler, and I’m a big fan of the ones made by Ted Breaux and Jade Liqueurs in France. There are some wonderful American-made absinthes now, especially Marteau from Oregon, Leopold Bros. Absinthe Verte from Colorado and the unusual St. George from Alameda, California.

A Death in the Afternoon is a great way to enjoy any of these fine absinthes.