It might be looked upon as a book of cocktail recipes for connoisseurs of underground history or perhaps a lurid history book for those looking for a harder ride than Gentleman Jack can offer. The Little Green Book of Absinthe: An Essential Companion with Lore, Trivia and Classic and Contemporary Cocktails has many faces — all with bloodshot eyes and all flavored with the mystique of the green fairy.
The authors are encyclopedic on the administration and lore of the antifreeze-tinted liquor. An authoritative voice is needed for the subject, which has as much in common with the Loch Ness Monster as it does with bourbon. A brief primer: Absinthe was illegal in America but is no longer; it’s hard liquor — among the hardest — and does contain a touch of thujone, a neurotoxin which is extracted from wormwood; Europe allows twice as much concentration of thujone as does the U.S.
and too much of the stuff is lethal; and the hallucinogenic properties of the booze are overstated and purportedly nonexistent. So once the drunken Santa has been stripped of his beard, what’s left? It turns out quite a bit.
Like the fine and finely tuned array of cocktail recipes that represent the majority of the tome — Arnold Palmer’s French Caddy, which includes equal portions of absinthe, tea and lemonade is a simply assembled standout that left me drooling — there’s much blending of new and old lore. 1990s “adventurer” George Rowley’s successful efforts to bring absinthe back to Western Europe and the Catch-22-style red tape he had to cut are related with equal reverence and detail as the legend of French physician Pierre Ordinairre’s almost certainly apocryphal 18th-century invention of the drink.
The book is certainly delightful without a flaming spoonful of sugar and a shot of the licorice-flavored potion before you, but it leaves the reader longing for the green fairy’s bitter embrace. Grade: B