La Fée Absinthe certainly isn't cheap. But then again, it is one of the better quality brands in the green fairy market. And it's one of the few to contain the active ingredient in absinthe, thujone (although by EU regulation it's limited to around 20 parts per million, which makes it one-third as hallucinogenic as it was during the Belle Époque).
La Fée first appeared on the market in 1998 when one Marie Claude Delahaye, proprietor of the Absinthe Museum in Paris, noticed that absinthe had been de-banned and set up a distillery with some friends to try and recreate how it was drunk back in the day before the ban, using a recipe not dissimilar to that first generated by Dr Pierre Ordinaire in the mid 19th century. Eleven years later, they're selling their absinthe in a variety of types all across Europe.
The products offered by La Fée include:
- La Fée Parisien 68. Distinguishable by its bright green hue, and label with a stylised eye on it with a red border, this is the mutt's nutts with regard to absinthe, although Un Emile 68 comes close. At 68% abv, it's about average strength for absinthe, and the greenness of it is partly due to artificial colourings, but who cares. It costs £34.50 a bottle or thereabouts. Tastewise it's pretty good really, however, drinking it straight up is not recommended because it's quite viscous. Best served "louched" with sugary water dribbled into it.
- La Fée Parisien 45. As above, but only 45% abv and with a silver border to the label. It's basically glorified Ricard. However, it's a full ten pounds cheaper than its brother. And it has thujone.
- La Fée XS Parisien. Okay, now we're getting into the territory of open wallet surgery. This stuff, as £52.50 a bottle (!), is kind of the equivalent of the sort of single malt whisky that comes in a box. Well, this also comes in a box. It's roughly the same as Parisien 68, however, it's naturally coloured which means it's a duller shade of green, and according to the label, it's distilled using 1900s equipment that Delahaye's refurbished. Whether this affects the taste of it I know not, always having been too skint to try. It has thujone, but still at the 20ppm EU cap, and alcohol at about 70.5%, which makes it slightly above average on that front for absinthe.
- La Fée Suisse. At £32.50 a bottle, this is rather unusual in that it's clear. I can't really say too much about it, never having tried it. And part of the allure of the Green Fairy is that, well, it's green, so why bother?
- La Fée XS Suisse. Like the XS Parisien but clear and slightly less expensive.
- La Fée Bohémien. Ahhhh yes. This isn't an absinthe but an absinth - there is a difference. It's a Czech variety, so this is the sort you set fire to and all that. At 70% abv it's marginally stronger than its Parisien kin but that's all I can say about it. It tastes gritty with the partly melted sugar particles in it, and being turquoise it's the wrong colour. Nor does it have any thujone. Yet it's the same price as Parisien 68. There's a very pretentious bar in High Wycombe that serves this stuff, and indeed, on La Fée's website, they recommend it as something to put in "style bars" because of its colour.
My Adventures with Absinthe
June 2008. I've just finished university. Assuming my exam results stack up, I will soon be the proud holder of a 2.1-class LL.B from King's College London. I'm justifiably sunny and happy, so I trip-trap out from my den in Camberwell to a little place off Cambridge Circus in the West End called "The Vintage House." There, I pay £34.50 for a nice 75cl bottle of La Fée Parisien 68, and skip off home to my halls of residence (I stayed in halls for multiple years for reasons that will not be explained here). I then trip out to my local Sainsbury's to get a four-pack of glasses for 89 pence. And then I clomp up to the common room where we're having a party to which everyone's invited.
The thing with this stuff is that, when you add the sugary water to it, and it louches, not only is the viscosity of it dispelled, but also the taste of alcohol. In fact, that taste goes almost entirely. With one part absinthe to three parts water, it is reduced to about 17% - the same as fortified wine or thereabouts - but it tastes less alcoholic than a cheap Australian white. It's therefore quite deceptive; you WILL get ratted quicker than you know. And if you're anything like me, you'll be drunk in a rather strange way as well.
Now we didn't demolish the entire bottle that evening, we got through about half and finished the rest the day after. I didn't hallucinate or anything - well, no paisley unicorns in my vision, however, on both occasions although I knew I was full as a bishop's ball bag, I also felt... up, and garrulous, and, dare I say it, high. My body was drunk but my mind didn't seem that way. I was coming out with stuff I probably wouldn't have thought of even when sober. I shared some milky green death with an American exchange student and ended up challenging him to a game of chess, and both of us said we seemed to be playing better than normally (although the pieces weren't exactly neatly on their squares too often). I even ended up with a woman in my room, though nothing on that score happened; we merely listened to some pagan metal which she liked even though she was a resolute hip hop fan, then she changed into my leather trousers, and then passed out. And I can remember exactly what happened all those evenings for both evenings. From cracking the bottle outside with an Irish farmer turned masters student in mathematics to passing it round with this woman who passed out in my room and several other folks, all of whom having a good belt of the dregs. Had I been drunk on something else to that extent, I know from experience I would not have remembered a thing.
Still paid for it next morning, it felt like a column of marching men were in my skull. But to be fair I had only myself to blame.
Got my trousers back though.
So... that's about it really. La Fée Absinthe. Drink it, savour it, enjoy it. I heartily recommend it. Well, it's better than that godawful Hills stuff, that's for certain. Just be careful not to pickle your liver.