Small amounts of absinthe have been used to modify cocktails for decades. But where a mere teaspoonful or spritz of the anise-flavored spirit might be too much, a dash can add subtle complexity.
“Oftentimes you don’t even know that it’s there, and we might not even write it on a menu,” lest it scare an absinthe-averse guest away from ordering that cocktail, says Tyson Buhler, beverage director of New York and Denver’s Death & Co. “You take a sip of the drink and you wonder, ‘What is that thing?'”
Inspiration for this technique came from old recipes, where small amounts of absinthe were often called for, typically as “improved” versions of classics. Buhler soon realized that a rinse, or even a spritz from an atomizer, could be overpowering. But a single dash provided a “lift” that improved a variety of cocktails. “Kept in a dasher bottle, absinthe has become as ubiquitous as Angostura or Peychaud’s in our drinks over the years,” he says.
To ensure a precise dash, Death & Co. uses crystal Japanese dasher bottles. “The ones with the chrome tops have a really tight cork [closure],” he says. “This allows us to have more control—whether the bottle is full, half-full or almost empty, you get about the same amount.”
The type of absinthe he uses depends on the drink, but in general he looks for a spirit with signature bright, herbaceous and anise flavors, and favors Vieux Pontarlier or Pernod. He also likes St. George Absinthe Verte, but notes that it can skew savory, “so it’s not as much of a catch-all.”
The absinthe trick works particularly well with stirred drinks, such as Martini variations like the Tuxedo #2 or the Citadel, a Death & Co. original featuring genever, mango brandy, maraschino and honey. For a more austere Manhattan variation made with Cherry Heering and kirsch, absinthe provides a brightening effect. “Just a couple of dashes takes it from a dark and brooding cocktail to being a little more uplifted, while still being a spirit-forward, contemplative drink,” notes Buhler.
Absinthe can also add an unexpected lift to classic shaken formulas. “We like to put rhum agricole in our Daiquiris to add that grassiness [and] herbaceousness, and just a dash of absinthe can help enhance all those flavors,” explains Buhler. “You wouldn’t know it was there unless I told you, but just a dash or two in a Daiquiri can be a cool, subtle way to elevate a simple cocktail.”
As a result, the absinthe trick has become not only a go-to for boosting drinks at Death & Co., but also a potential tool for drinks that need rescuing. “To be honest, it’s become kind of a crutch for us,” Buhler admits. “If a drink isn’t working, we say, ‘Yeah, let’s just throw a dash in there to see what happens.’”