Saturday, January 16, 2010

Review: Vieux Carre Absinthe

Ever since its U.S. re-legalization in 2007, absinthe has enjoyed a surge of popularity, with a number of brands flooding the market. These run the gamut in quality from artificially colored and flavored monstrosities trying to capitalize on absinthe's mystique, to authentic, artfully made spirits from small craft distilleries. Thankfully, Vieux Carre falls into the latter category - it's a fairly new offering from Philadelphia Distilling (which also makes Bluecoat Gin, most likely a subject of a future review).

Vieux Carre comes in an elegant decanter, fitted with a glass top. The bottle is overlaid with a dark green pattern, which has the effect of making the absinthe look substantially darker than it actually is. The bottom of the bottle contains a fine sediment. It's not the most attractive effect, but it's a testament to the fact that the absinthe is macerated with real herbs, as it should be. When poured into a glass (carefully, to avoid disturbing the sediment), it's a dark olive color, with an amber undertone.

Vieux Carre has a powerful aroma - anise and fennel are the main constituents, but wormwood and mint are also detectable. Despite being 120-proof, it has a nice sweetness that almost makes it drinkable neat. Almost, but not quite - the flavors are just too overpowering. As water is added, the absinthe gradually becomes opaque. This is called "louche," and it's due to components of the absinthe being more soluble in alcohol than they are in water - as water is added, they precipitate out, forming an opaque suspension. It's a neat effect, though Vieux Carre's louche is somewhat understated - it's gradual, with none of the oil trails seen with many other absinthes.

At a 3:1 water-to-absinthe ratio (I wouldn't recommend going higher than that with this one), Vieux Carre is quite pleasant. Wormwood and anise are the primary flavors, with fennel, hyssop, spearmint, and citrus also present. Complex, yet highly drinkable. The finish is mint and wormwood-dominated, though a bit too bitter for my liking.

Vieux Carre is one of the better absinthes that I've tried. I will caution that it's somewhat overpowering in cocktails - I've used it in recipes that call for just a dash of absinthe, and it's still a bit too much. But really, absinthe is a spirit for drinking, and Vieux Carre does the job well. At about $60 a bottle, it's by no means cheap, but is still less expensive than most other (often inferior) brands of absinthe. Whether you're a fan of absinthe, or just someone who wants to discover what a good absinthe is like, Vieux Carre is a very solid choice.

Price: ~$60

Value: 17/20
Overall Quality: 17/20

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