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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Extolling the Virtues of Alcohol: Troisième Partie

Absinthe...what can one say?  Some of the greatest, most creative minds of our time have enjoyed, and probably been destroyed by it's sweet, slightly hallucinongenic qualities.  I have long wanted to tame the "green fairy" but there was a stumbling block.  Apparently, sugar cubes are not easy to find these days, or weren't.  A friend of mine aquired some Absinthe from overseas a while back, before it was legal here, and they searched high and low for sugar cubes to no avail.  So, many attempts were made to use substitutions or just say, "fuck it" and drink it.  The last option is not a viable one, it can be drunk straight but it tastes like a bag of rancid assholes.  After a long time of being unwelcome in this country in its genuine form (with Wormwood) it was finally approved.  Apparently, the "powers-that-be" looked at Wormwood with a jaundiced eye, not being sure of it's hallucinogenic qualities or how it would affect the populace.  I'm sure that they thought it would bring down western civilization.  One critic is quoted as saying,

"Absinthe makes you crazy and criminal, provokes epilepsy and tuberculosis, and has killed thousands of French people. It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant, it disorganizes and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country".

Sounds about right.

The Green Fairy is about to become my bitch

Here's what Wikipedia says:

Absinthe is historically described as a distilled, highly alcoholic (45–74% ABV / 90-148 proof) beverage.  It is an anise-flavoured spirit derived from botanicals, including the flowers and leaves of Artemisia absinthium (a.k.a. "grand wormwood"), together with green anise, sweet fennel, and other medicinal and culinary herbs. Absinthe traditionally has a natural green colour but may also be colourless. It is commonly referred to in historical literature as "la fée verte" (the green fairy). Although it is sometimes mistakenly referred to as a liqueur, absinthe is not traditionally bottled with added sugar, and is therefore classified as a spirit. Absinthe is traditionally bottled at a high level of alcohol by volume, but is normally diluted with water prior to being consumed.
Absinthe originated in the canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland in the late 18th century. It arose to great popularity as an alcoholic drink in late 19th- and early 20th-century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers. Owing in part to its association with bohemian culture, the consumption of absinthe was opposed by social conservatives and prohibitionists. Ernest Hemingway, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Amedeo Modigliani, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Aleister Crowley and Alfred Jarry were all known absinthe drinkers.
Absinthe has often been portrayed as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug.  The chemical compound thujone, although present in the spirit in only trace amounts, was blamed for its alleged harmful effects. By 1915, absinthe had been banned in the United States and in much of Europe, including France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although absinthe was vilified, it has not been demonstrated to be any more dangerous than ordinary spirits. Any psychoactive properties attributed to absinthe, apart from that of the alcohol, have been much exaggerated.

Absinthe without Wormwood is like Near Beer, just sort of pointless.  So, I've been lovingly looking at the beautiful gift packs of Absente in The Liquor Store for weeks but feeling depressed because of the (reportedly) shortage of sugar cubes.  Tonight, I got the call from Jenifer, my daughter, she had found my sugar cubes (Walmart, dur).  That was the deciding factor, I bought the Absinthe.  I am now into my fifth glass and, I must say, it is a rather "heady" high.  It seems to be a social drug, but on a small scale.  I can see that sharing a bottle with a like-minded friend with some good conversation would be pleasant, whereas, sitting in a bar with an obnoxioulsy loud juke-box blaring the most current mindless tripe into your cerebreum would probably be miserable and may drive a weaker individual to suicide.

It is anise based, so it has a flavor reminiscent of black jelly beans or licorice.  If you don't like this flavor, Absinthe is probably not for you.  There is a ritual that goes with drinking Absinthe, that's where the sugar cubes come in.  You need to get ahold of a gift set with a glass and an Absinthe spoon.  I bought the Absente brand, which is 110 proof, or 55% alcohol.  The glass that I have has a bulb shape on the bottom which holds approximately two ounces of the precious fluid, which is the proper amount for your drink.  After pouring the Absinthe into the glass, lay the spoon across the top of the glass and place the sugar cubes on the spoon (I prefer two cubes). I know that, at least in one popular movie, the sugar cubes are set on fire.  I have it on good authority that this can lead to disatrous results (thanks for the heads-up Clay) so, even though sorely tempted, refrained from setting anything on fire.  Pour three ounces of cold water over the sugar cubes to dissolve them into the drink.  It should turn a light murky greenish color, sort of like lemonade.  After the sugar is dissolved, stir the mixture with the spoon, sip, repeat as needed.

I am currently eight glasses into this experiment and have been feeling the effects since the very first glass.  Although there have been no noticeable hallucinations, I noticed that my ability to speak with clarity had diminished by the second glass and typing this has been riddled with backspaces.  It also, apparently, has time-travel qualities.  I've been drinking for about two hours but my watch says that five hours have passed.  Curious.  I will have to invesigate this further.  I will also have to update this blog at the completion of the experiment to inform about after-effects.

L'Absinthe, by Edgar Degas, 1876
Okay, here's the "morning-after" update.  No hangover, no more lethargy than normal.  All systems seem to be "go".  It was a very pleasant high with no negatives as far as I can tell.  Mellow.

     "Absinthe has a wonderful color, green. A glass of absinthe is as poetical as anything in the world. What difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset?"
                                                                                              ~Oscar Wilde

If you'd like to really get into some Absinthe and don't mind spending a little, here's a link to some quality brands and some of the paraphernalia.

Here is a page with more information about the history of Absinthe and the controversial ingredient Thujone.  (Thanks Megan).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Extolling the Virtues of Alcohol: Part Dos

I took on a personal challenge a few days ago, I decided that I should tackle the Tower of Margarita at my favorite local restaurant, El Sombrero. This is a three-foot tall monstrosity that holds about three liters; enough Margarita to stimulate your pineal gland. The Tower caught my attention when I saw a group of about five people sharing one. I did some quick calculations and, knowing my appetite and capacity, came to the conclusion that I could take one of these things down. El Sombrero is a very nice establishment with a professional and friendly staff and I couldn't think of a better place for this kind of thing, so the location was chosen. I wanted to approach this project like the professional that I am, so I knew I had to have a research team. I needed experienced drinkers whom I knew I could count on to comport themselves with dignity and grace, no matter what condition that we wound up in and, more importantly, at least one who was responsible enough to act as our driver. The team came together easily, two friends, Carla and Cheryl, said they were up to the challenge so the plan was set. We would take on The Tower on Sunday, September 16.

As a statement, it speaks for itself

Carla and Cheryl chose to eat first, feeling hungry and not wanting to attempt this on an empty stomach; they ordered food, I ordered The Tower. There was a momentary uneasy exchange with our server, Angel, as he was trying to make sure that he understood what I was ordering, “Yes, The Margarita Tower, yes, I'm sure...absolutely”. When they bring this behemoth to the table, it is like staking a claim; planting a flag that means We Are Serious And Not To Be Trifled With. Yes, when you are sitting in a bar which is situated in the middle of a restaurant filled with families and amateur dabblers, a three-foot-tall Tower of Margarita on your table gets attention. We began to notice nervous looks from some of the patrons but I find that the best way to handle gawkers is to ignore them, let them amuse themselves by observing what it is like to be in the presence of pros, but never get caught up in trying to perform for them. We did notice that the man at the table next to ours was amused at our conversation, but that is just a statement to our talent with witty banter. Unless you approach and crowd them, wolves don't give a shit who watches. Just go about your business because an undertaking like this requires concentration, determination and commitment.

We began our ascent immediately, slowly climbing through the layers of inebriation until we hit cruising altitude. This happened about halfway through the tower. this kind of maneuvering can be tricky, the drinks are delicious and tend to go down easily, especially if you are thirsty and get distracted.  You have to maintain focus and keep a firm grip on the throttle. There were two of us who were going to really tangle with this thing, our driver was hanging back safely. I had asked the manager, Roberto, who is Costa Rican and a fine and hospitable gentleman, whether many people get through The Tower.  He said, "Yes, but it is usually groups of five or six". This is about what I expected.  I felt that it was important to have a gauge to measure our progress against, for research purposes. The Margaritas were cold and tasty, the way they should be but I could tell early on that this wasn't going to be the Herculean feat that I had anticipated, The Tower was already getting light and I still had plenty of reserves left. We had loosened up and were enjoying ourselves, comfortably encapsulated in our space and surrounded by a protective layer of alcohol. My daughter, Jenifer, was working in the restaurant this night and she and her friend, Raven, visited our table frequently to check the atmosphere. Jenifer knows that I am a professional and, as an Ordained Clergy Person, I would not do anything to offend the Gods of Inebriation and would keep the experiment under control. It's always a good idea to have an uninvolved party in these situations to observe, take notes if necessary and to make sure that everything stays on track and there are no unintentional "drifts".

Jenifer and Raven

When we got to the end of The Tower we realized that it was only eight o'clock and that we still had an hour-and-a-half before the bar closed. It was then that a better idea struck me and I spoke the words which ramped this up to the next level, “You want to drink another one? I think we can do it.” This set off a small flurry of anxious activity, Angel was a little taken aback and the manager came to check on us to make sure. Since they know me well in this establishment and could tell that we had things easily in hand, we were approved. They brought the second Tower to the table and, if the first one was an attention-getter, the second one was a game-changer. If you want to be spectacular, sit at a table with two lovely co-researchers and two Towers of Margarita.

The research team

They had a pool going in the kitchen by this time and were getting regular updates.
“Dos! Dos Torres!”
"¿Está borracho todavía?"
They had taken an interest in the proceedings but didn't realize that what they were witnessing was a controlled experiment by professional researchers and were sorely underestimating my ability to function with a gallon of Margarita on board. So, as we came into the home stretch and we ambled to the finish line, the second Tower fell with a mellow gurgle. Needless to say, we came through unscathed and won the admiration of the staff. There has been talk of a Hall of Fame being instated there for those of us who drink copious amounts of alcohol responsibly and handle it admirably. That is the important part, many could handle this feat physically, but to do it with dignity and charm was the challenge.  How many people would you trust to pull this off and not wind up being kicked out for being sloppy drunk and causing a ruckus?  If you're going to drink, do it like a pro.

Our server, Angel, was great, we never went without fresh ice or a regular check-in to see if we needed anything.  Everyone was gracious and friendly and made us feel welcome.  There were no casualties, although, after checking in for after-effects I did learn that there was a small bout of amnesia, nothing serious.  There were no painful hangovers, which leads me to believe that they had used quality materials for our endeavor.  Overall, I'd say that our experiment was a success.

Jenifer and Angel

Jenifer and I left El Sombrero when her shift was over and decided to do a wind-down to finish the night. So, we went to another bar and had a few beers and a couple of Irish Car Bombs. That ends the tale of the Two Towers but, since you're only as good as the last thing you did, I think that next time, we'll start earlier and go for three.

This is how to do it right