Like an elusive but flashy sprite, the near-mythic spirit known as absinthe has been winking on and off cocktail menus around town. It's expensive, heady and definitely an acquired taste -- think of chomping through a mouthful of anise seeds, cut with a major booze zing.
The green liquor was alleged to cause madness and hallucinations, thanks to the wormwood it once contained. And for years it gathered mystique, not least because it was verboten. Absinthe was banned in several countries after being blamed for all sorts of nastiness, including a Swiss alcoholic who murdered his family in a rage.
But in a number of places the potion remained legal. So in the 1990s, absinthe re-emerged in Europe. And last year, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board started offering it for sale, first online only and then in stores as demand grew.
"It's a really fine product, a one-of-a-kind product," says Matt Ulrich, category manager with the LCB. "[L]ike a fine wine," he says, varieties of absinthe "have many different flavor profiles, different layers that come together. The quality increases with age, like wine."
Ulrich says most Pennsylvania state stores carry absinthe. Those that don't have it in stock can easily order a bottle.
You'll need the other kind of green to purchase it, though -- absinthe is not cheap. Lucid brand retails at $64.99 for a 750 ml bottle; Kübler is $59.99 for a liter. For locavores, the coming-soon brewed-in-Philadelphia Vieux Carré costs $54.99 to take home.
The green booze packs a wallop -- anywhere from 120 to 138 proof. Ideally, the liquor is lightened with sugar and water, in a fussy procedure whereby water is dripped through a sugar cube suspended in a special spoon above the glass.
Slowly dissolving sugar with a silver slotted spoon doesn't sound like the kind of activity you could get away with at Gooski's, Polish Hill's rough-and-ready rock club. Nevertheless, it does serve the liquor.
"They gave us some sort of serving device," says bartender Nick Patton. But at Gooski's, partaking of the green fairy is more of a down-the-hatch thing: "Everyone does it once," Patton says. "The people who order it, order it just to try it."
At nine bucks a shot, that sounds about right.