Birmingham has quite the growing scene when it comes to cocktails, but few people know it is home to a few of the biggest names in the craft booze world. I was honored to meet one Ted Breaux at a local U.S.B.G chapter meeting and hear a bit of the history of absinthe direct from the man who saved it. Without Ted that Corpse Reviver or Sazerac you last enjoyed would be a little lacking. There certainly would be no delicious Dr. Funk’s for me. In addition to being one of the smartest men I’ve ever met he’s also generous with his time and product. He was kind enough to sit with me last month while I barraged him with boneheaded questions.
“It was the right time”. Ted told me when asked about absinthe coming onto the market. “If we’d tried it before it would have been much harder”. Ted’s science together with Jared Gurfein’s connections launched what would be a battle with western governments and the TTB over something you now see in almost every craft cocktail bar. The funny thing is absinthe was actually legal after 1968, so why wasn’t it being made?
“The T.T.B could just say no and hope you’d give up and go away.” It was interesting to find out just how much control a single bureau that is supposed to regulate Tax and Trade can exert over the market. I learned from Ted that they can give ruling with almost no justification, usually winning by attrition. Luckily Ted’s team had the time, resources and science to resolve the issue. “Once we had the juice approved the debate over the label had begun.” The battle over absinthe was largely a battle of perception versus facts. During the course of the long drawn out back and forth they even proved the original absinthe ban to be illegal. How about that for a job well done? If you’re also curious about absinthe itself check out the Wormwood Society, or our absinthe primer we wrote way back.
Ted’s focus is to recreate traditional historic pre-ban absinthe. It was tasting these absinthes that initially sparked his interest. Lucid was a great baseline product meant to be accessible and serve market demands, while still being an all-natural craft absinthe. We stand behind it here, and regularly mix with it and sip it. His Jade line however is truly something to behold. He takes great pride in growing and sourcing the right plants, for the right product. We were lucky enough to get to see and smell some of the various types of dried wormwoods. I’ll be honest when I say I didn’t know there were so many.
So how does Ted take his absinthe? No sugar, and just enough water to create that nice louche. We have to admit we’re sugar free as well, even if I have the nasty habit of sipping mine straight. He had a lot of praise for the Wormwood Society, not only in their educational efforts, but in their ability to expose inferior products. Luckily he says, it’s pretty easy to judge a quality absinthe from a poor absinthe stateside. He advises consumers to look out for the descriptor “herbal liqueur” which indicates something pre-sweetened with sugar. Also, check the label to ensure it is free of dye or artificial coloring. The US has strict label laws that will disclose this information. Europe however is not so lucky.
We were lucky enough to taste Ted’s Jade Perique Tobacco Liqueur during the interview, a product you won’t find in the states. This unique tobacco originally cultivated by American Indians is traditionally grown in St. James Parish Louisiana. Once picked, it is then fermented in bourbon barrels. After fermentation, it is shipped to France, where it is combined with the same eau de vie of Chenin Blanc Ted uses in his other creations. Being a tobacco liqueur, it tastes like smoke right? Hell no. It has many deep notes and aromas of exotic black tea. It was very lightly sweet with hints of apricot and peach, andeven somewhat honeyed and floral on the finish. It was really very lovely. Demand is much higher than production at this point. Issues with the FDA, and TTB make it still impossible to get this product here, and shipping limits how much can be made at Combier. Ted is hard at work at this to however, so with any luck, we may see it in the future.
A few things we tasted were so top secret we’re pretty sure later they were secreted away next to the Ark of the Covenant afterward by “Top Men”. We did get to taste some very lovely Jade Absinthes which I don’t think are available here yet either. Absinthe Jade L’Esprit Edouard really became my favorite. It was so bright and crisp with hints of white pepper, hyssop, fennel, and wormwood. There was so much in it to experience and enjoy. Absinthe Jade VS 1898 was noticeably different. It was much deeper as opposed to Edouard’s bright notes. I found it to have a very full mouthfeel and a long finish.
While we’re not happy Katrina drove him from his New Orleans home, we’re very glad a talented chemist and cocktailian like Ted settled in Birmingham. His next project is hush hush, but it’s something he wanted to do originally with Jade and that he admits will cross some lines. We’re excited to see it, but in the meantime we’re going to try and steal some of his recipes for durian fruit from him. Normally I end an article with my signature sign off. However Ted gave me a quote I found very poignant. Not only does it describe how and why he makes his absinthe but it really speaks to something I look at when creating a new Tiki cocktail. We’d like to thank Ted for his time, and all of you for reading. And remember…
“Something traditional should come from someplace with tradition” – Ted Breaux