Few alcoholic beverages have been as vilified and mythologized as absinthe. Jenna Rose Robbins went on a citywide odyssey to learn why the much-maligned spirit is experiencing a comeback.
The much-vilified spirit, absinthe, is definitely making a comeback, minus the halluncinations.
Forget everything you think you know about absinthe: You’re not going to experience grand hallucinations, no matter what you learned from reading Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, and Arthur Rimbaud. “Absinthe leaves your head clear. You don’t get tired like you do with alcohol,” said Hermann Plöckl, owner of Absinthe Depot ( Weinmeisterstr. 4, www.absinth-berlin.de). At the Mitte shop-cum-bar, which carries upwards of 300 varieties of the anise-flavored alcohol, I learn that setting fire to absinthe is anathema to true connoisseurs, that this is a relatively new gimmick introduced purely to heighten the presentation, not the taste.
According to Plöckl, the banning of absinthe in the early 1900s only served to bolster its desirability, magnifying its aura of mystery and bohemian association. It didn’t hurt that the spirit had a reputation as a hallucinogen, a point long since debunked. The 45 to 70 percent alcohol content, on the other hand, can knock the socks off even the most seasoned drinker. Over at Lauschangriff (Rigaer Str. 103, www. facebook.com/Lauschangriff.Berlin), the art of absinthe service is still revered. The upstairs bar, dotted with
Beetlejuice- inspired décor, serves 23 different brands of the green stuff, both straight and mixed in cocktails. A customer favorite is the Voodoo Pigalle – which co-owner Dieter describes as “a light and unexpected” concoction of chartreuse, watermelon juice, lemon, and, of course, absinthe. The taste is so refreshing that I’m shocked to learn the drink contains 40 percent alcohol. The atmosphere is decidedly more playful, yet still appreciative, at Kreuzberg’s laboratorythemed Zyankali (Gneisenaustr. 17, www. zyankali.de). Former biochemical engineer and owner Tom Zyankali has created a veritable wonderland of alcohol, or Unterhaltungschemie (“entertainment chemistry”), as he calls it. Science beakers bubble behind the bar, where patrons can sample both brand-name and house-made absinthes and other liqueurs. Tom serves my drink, complete with sugar cube and spoon, atop a glasscovered, still-inhabited coffin. But even that seems banal compared to what comes next: a perfect scoop of absinthe-colada ice cream, just one of Zyankali’s seasonal flavors. For those who are merely absinthecurious, you can find the occasional absinthe drink on the menus of several Berlin bars, including the so-trendy-it-hurts Becketts Kopf (Pappelallee 64, www.becketts-kopf.de), whose ever- changing menu always seems to find room for at least one wormwoodinfused creation.