Mark Maurice was one of those “crazy Limelight club kids,” as he puts it. One night at the club, he met a man carrying these mysterious green vials. The man told him the vials contained absinthe, and proceeded to write down a formula for Maurice, as well as the address of a holistic healer in the East Village. Upon procuring the necessary ingredients, Maurice began making his own absinthe at home. Years later, he met Edward Jahn at a karaoke night at the Chelsea Hotel. Jahn sampled Maurice’s kitchen absinthe and liked it, but suggested that the formula could be improved. The two tasted, chewed, even smoked the various herbs that would go into their recipe. Soon, Edward III New York Absinthe was born.
“At the time, Lucid and Kubler were the only two absinthes that had been approved,” says Jahn. “By the time we were approved, there were more than 50 absinthes for sale in the U.S. About 40 of those were imports.”
As of next week, Edward III will be available at several bars and liquor stores around the city. (For now, it can be purchased only at DrinkUpNY.) It’s the second absinthe to be made in New York since Prohibition; Delaware Phoenix Distillery’s offerings being the first. This delicate, not-so-green fairy — it’s clear, made in the Swiss Blanche style — has notes of hay and baking spices, with a clean coriander finish. It’s sweet enough to be drunk without adding sugar. Just louche (dilute, slowly, with water) and enjoy.
Jahn and Maurice have plans to release additional absinthes with different flavor profiles. But for now, they’re on a mission to change people’s perception of the spirit. It’s the only alcohol product that requires a lab test to be approved, due to the wormwood content.
“Vermouth and Chartreuse both contain wormwood — and probably in higher quantities than absinthe — but they don’t have to be tested,” explains Jahn. “Vermouth and Chartreuse were never demonized the way absinthe was. There’s probably no liquor product more difficult to get through the U.S. government.”
The problem, according to Jahn, dates back to the early 1990s when a group of shrewd Czechoslovakian businesspeople realized that the spirit had never been made illegal in their country and decided to trade on its supposedly psychedelic properties.
“They did a lot of damage to the reputation of absinthe,” says Jahn. “During the Belle Epoque era, it was the most popular spirit in France. What Czech absinthe promoted had nothing to do with real absinthe. Anyone who’s making absinthe today has to fight against that perception.”
Distilled at Tuthilltown Spirits, the Hudson Valley distillery that produces Manhattan Rye and Baby Bourbon Whiskey, Edward III uses all organic ingredients and boasts a proof lower than many absinthes. Maurice and Jahn say they had women in mind when they designed the recipe, and wanted to avoid the drunken frat boy appeal of high alcohol and green coloring. (The Swiss Blanche style came to be was popularized after absinthe was banned. To hide its consumption in plain sight, the green was omitted.)
“We both view this as an art project,” says Jahn, adding that one of the places Edward III will be available is the National Arts Club. It will also be sold at 169 Bar, Astor Wines, and several of Sasha Petraske’s establishments.
As for those lured by absinthe’s putative vision-inducing mystique, Jahn is unperturbed: “A lot of people out there are going to be disappointed when they find out absinthe doesn’t make you high.”
But, rest assured, it can make you happy.