Louche is not a common word in America. My British friends often tell me I live in a louche neighborhood; meaning a neighborhood that is disreputable. Red-light districts are louche neighborhoods. Louche neighborhoods have shady characters lounging against the walls selling goods and services of an illicit nature. So I guess I do live in a louche neighborhood; even if most of the louche comes from me.
For an absinthe drinker Louche is the opaque quality that the drink takes on after water is added. Louche also means the process of changing from clear to opaque as the water is added.
When it comes to drinking absinthe the louche is a magical thing. It is a physical manifestation of the magic of absinthe. An experienced absinthe drinker can spot a brand from across the room just by looking at the louche. For instance I can tell you easily whether someone is drinking a French, Swiss or Czech absinthe just by looking at the louche. After reading this and seeing the videos here you will be able to as well.
Lets start with the basics. You probably already know that the louche is created when oils come out of suspension as water is added to absinthe. This forms tiny bubbles that diffuse light and give the drink the opaque quality. Different plant oils emulsify in different levels of alcohol. It is the oils from the anise plant that cause the louche. Anise oil emulsifies in about 50% to 55% alcohol - Once the alcohol content drops below 55% the oils start to separate out that is one reason why absinthe is always so high in alcohol and one reason why absinthe made with higher alcohol content tends to have more flavor. More alcohol means more oils from the plants, higher percentage of oil means more aroma and more flavor.
In the US absinth manufacturers have to dance between strict alcohol rules and flavor. Tourment Vert for instance is only 50% alcohol (the lowest alcohol content of any absinthe in the US market). This means that the finished product has less of the oils in it that emulsify at over 50%. It also means that Tourment can be sold in more outlets around the country. Many chains (TGIF for instance) will not sell any spirit that contains more than 50% alcohol even if it is yummy and delicious. Some states don’t allow distribution of spirits containing more than 50% alcohol. Federal guidelines prohibit sale of beverages that contain a high percentage of alcohol.
For instance, high alcohol brands like Hapsburg Super Deluxe Extra at over 90% alcohol could not be sold in the US due to the high alcohol content (even if everything else were legal in the US – which it’s not, so it doesn’t matter anyway but you get the idea).
Now lets look at a Vert (French for green) or French style absinthe. French absinthe goes through a coloring process after it is distilled. This changes both the color and the flavor of the finished product. Some distillers drop a giant tea bag into a vat to create the color, others pour coloring from the pre-distillate into the finished product. Either method adds coloring from the chlorophyll (as well as flavoring). Some companies use food coloring or dyes instead. All of these are considered to be traditional methods of production.OK. Chemistry lesson is over, lets pour some absinthe. We will start by looking at the three most common styles of absinthe, Swiss (blanche), French (verte) and Czech (Bohemian). Swiss style absinthe is clear and usually served without sugar. It is characterized by a pretty white louche. We are pouring Kübler absinthe in the above video. You can see that it starts clear but quickly forms an opalescent penumbra then an opaque white liquid (I get a bonus for using fancy words). This is pretty much the standard for Swiss style or Blanche brands of absinthe.
Notice that this louche starts out very similar to the Blanch style but a bit darker. The obvious coloring causes this. As more water is added and it becomes diluted further you will notice that the louche from this absinthe becomes much more pronounced, thicker, muddy. This is because St. George has significantly more alcohol in it, which means more oil to separate out.In this video we are pouring St. George Absinthe. St. George is a Vert or French style absinthe that happens to be distilled in America (Alameda to be exact – the home town of absintheology). You can see that we use a sugar cube here. Of course we didn’t need to do that since we were just demonstrating the louche but we drink what we pour and it’s fairly bitter if you don’t add sugar.
Le Tourment Vert
Here is another French style absinthe. This is La Tourment Vert. Tourment is a traditional French absinthe which has been created specifically for the US market. Most absinthes are reproductions of traditional French or Suisse styles. They are imported into the US to take advantage of the growing US fascination with absinthe. Tourment was actually formulated for the American palate. It is distilled from plants in the traditional manner but it contains very little anise and has a lower alcohol content so that it can be widely distributed and poured as a cocktail.
As we watch this pour you will notice that Tourment does louche but it does not have the overwhelming opacity which we have seen in the previous brands. That does not mean that this is a bad brand of absinth. You cannot judge the quality of absinthe by the louche. It is merely indicative of a more subtle level of anise. This is one reason why Tourment blends so well in cocktails.
Now lets look at a Czech or Bohemian style absinthe. Bohemian absinthes usually contain no anise. Since it is the anise oil that causes the louche you will notice right away that this absinthe stays clear. If you look closely you will see oils separating out of the alcohol creating an oil slick; markedly different from the louche you expect from a western style absinthe.
Last but not least is a glass of Extase. This is a red absinthe with very little anise. You can see that the coloring does not affect the louche other than to make it red. This is as we would expect since the louche is merely a dispersal of the light due to tiny bubbles in the mixture.
We hope you have found this helpful, enlightening, or at least not boring.
One thing we would like to point out… Absinthe is named for the Artemisia Absinthium (wormwood) in it. Wormwood oil does not louche; rather it is the anise oil that does this. I point this out because it is important to know that just because a brand does not louche does not mean that it is not absinthe, it just means that it does not contain anise.
If you have questions about the different types of absinthe we have discussed here feel free to check out our FAQ page or one of the other videos right here at absintheology.com.
If you have any question please email us. If we don’t know the answer we will find out for you.