When my wonderful friend Justin took off with his partner on a 3 month backpacking trip through Europe and Africa nearly ten years ago, he asked me what souvenir he could bring back for me. “Absinthe,” I replied immediately. I had just enjoyed a Valentine’s Day meal at Absinthe in San Francisco, and was fascinated by the stuff, especially since it was, at the time, strictly illegal in the States (they weren’t serving it at the restaurant). I didn’t actually expect him to bring it back – I explained that it would be contraband, but lo and behold he simply declared it and customs just waved him through. I fantasized about planning all sorts of belle epoque themed dinner parties, but just never got around to it.
A few years ago, when I was visiting Justin in Paris, we happened upon an absinthe shop in Place St. Catherine, a charming and discreet little plaza in the Marais (A glimpse of it is visible as Treadstone’s Paris branch in The Bourne Identity). In addition to selling the stuff, they also sold absinthe accoutrements. I purchased a spoon and a finger sized bottle.
Recently, the United States legalized absinthe, and as luck would have it, the only domestic distiller producing it, St. George Spirits, is right in my backyard. The first release was on December 27, 2007. Demand was high, and after customers endured 6 hour waits in the rain, the product sold out in two hours. I figured that since I already had a bottle, there was no need for me to subject myself to such insanity. But the next day, after enjoying a leisurely German brunch, the bartender brandished a bottle towards us as the busboy cleared away our glasses. “This stuff ain’t for chumps.” I looked at my husband and we shrugged “Why not?” and ordered a shot to share. It was served with a cup of ice, to be mixed to our liking.
Maybe it was the two beers beforehand, but one small sip, and we knew we wouldn’t be operating heavy machinery. “Now I know why Van Gogh went mad,” slurred Zack before we tottered home. I promptly passed out on the couch, and Zack went out to get ice cream (he usually avoids junk food, but wanted something caloric to absorb the alcohol).
When we came to our senses, we opened the bottle already in our possession. It wasn’t nearly as strong, nor were the flavors as complex. I immediately put myself on the mailing list for St. George’s next release. Last week, I received the newsletter notification that the sophomore batch would go on sale this Super Bowl Sunday.
The distillery opened at noon, so I drove up shortly after my Sunday yoga class. By 12:30, the line stretched past the building, around the fence and spilled over into the next parking lot. I dutifully got in line and waited. The view of the City was stunning, and the air was brisk. And by brisk, I mean cold, wet and windy. Although a few distillery employees cheerfully marched up and down the line, proffering cups of hot chocolate, there was not much they could do to speed up the line… which took THREE HOURS.
Yep, yours truly waited in line for three hours for a bottle of newly legalized liquor. I’ll subject myself to Tartine’s line, but the last time I waited in a line that long, I wound up in the front row of a U2 concert. I was also next to a group of drunken but generous Irishmen who taught me all manners of Gaelic toasts that I will not repeat here.
But I digress. Anyways, while I was in the line, I finished 3 podcasts of This American Life. I also contemplated how much of an alcoholic I might be to wait in a line this long for a bottle of booze. But once I got to the front, I found it didn’t concern me anymore. I had only planned on buying one bottle, but since I’d waited so long, I bought two. I seriously considered three (the limit) but decided that might be a bridge too far. I took the bottles home, where Zack was anxiously waiting with his finger on the TiVO decided to hold off on opening a new bottle we had gotten closer to finishing the initial (imported while contraband) bottle.
TO BE CONTINUED…