Review – La Maison Fontaine Absinthe
Nestled in the French Jura mountains is a region as synonymous with absinthe as the Caribbean is with rum. It is the climate of this Pontarlier region that makes it perfect for the cultivation of many of the critical botanicals necessary for the production of fine absinthe, and none more so than the rather important-sounding grande wormwood. And it is here that La Maison Fontaine is produced, using a blend of 15 botanicals and the skill of the Emile Pernot distillery. The blanche and verte variants are produced to the same recipe, with the verte having a blend of botanicals steeped in the absinthe before bottling to produce the natural green colour. The chocolat absinthe liqueur weighs in at 25% abv and is based on an old 1920’s recipe for creme de cacao with absinthe botanicals.
Nose: A slightly musky aroma reminiscent of woodland floors greets the nose before the anise of wormwood and fennel rise to awaken the senses. Somehow, these aromas remain soft yet powerful, partly due to hints of blueberry, chamomile and cut grass that linger in the background.
Neat: The 56% abv makes this a relatively palatable proposition to be consumed neat compared with many absinthes, but to do so one needs to be prepared for an intense punch of flavour. The alcohol of course hits hard, but so does a powerful herbal profile in which the anise notes are assertive but in balance with the supporting flavours. Such intensity is tamed slightly by a pleasant sweetness and hints of citrus which balance coriander and star anise spice. It louches to a pearly white with water, and becomes an absolute dream to sip. Minty notes come to the fore, and the sweetness somehow becomes a little more intense whilst the rest of the flavour profile opens up to reveal a wonderful complexity. A touch of bitterness on the finish ensure that the sweetness never becomes too much and sets the tone for that inevitable next sip.
Mixing: The classic absinthe cocktail is of course the Sazerac, and La Maison Fontaine certainly delivers the goods, particularly when paired with the fruitiness that Cognac offers to this cocktail. It does however work even better in the gin-based Wink, where the profile of the aromatics complements the gin beautifully. Absinthe generally works well when subbed for Cachaca in a Caipirinha, and this one is no different. The citrus, mint and high anise notes are highlighted to create a very herbal drink, with the deeper base notes playing second fiddle. The sweet elements of this absinthe are highlighted in the signature Chez Cherie and show it’s greater versatility in addition to being a great choice in classic cocktails.
Signature Cocktail – Chez Cherie
35ml La Maison Fontaine, 25ml Aged Rum, 10ml Hazelnut Liqueur, 4 dash Angostura Bitters
Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with two drunken cherries.
Nose: Unsurprisingly similar to the blanche expression with plenty of anise and fennel with a floral background. The aromas are however somewhat more rounded, less sharp if you will, earthier yet greener too.
Neat: A similar pattern emerges on the palate, with the anise in particular proving less assertive, whilst remaining pleasingly bold. Slightly more sweet than the blanche, with a balanced herbal-floral-anise profile, this makes for the more enjoyable option (with water of course) but only just.
Mixing: Although very similar to the blanche expression, and therefore similar in terms of cocktail performance, the subtle differences are worth noting. The rounder tasting profile means that it balances nicely with a rye based Sazerac, or indeed a spicier gin in a Wink. Whilst it gets slightly more lost the sweeter the drink, this is a subtle observation and it is by no means a failure in cocktails such as the La Louisiane. This attribute does however mean that it may be enjoyed in more liberal proportions, making it a particularly dangerous addition to the already potent Corpse Reviver #2. Although often Absinthe is associated with such short and boozy concoctions, the fruity signature Cobbler Verte, with its strawberry puree and orange juice, shows that Absinthe need not be relegated to ‘bartender’ drinks.
Signature Cocktail – Cobbler Verte
30ml La Maison Fontaine Verte, 10ml London Dry Gin, 25ml Strawberry Puree, 15ml Lemon Juice, 15ml Orange Juice, 10ml Sugar Syrup, 5 Basil Leaves
Muddle basil leaves in base of highball glass. Add ingredients and half fill with crushed ice. Churn then top with crushed ice and churn again. Garnish with basil and fruit wedges.
Nose: The combination of milk chocolate and wormwood is intriguing and perplexing in equal measure. Aromas of candied fennel seeds offer a second unusual combination to this complex and peculiar nose.
Neat: Not too sweet, the absinthe anise dominates at first, before allowing the chocolate to have a say in proceedings. Again in it milk chocolate (perhaps even one that has burnt slightly) rather than dark that is the style, and whilst it takes a little getting used to, this is a flavour combination that works. Candied fennel again turn up, this time on the finish which linger with a combination of all the above.
Mixing: Being a rather unique product, the options for mixing are limited by way of established recipes, and creating something new presents somewhat of a challenge on account of this unusual taste profile. It does however work well in a creamy Brandy Alexander, or a Mocha Martini. Steer clear however of citrus-containing drinks such as the Mulata Daiquiri, for the combination of flavours is a step too far. Those of a strong disposition (for this is a boozy libation) might try a twist on the Negroni that is the Tequila-based Trinite. Finally, heading back in the creamy direction, but this time with a pinch of salt to boot is the signature Miam Flip (recipe below).
Signature Cocktail – Miam Flip
35ml La Maison Fontaine Chocolat, 15ml OverProof Rum, 10ml Cointreau, 1 Dash Orange Bitters, 1 Egg, 15ml Double Cream, Pinch Salt
Shake ingredients with ice then remove ice and shake again to aerate. Strain into a chilled glass and garnish with grated nutmeg.
The blanche and verte absinthes from La Maison Fontaine are fine examples of their breed. Whilst sharing the same complex and balanced DNA, they each have their own identity to warrant exploration of both. The chocolat liqueur is decidedly different but praiseworthy for its innovation alone.
Rating: absinthe/liqueur ★★★★★/★★★★
La Maison Fontaine Absinthe is available to buy from Master of Malt.
★: Terrible, only drink for a dare.
★★: Meh, not undrinkable but best left alone.
★★★: Reasonable, middle of the road.
★★★★: Tasty stuff, well worth seeking out.
★★★★★: Incredible, booze doesn’t get better than this. You need a bottle in your life.