NIGHTLIFE

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.

Where Berlin - - CONTENTS -

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.

Tom Zyankali

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