The holidays are upon us. There’s madness in the air. This year however I am not going to get caught up in the madness. No big parties at my house. No interstate travel. Even my gift list will be pared down. Because this Christmas I want to enjoy the meaning of Christmas and not get bowled over by the hype and hoopla.
One way to do this (for me) is to develop a drink that is special enough for the holidays. Something with festive flavors and something sophisticated enough to make intimate evenings with close friends feel exceptional. So I’ve developed a drink that I’m calling Foaming Fairy. It’s a cocktail made with a touch of absinthe. Because absinthe cocktails have all the qualities I’m looking for in a drink this holiday season. Absinthe is not a spirit that you’ll find in my liquor cabinet all that often, so it does feel special. Its mysterious reputation and anise flavors make it a perfect choice for the holidays. Besides absinthe cocktails are a festive shade of green.
Foaming Fairy is what you might call an old-fashioned cocktail. Partly because it contains two ingredients that were once common, but either fell out of favor or were changed in some fundamental way. One of these ingredients is Old Tom gin. For political reasons (that only a king can understand) William III, a Dutchman who ascended to the throne in England, banned French brandy from Britain. I guess he preferred genever, which is often called Dutch gin. So the English began producing gin, and lots of it. It was of a low quality and sugar was added to tame its nasty bite. This precursor to modern London style ‘dry’ gin became known as Old Tom gin. Which means when delving into very old cocktail recipes ‘gin’ probably meant Old Tom gin. Anyway, as production quality improved less and less sugar was needed and ‘dry’ gin came in fashion.
Fortunately modern cocktail geeks can experience the original intention of some of these ‘old fashioned’ cocktails more closely. Several brands have reintroduced Old Tom gin. Hayman’s Old Tom gin was created in 2007, based on what is said to be an authentic recipe.
2007 was the year another old liqueur made a comeback. Once referred to as “the green fairy”, “opalescent muse”, or “the essence of life” absinthe cocktails were the drink of choice for 19th century artists in Paris. Gradually the perception of its powers shifted. Van Gogh is said to have sliced off his ear while drinking absinthe. It gained a reputation as an hallucinogenic. Worse, it was said to lead “straight to the madhouse or the courthouse” according to the French druggist who led the charge to outlaw the green liquid. Indeed, it was illegal in the U.S. for about a century. Then something changed. People either forgot, disregarded or discredited the reasons for the ban on absinthe. The green fairy got a reprieve and is once again available in North America.
Which means modern mixologists can once again start mixing up absinthe cocktails like my Foaming Fairy. GREG