Ten absinthes in two hours - on a Sunday morning with only a croissant for breakfast no less. That's what I unwittingly agreed to when my friend Peter Schaf, the absintheur, invited me to serve as a juror at the Absinthiades, the annual absinthe festival in Pontarlier, the birthplace of French absinthe near the Swiss border. It had sounded like just good times: a weekend mountain getaway from Paris to meet up with Peter and David Nathan-Maister, another dear expert friend, to taste a few absinthes, and no doubt eat plenty of the local Comté and Morbier cheeses . We'd been there for the summer festival, so I expected something similar, like a county fair, but instead of judging apple pies, I thought we'd casually cast votes on absinthes.
There was a public jury made up of townsfolk that Saturday, but I ended up on Sunday's professional jury. I was the lone layperson amongst the Who's Who of the absinthe world, including Peter, David, and their friends Ted Breaux, Markus Hartsmar, and Markus Lion - all terrific guys too.
During the judging, I made good use of the giant sand-filled spit buckets but my mouth still went numb and I did experience the infamous lucid intoxication - then again I was just terrified that I might pass out. I did stay surprisingly sober, and even managed to scribble some hopefully comprehensible notes.
Back at the Emile Pernot distillery, in a historic moment David opened a rare 1910 bottle of absinthe, an Edouard Pernod 65, which he generously shared. We also tasted samples of Ted's new PF 1901, his recreation of the most famous pre-ban absinthe, and 1797, made from the first known written absinthe recipe, dated to that year.
Markus L. also unveiled a prototype of Mansinthe, commissioned by absinthe fan, Marilyn Manson. The unnaturally green Mansinthe, sans wormwood and therefore legal in the US, was to have been released last December. Manson had said, "We hope to have it out in time for Christmas so parents can give it to their kids as a present."
In the meantime the kiddies will have to try to get their hands on the absinthe macarons and chocolates I had at the Absinthiades - those are an addiction of a different kind.