“I was pretty much a nondrinker,” admits Cheryl Lins, producer of New York’s first homegrown absinthe. “All of a sudden, I got hooked on the green fairy.”
Lins became obsessed with the anise-flavored spirit after reading about it in 2006. It was still illegal here, so she began ordering bottles from Europe. But with a decent bottle running as high as $100, the artist-farmhand decided the only way she could afford it was to make her own.
Her first experiments were vile-wormwood is one of the bitterest substances on earth-but soon friends were declaring it good enough to pay for. When the substance became legal in 2007, Delaware Phoenix Distillery was born. Today Lins turns out some 200 bottles per month at her tiny one-woman facility up in Walton, New York, where she does all the distilling, bottling, even label making herself.
Lins researched historical formulas but developed her own recipes using fresh local herbs, adding grand wormwood, anise and fennel to a neutral grain spirit. The distillate emerges clear from her tiny copper pot still, then a second infusion of Roman wormwood, hyssop and lemon balm adds flavor and a green tint. Walton Waters, her more traditional incarnation, boasts a grassy flavor thanks to lemon thyme, while violets impart flowery notes to Meadow of Love, her more mellow, prettier elixir. Both are poured in select borough bars including Huckleberry Bar, Hotel Delmano and the Richardson. You can also buy a bottle at UVA Wines in Williamsburg or Blanc et Rouge in DUMBO, where they retail for about $80.
“We have six or seven absinthes on the list,” says Stephanie Schneider, owner of Huckleberry Bar, where Meadow of Love stars in a cocktail called Slow Death in the Afternoon. “People are wanting to experiment with it, learn about it and have us talk them through it.”
“There’s a lot of opportunity for mixology with absinthe-that’s how it was used prior to Prohibition,” explains Lins. “Because absinthe is bottled as such high proof, there’s an impression that it’s supposed to be served like that. Traditionally, absinthe was served much closer to the strength of wine. To get that strength out of my absinthes, you have to add between three and five parts water.”
Adding water, called “louching,” turns the liquid a milky sea-green. At Le Barricou in Williamsburg you can enjoy the spirit properly louched using an old-fashioned absinthe drip. Managing partner Joshua Boissy claims to have the largest absinthe selection in town, but you won’t find the popular commercial brands there. Instead, he carries smaller-production craft bottles.
“It’s fresh,” he says of the Delaware Phoenix bottlings. “I mean, the lady distributes it herself. In Williamsburg, we have the kind of nerdy community that’s totally into that type of thing.”
Justin Chearno, the buyer at UVA Wines, says homegrown absinthe has a changing fan base. “When absinthe first became legal, people were convinced it would take them on this psychedelic journey. Now, half the people who ask for it read about it in the Times, a certain percentage is involved in the cocktail scene, and some are just interested in anything local. We don’t really have the frat boys just looking to trip anymore.”