Monday, September 29, 2008
Product Review- Mata Hari Absinthe
Absinthe. Its the hot thing in the liquor market right now. It seems like every company is rushing to get an absinthe to market as soon as they can. Personally, while I really enjoy St. George and Trillium absinthes, I've found that a number of the early absinthes getting into the market lack balance and that certain sense of elegance that separates the great absinthes from the also rans.
I recently received a bottle of Mata Hari Bohemian absinthe for review. Its an Austrian absinthe, apparently distilled from the original recipe from the 1800s. Its definitely got a pronounced herbal flavor profile, something I much prefer over absinthes with a more anise forward profile. Mata Hari uses Grand Wormwood and Salvia as the main flavoring components to provide the herbal notes in this absinthe, bringing a depth of flavor with an edge of bitterness. What is missing is Petite Wormwood, which has a more subtle flavor, but reduces the bitterness of Grand Wormwood and provides a haunting quality found in the very best absinthes. From what I've been hearing recently, almost the entire crop of petite wormwood in Europe is sold to vermouth producers under long term contracts. I'd be very curious to see if Mata Hari adds petite wormwood into their formulation in the future if the European market opens up in the next few years.
As it is, Mata Hari comes in at 120 proof, but I notice the alcoholic burn more than I do with a similar absinthe with the same proof, Trillium. When I tried Mata Hari as a traditional absinthe preparation, using 1 oz of absinthe, 1 sugar cube and about 4 oz of water, I found it a bit austere for my tastes. It louched slightly in the glass, but once the cube had dissolved on the spoon it was perhaps the prettiest glass of absinthe that I've ever laid eyes on, truly the Green Fairy. I actually added some simple syrup to the drink to sweeten it a little bit to my taste and I really enjoyed the drink quite a bit more. This is an absinthe that calls for a bit more sugar than a typical preparation, but finding the right balance with this absinthe was worth the effort. Mata Hari has a long finish, 10 minutes or more, and the extra sugar was necessary to push past the bitterness to bring the complex underlying flavors out.
Mata Hari shines brightly in one of my favorite cocktails. I found that the dryness and herbal tones of Mata Hari absinthe complement a sazerac cocktail perfectly. In fact, I think Mata Hari absinthe is probably best used as a component in cocktails. When I added it to my usual sazerac recipe (Sazerac rye, 4 dashes of Peychauds, 1 dash of Angostura, a splash of simple and a lemon twist), the Mata Hari added a depth to the cocktail that anise forward absinthes just can't achieve.
Overall, I'm glad to see more absinthes come to the market. Mata Hari is an interesting product, one that I like, especially for my sazeracs. In fact, I think I might have one right now.