Review: Valkyria Absinthe

I've always had a soft spot for absinthe, but it's been almost impossible to get any quality brands here in Sweden so I've had to buy bottles for my cabinet while abroad, mainly French, Spanish and Czech brands . However, in December 2011, the first modern distilled Swedish absinthe, Valkyria, was launched at Systembolaget. It's manufactured at Sankta Annas Bränneri, an old church turned into a distillery in the small town Stråssa, about 220 km northwest of Stockholm. They use an original recipe from the mid 19th century, and at least in the beginning it was distilled in very small batches of 50 liters. The 68 % ABV makes it the highest proof alcohol made in Sweden. In 2012, it was awarded a silver medal at Spirits Business Absinthe Masters, but earlier this year it received a master award. So, how does it taste? I decided to find out...

Tasting with different dilution ratios
When I met distiller Göran Bäuerle, he told me that he preferred to drink Valkyria with five parts water added to it (approximately 11 % ABV). A while ago I attended a very interesting workshop with Tony Conigliaro, and among other things he said that alcohol releases most amount of flavour at around 24 % ABV, so for my tasting I tried Valkyria at 68, 24 and 11 % ABV by adding ice cold water. Nose: Lots of anise to begin with, and as it fades, there is a complexity from a number of herbs and botanicals which I can't really identify - except for a slight wormwood bitterness. Mouth: At 68 % ABV, its very fiery but with a surprising minty sweetness, and there's a prominent taste of anise on the top with a slightly bitter herbal backbone as it fades. At 24 % ABV, the bright green colour becomes cloudy - as any good quality absinthe - and there's still lots of anise but it has become a little more subdued in favour of the underlying layers of botanicals with hints of wormwood bitterness and other floral qualities. At 11 % ABV, it's not as sweet anymore as everything is mellowed out - some new flavours appear and others disappear, but in the end it's too much dilution for me. Nonetheless, I was really impressed with this absinthe, and couldn't wait to try it in a few cocktails.

Corpse Reviver No. 2
To begin with, I made a Corpse Reviver No. 2 (30 ml Hernö Swedish Excellence, 30 ml Lillet Blanc, 30 ml Cointreau, 30 ml fresh lemon juice - shake with ice cubes, double strain into a Valkyria Absinthe-rinsed cocktail glass, garnish with lemon zest) and it's a great tasting cocktail but since it's supposed to have just a hint of absinthe the characteristics of Valkyria get lost.

Valkyria Swizzle
To spice things up, I decided to develop some "new" recipes based on classics, and first up was Valkyria Swizzle (20 ml Valkyria Absinthe (first I used 30 ml but it was actually too powerful), 22 ml fresh lime juice, 15 ml Velvet Falernum, 30 ml fresh pineapple juice - add ingredients in Highball glass or suitable tiki mug filled with crushed ice, swizzle until ice cold, add more crushed ice, and garnish with mint sprig, pineapple leaf and spent lime shell set on fire with any overproof spirit, serve with straw) and switching the Green Chartreuse for Valkyria Absinthe was very successful - at least the second attempt with less absinthe. The anise and herbal notes work surprisingly well with the spices of the Falernum and the juices.

The Last Nerd
Next, I made a little something called The Last Nerd (30 ml Hernö Swedish Excellence, 30 ml Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, 15 ml Valkyria Absinthe, 30 ml lime juice - shake with ice cubes, double strain into chilled cocktail glass) and once again I noticed that if I used half the amount of Valkyria compared to Green Chartreuse, it became a balanced and refreshing variation of The Last Word. 

Green Fairy Smash
With only a few cl of Valkyria left in the bottle, it was time for a Green Fairy Smash (30 ml Hernö Swedish Excellence, 30 ml Valkyria Absinthe, 30 ml lemon juice, 7,5 ml simple syrup, 10 mint leaves - muddle mint, lemon and simple syrup, add the rest and shake with ice, double strain into rocks glass with ice, garnish with mint sprigs) and wow this is one refreshing summer drink with lots of minty freshness and just a hint of bitterness coming through to add an extra dimension.

In conclusion, Valkyria is an impressive Swedish absinthe which definitely is a worthy substitute for many well known and established international brands - just don't dilute it too much when enjoying it with ice water. It also works wonders in certain cocktails, but be very careful as it's very potent and can easily overpower the rest of the ingredients.

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