If you've been to an even moderately progressive bar in the last five years you've undoubtedly seen a Sazarac on the menu. Rye whiskey, Peychaud's Bitters, simple syrup, and an absinthe wash. Wait, what the hell is an absinthe wash? Trust us, you want to know.
It's Friday afternoon, you've made it through the long week, and it's time for Happy Hour, Gizmodo's weekly booze column. A cocktail shaker full of innovation, science, and alcohol. What would Hemingway do?
An absinthe wash (also known as an absinthe rinse; the terms are interchangeable) is a method for coating the inside of a glass with absinthe, then discarding the excess liquid, and pouring the drink into it. You know how dry vermouth is swirled around the glass then discarded for a dry martini? Same thing, except with absinthe.
You're not doing a wash to add alcohol to the drink. Rather, you're adding aroma and a subtle flavor. It's a nuance thing, baby. Remember, up to 90 percent of what you perceive as taste is actually scent, and a wash can actually make a big difference in the final cocktail. A Sazarac is just a Whiskey Old Fashioned without it.
Why bother doing an absinthe wash? Because it's ridiculously easy, first of all. Stop being lazy. Second, it's a really simple way to elevate your cocktail game. Not only will you be able to make a lot of really popular drinks, but it opens the door for more experimentation. It's a great way to add nuance and variation to a cocktail that everyone's tried before. You can put your own spin on any classic.
Absinthe washes are an increasingly common ingredient in modern cocktails, and there are a few different ways to do them. To enlighten us, we called upon our friend Darryl Robinson (a.k.a. TV's "Doctor Mixologist") to demonstrate three distinct methods.
If you're short on time, you'll probably have to resort to this technique. It's a method for chilling the glass and doing the wash at the same time. Fill your glass with ice and pour in about a half ounce of absinthe. Swirl it around some and let it sit while you're creating the cocktail.
The alcohol melts the ice faster that it would on its own, and since the liquid offers more contact points against the glass (compared to jagged ice cubes) the glass will chill faster. Once the cocktail is complete, give the glass a final swirl, dump the ice/absinthe mixture in the sink, and pour the cocktail in.
While the speed is nice, there is a slight disadvantage here. Because the ice melts, you end up rinsing your glass with somewhat watered-down absinthe. You won't get quite as much aroma or flavor this way, but if you're in a rush, it'll do.
According to Darryl, this is the method you'll most often see in bars. It's very simple, it just takes a little longer than the first method. This technique relies on a pre-chilled glass. If you don't have a pre-chilled glass available, fill your one with ice and let it sit until the glass is chilled.
Once the glass is chilled, discard the ice, pour in a half ounce of absinthe (if you can use less and still coat the surface, do), and swirl it around to fully coat the interior walls of the glass. If you don't trust your swirling skills, you can employ a slow rolling technique. Once the glass is coated, discard the absinthe, and pour your cocktail.
If you've got the extra minute or two to spare, this is definitely the way to go. Once the glass is chilled the absinthe really sticks to the insides nicely. It's a good, thick coating. You can even see it in the video above—the liquid lingers a bit longer, and sort of clings to the side of the glass.
This one is almost identical to Technique 2, but with a twist. It requires a little spray bottle which you can get cheap from Amazon, Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, etc. Fill it with absinthe, then pre-chill the glass as in the previous step. Discard the ice once the glass is cold enough. Now just give the inside of the glass a few sprays of absinthe, and pour your cocktail in.
This might seem like an unnecessary bit of hardware, but the advantage is that it doesn't waste any absinthe. Two or three sprays easily coats the glass, and you don't have to dump anything out. Absinthe ain't cheap, y'know.
The other reason is that when you spray it, that aroma also goes up into the air. It's a subtle point, but you know how smelling your food as it's being prepared builds anticipation for the meal? That's not typically an experience we get with drinks. This way, if you're making the drink for a friend, they can get a whiff of it before you put it in their hands.
To illustrate the different techniques, Darryl made us one of his signature drinks. It's sweet, tasty, and a lot stronger than you realize until it's too late.
- 2 ounces vodka (Darryl used New Amsterdam)
- 0.5 ounces elderflower liqueur (i.e. Saint Germain)
- 2-3 ounces of Prosecco
- 0.5 ounces absinthe (just enough for the wash)
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary for garnish
- 1. Chill a martini glass and set aside.
- 2. In a mixing glass, combine the vodka and liqueur with some ice and give it a stir to mix and chill.
- 3. Use one of the above techniques to do an absinthe wash on the martini glass.
- 4. Strain the vodka/liqueur mixture into the martini glass, then top it off with enough Prosecco to fill the glass.
- 5. Smack a spring of fresh rosemary between your hands to release the oils, then add it to the glass, and you're done.
We're not much for vodka over here, but the cocktail was surprisingly refreshing. It has a heavy champagne feel, but the absinthe gives it a nice balance and makes it feel a little less sweet. It kind of reminds us of one of Ernest Hemingway's favorite drinks entitled Death In the Afternoon. Hemingway's instructions:
Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.
Not that anyone should drink as much as Hemingway did.
The most common wash is the rinse of dry vermouth in a dry martini, but you certainly aren't limited to vermouth and absinthe. You can use any spirit that has a lot of aroma. A smokey Scotch whisky like Laphroaig has been known to work, as has Mezcal, Yellow Chartreuse, Fernet Branca, and even plain old gin. Again, these are all flavorful spirits that have a lot of aroma. You should never do a vodka rinse, though, unless you're afraid the glass has hepatitis on it.
Anyway, now you know how to do a wash/rinse. Use this knowledge only for good, and see you next week for another Happy Hour.
Big thanks to Darryl Robinson for his time and help with this article. Darryl "Doctor Mixologist" Robinson is the host of The Cooking Channel's Drink Up, has been featured on the Today Show, Dr. Oz, Extra, Access Hollywood, and in the NY Times. He is a product representative for New Amsterdam Spirits.