Last weekend the Absinthiades 2013 finally took place. Full of anticipation for the weekend ahead of us, we drove to Pontarlier. Read about what we got up to, who represented us in the professional jury, and most importantly – which absinthes were awarded which medal
Friday, October 4th
Arriving in Pontarlier, we dropped off our things at our favourite hotel. Most of our friends and partners stay there too, which leads to some interesting evenings tasting new spirits and discussing developments in the absinthe world.
After greeting everyone and a quick catch up, we headed to the theatre, Absinthiades-central. We looked at which absinthes entered the competition this year – a new absinthe made by Francois Guy, the new Absinthe L’Entêté by Combier, a few classics like Clandestine, Kübler, and Authentique.
Opening speeches over, there was an announcement – last call for the Professional Jury members.
For the first time this year, Mathieu was part of this jury. He shared his experience as a newcomer to the judging-game (although not lacking in experience with Absinthe!)
This was the first time I was part of the professional jury, and I have great pleasure in sharing this interesting experience with you.
22 unique absinthes were entered into the 2013 Absinthiades Competition. The jury was meant to rate all of these. As it would be a bit too much for every single person in the jury to taste all of them, the jury was split into two groups, so that each group would then ‘only’ have to taste 11 absinthes). For the record, Andrew and I both took part, on opposite sides of the room, one of us in each of the groups.
You wait expectantly at the start of the competition, until your hear your name called out by Monsieur Chapon, president of the organising committee. Your are shown to your table, where you will spend the next few hours with 3 other judges. On the table you’re presented with a score sheet for your comments and ratings, an absinthe spoon, sugar (optional), 2 glasses (one for Blanches and one for Vertes), an absinthe fountain, some bread and a bottle of Perrier, to refresh the palate between sampling each absinthe. You also have a spittoon, a bucket of sawdust on the ground next to your seat. You are not forced to spit out but I followed Marc Thuillier’s expert advice and did it as much as possible, because otherwise, after eleven absinthes, your mouth gets numb and you cannot taste anything properly any more, and also, you can get pretty drunk (which was not the purpose there)…
After everybody found their seat, a waiter comes to your table and pours a measure of absinthe into your glass from an unmarked bottle, and the blind tasting starts.
But now comes the question: how do you fairly judge an absinthe? As you might imagine, the answer is complicated!
Scoring is based on several criteria:
The first is the colour. The absinthe should have a nice, homogeneous and harmonious colour. For blanche it’s obviously a bit harder but homogeneity is then the most important. It should cloud generously, although both too thick or too thin a louche is considered a fault.
The second one is the nose. It is a bit harder too explain how an absinthe should smell, however, the nose gives you a good hint on how well balanced an absinthe is: A strong smell of alcohol or a clear preponderance of a specific aroma will lower the score as it shows the absinthe is imbalanced.
Then comes the taste, and again, the aim for the distiller should be to achieve balance, subtlety and harmony. Colour was scored out of 4 points, the nose out of 6 points and the taste out of 10 points. The maximum overall mark is 20 out of 20. To give you an idea, the most I gave was a 16.
Once you have tried the eleven absinthes and finish writing your comments, the score cards are collected, and you can relax. The evening’s judging is done!
Two other juries (the amateur jury and the VIP jury) go through the same process to get the final results.
I have to admit I was a bit nervous before starting. In the end though it went quite well and I had a really interesting conversation with the other people at my table. Of course, making absolutely sure not to talk about the absinthe we were judging.
See you next year! Cheers,
After the professionals had finished judging 22 absinthes, they joined the others at La Poste restaurant and tried to grab a late night gourmet snack, have a (full) glass of absinthe, and finally, enjoy the rest of the evening catching up with long unseen friends.
Saturday, October 5th
After a breakfast no country other than France can offer – Chausson aux pommes bursting with buttery, apple-y goodness – we head to the theatre once again for Absinthe Antiques market. Hardcore collectors will have arrived early and already snapped up the unique items to be had, though it’s definitely worth having a browse. Marie-Claude Delahaye – the original authority on absinthe antiquities – was there, happy to speak to everyone interested about her books. An interesting item in the collectors area this year was a massive tome – the accounting book from the Vichet distillery from over in the period around the 1890s. Outstanding penmanship on display, and a unique historical artefact.
We bumped into writer Benoit Noel, an old friend and regular visitor of the Absinthiades is – author and passionate Absintheur. But he also loves other spirits, as you’ll be able to see from this photo:
We decided to take a break from the turbulent antique fair, and take a little walk through Pontarlier. Andrew got up to something else:
One of us smashes a glass lamp on the floor. The waitress questions our sanity.
Hey – if you run a restaurant serving a meal with the courses based on absinthe – what do you expect? Well behaved patrons? I thought that stuff made you crazy!
Ok, you know better than that. In fact the glass lamp met its destiny having been hit accidentally by an enthusiastic hand. And the cause of the waitress’ perplexed expression was our request to dine outside on the terrace. Wearing our coats. While rain fell from the sky.
It was however beautifully romantic!
I had the pleasure of joining for lunch two Danes who have been at the centre of absinthe’s revival in their country: Thomas Boston, who has played a major role in making authentic absinthe available again in Denmark, and Niels Ivar Larsen, editor at the newspaper Information, on a research trip. (More on their story at a future date).
The setting was actually the Coté Pont, a quaint restaurant by the river Doubs. My Danish companions and I enjoyed a menu highlighting one of the most popular ways to take advantage of absinthe in one’s cooking: sauces. The chef successfully pulled off the art of imparting each dish absinthe’s complex and varied flavours, without overwhelming the other ingredients.
Mont d’Or chaud sur Poire Pochée.
(A delicious local cheese baked on top of poached pears.)
Saumon Sauce d’Absinthe et légumes croquants
(Salmon with an absinthe sauce.)
Salade de Figues, raisins, sultanines, crème, absinthe.
(Fig ‘salad’, with fresh grapes, sultanas, and a generous amount of sauce based on cream, sugar, spices and absinthe.)
We accompanied the meal with a dry white wine – no shame here – everything has its place. It goes without saying the next glass of absinthe followed very soon afterwards.
In the evening, we meet up with a bunch of others far up to the Jura mountains, to Auberge La Petite Echelle chalet – running entirely without electricity, you can even sleep in a yurt if you fancy. We’ve been there the last couple of years, and the fondue is second to none. Martin Zufanek, distiller of Saint Antoine Absinthe had brought along a few goodies to try out (his delicious oak aged pear brandy, Mead Base absinthe, and some traditional Czech herbal liqueurs).
We enjoy the night, some of us decide to stay at the Chalet overnight, the rest of us head back down to Pontarlier.
Sunday, October 6th
Results are in! After a quick breakfast, some of us a touch the worse for wear, we make our way down to the theatre one last time this year – to finally find out which absinthes won the Absinthiades 2013!
Absinthe Kübler is awarded Gold on the category “Blanche”! Absinthe François Guy claims Gold in the category “Verte”. The remaining results are here:
After some heated debate about the results and saying goodbye to all those friends that hadn’t left yet, we make our way back to Freiburg, bringing home some great stories and impressions.
Until next year!