Absinthe Artisan that is.
Located on the second floor of a shop house in Boat Quay, the intimate and sexy space is home to Absinthe Artisan, Singapore’s very first boutique absinthe bar. The bar offers a wide range of handcrafted absinthe cocktails with at least 22 types of absinthe that can also be prepared via the traditional ritual of La Louche.
Absinthe Artisan is run by Hock Soon and Pei Lan, colleagues who left their day jobs at a statutory board to embark on this amazing journey to let Singapore into the mysterious world of absinthe. Hock Soon and Pei Lan are also 2 lovely new friends of ours made over feverish hand scrubbing, a brief encounter with bacteriology and stories swapped about a peculiar man named Francois. When we recently learnt Absinthe Artisan has finally opened her doors, we got quite excited, in a sense it felt like a homecoming. We realized, like all new businesses, getting here wasn’t a walk in the park; we were elated and extremely proud of them.
Now if you know absinthe, you’d know it’s no lightweight. We knew backup was essential; rounding up our thirsty troops, we headed down to Absinthe Artisan for our romance with the green fairy.
Entering the bar, we were immediately mesmerized by the chandelier, arrestingly resplendent in the emerald green of absinthe. The sunken bar, set against the backdrop of bottles of liquid pleasure, has been designed to allow guests at the counter to sit comfortably on chairs instead of bar stools. The bar exudes a dim and seductive Parisian baroque ambience that instantly disarms the guests. At the front of the bar, more communal seating exists in the form of refurbished dark wood and faux leather furniture (all available for sale) set in the good-sized alcove that has windows overlooking the hustle and bustle of Boat Quay. Away from the crowds and touts, the view is by a mile better from the second floor. The bulbs that hang overhead have been lovingly spray-painted copper by Hock Soon; splendid too are the sinks in the washroom adapted from 3D picture frames. And check out the toilets for a stroke of ingenuity. At the back of the bar, there is also a Sober Room – irrelevant, for now.
Absinthe is an anise-flavoured spirit made from the herbs grande wormwood, green anise and sweet fennel. The mysterious, addictive and allegedly mind-altering spirit is most commonly green in colour and is affectionately known as “la fée verte” (French for “the green fairy”). Absinthe Artisan carries at least 22 (and increasing by the week!) different types of absinthe, half of which are imported directly by them and not available anywhere else in Singapore. The alcohol content of their bottles ranges from 50% to 80% ABV.
Hock Soon, ever so passionate and charming, recommended we try the Tasting Flight of 4 for an introduction to absinthe. We started our flight with fruit cocktails, a marriage of fresh fruit with absinthe and other spirits to induct absinthe novices to the spirit’s unique liquorice notes. Here are the ones we gushed over:
The Kiwi is made with the fruit muddled with coconut milk, lemon juice, syrup, vodka and absinthe. The cocktail was a very palatable sweet and sour start to the evening that saw several repeat orders. We wish we could get our daily dose of Vitamin C like this every day!
The Banana, a blend of bananas, honey, milk, lemon juice, vodka, rum and absinthe, is really a turbo-charged banana smoothie. The alcohol content of this delightfully delicious drink is very dangerously well disguised. Call this one Banana rated R.
The Pineapple is a new recipe. Pineapple and curry leaves are first muddled, then lemon juice, syrup, vodka, rum, absinthe are added before the mixture is shaken and strained. A long sprig of curry leaves is sprayed with absinthe and charred, completing the drink as garnish. As we brought the glass to the lips, the intense aroma of charred curry leaves embraced us immediately, perfectly complementing the sweet-sour flavours of the cocktail to come. It is true you eat, or in this case drink, with your nose. We thought this was sublime. Pure genius Hock Soon, well done!
The second drink in our flight was the classic cocktail. Our favourites are the Martini, the Gin and Tonic and the Sazerac.
Absinthe Artisan’s interpretation of the classic martini is avart-garde. Gin and vermouth topped with a mist spray of absinthe is garnished with a slice of bak kwa (a thin slice of Chinese barbequed pork) that adds sweet-savoury notes that balance the bitterness of the absinthe and the dryness of the martini. Let the drink chill the meat for a refreshing take on the bak kwa that is traditionally eaten warm. As we bit into the bak kwa, the dryness of the martini on its surface accentuated the sweetness and saltiness of the meat. We were wowed! Hock Soon generously offered a second helping of the bak kwa, which we greedily lapped up of course.
The Gin and Tonic is prepared with equal portions of gin and tonic water. The twist? Ice balls made with tonic water and absinthe, instead of conventional ice cubes, are used so as not to dilute the drink with water. As the ice balls start to melt in 3-4 minutes, absinthe and more tonic water get introduced to the drink, adding a different and distinct flavor to this timeless cocktail. A must try.
We are huge fans of bourbon, so it is no surprise one of our favourites is the Sazerac – bourbon, 8-9 drops of Peychaud’s bitters and a cube of brown sugar, served with a large ice globe in an Old Fashioned glass. Absinthe has a dominating flavor in addition to its high alcohol content, so most recipes tend to be subtle with the alcohol. In this version of the Sazerac, the glass is rinsed with absinthe. Though the absinthe is discarded, it adds a dimension of complexity, especially in the aroma, to the final cocktail. We detected hints of liquorice from the absinthe in the charred oak bouquet of the bourbon. What an intoxicating nose; it was a concoction we almost preferred to smell than drink!
Our next experience was the much-anticipated La Louche ritual. The La Louche method involves placing a sugar cube on top of a specially designed slotted spoon that sits on a glass filled with a shot of absinthe. The bar has a beautiful collection of slotted spoons to suit every guest’s fancy.
As cold water from the fountain drips through the sugar cube into neat absinthe liberating essential oils, the drink emulsifies, gradually changing from emerald to milky green. And when the transformation concludes, another transformation commences: a transformation of our senses, of our mind, of our world. Absinthe’s reputation as a hallucinogenic drink has mostly been unsupported. Aficionados describe the effect as mind opening, like being high yet lucid and completely in control. Whatever it is, we liked what it did to us.
Our final drink was a befitting close for the night. The black coffee cocktail, Black Day, is prepared with a shot of full-bodied intense espresso, a cube of brown sugar, Mad Cat Absinthe Coffee Liqueur and Absinthe Jacques Senaux Black. We liked the masculinity of the black coffee matched with the equally compelling absinthe. The bitterness of the coffee and absinthe is well balanced with the sweetness of the brown sugar and the coffee liqueur. For fans of the local kopi, the white version, White Night, substitutes the brown sugar with condensed milk.
If coffee is not quite your cup of tea, Absinthe Artisan also has 2 lovely tea cocktails. The Earl Grey, a blend of the tea with honey, vodka and absinthe, is delicious but very deceiving. The distinctive bergamot fragrance pairs very well with the alcohol and the honey balances the absinthe’s bitterness, making this concoction so drinkable one almost forgets the amount of alcohol in it. This cocktail is also available with Chamomile tea.
What we love about Absinthe Artisan, apart from the fabulous drinks, hospitable hosts and inviting ambience, is the tremendous amount of love and attention they pay to details. How cool is it that the “E” at the end of “ABSINTHE” in their awesome logo has been intentionally lobbed off to pay tribute to Van Gogh’s loss? Pei Lan and Hock Soon also crimp all the green napkins and black tags for the tea bags individually with the green fairy for that special personal touch. The fairy’s in the details! Truly absinthe artisanal.In the name of good spirits and great company Barmen Absinthe Artisan 60A Boat Quay | +65.6535.0838 Written by Jack.D Photography by Leni.B & Jack.D