Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Death in the Afternoon Cocktail

Death in the Afternoon Cocktail in champagne flute and cocktail glass

A champagne cocktail invented by Ernest Hemingway

Alcohol flowed freely in Hemingway’s stories and novels. So it’s not surprising that he invented a drink or two—including this one, which he named after his book on bullfighting.

But be warned: In addition to champagne, this drink packs some stronger stuff. After one or two of these, you might be tempted to take on a bull yourself.


Death in the Afternoon Cocktail in champagne flute and cocktail glass

Recipe:  The Death in the Afternoon Cocktail

The recipe for this cocktail first appeared in print in Sterling North’s 1935 book So Red the Nose, or, Breath in the Afternoon (yes, really), a compilation of 35 cocktail recipes submitted by famous authors. Hemingway contributed this one. His instructions? “Pour one jigger of absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”

Right—do that, and the death in the drink’s name will be your own.

Absinthe is an anise-flavored spirit. For years, it was illegal in the US and throughout much of Europe (one of its ingredients was thought to be psychoactive and addictive). It’s now legal again—and usually quite high proof. So you might want to use Pernod or one of the other anise-flavored liqueurs (generically known as “pastis”) that were developed while absinthe was off the market. Their flavor is good and their alcoholic content is lower (80 proof as compared to 100+ proof for absinthe), so they make this drink less hefty.

This recipe takes about 5 minutes to make, and serves one.

Ingredients
  • 1 ounce absinthe or pastis (see headnote)
  • 4 to 5 ounces of champagne or sparkling wine
Procedure
  1. Pour the absinthe (or pastis) into a champagne flute, a cocktail glass, or a champagne coupe.
  2. Add the champagne or sparkling wine, and serve.
Death in the Afternoon Cocktail in cocktail glass

Notes
  • When a cocktail recipe calls for absinthe, I generally substitute Pernod—mainly because it’s my favorite brand of pastis. But there are other good brands out there. If in doubt, ask the friendly sales people at your liquor store what they recommend.
  • The original recipe for this drink specifies 1½ ounces of absinthe and 4 ounces of champagne. That’s way too strong for my taste. IMO, it tastes better with just an ounce (maybe even a bit less) of absinthe or pastis. I also like a touch more bubbly.
  • Absinthe (or pastis) is so strongly flavored that it’s almost always diluted with something (water, usually). Traditionally, you would use 5 parts water to 1 part absinthe (some prefer a 3 to 1 ratio). Although absinthe is clear, when you add water (or champagne), it becomes attractively cloudy (milky).
  • Under European law, only sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region of northeastern France (and is bottled under certain conditions) can be sold as “champagne.” 
  • Champagne gets its characteristic bubbles because it undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle—a technique called “méthode champenoise.” By European law, that wording can now be used only to describe sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region. Other sparkling wines made in the same way must use the nomenclature “méthode traditionnelle” or “fermented in the bottle,” or the equivalent.
  • It’s difficult to find true champagne in the US for under $30 a bottle. But most of the decent sparkling wines made in the US (and all the cavas made in Spain) are fermented in the bottle. Many of these sparklers rival champagne in flavor.
  • For an American sparkling wine that’s inexpensive, I suggest Korbel brut or Domaine Ste.-Michelle. Both cost in the low to mid-teens. If you can spend a bit more, Mumm’s Napa offers good value.
  • Spanish cavas can be even less expensive, often selling in the $8 to $9 range. Cordorniu and Freixenet are two brands that can be found in most grocery stores.
  • My favorite un-champagne in this price range is Saint-Hilaire (the full name is Saint-Hilaire, Blanquette de Limoux), which is made in a Benedictine Abbey in southwestern France. This wine actually predates champagne and is in fact France’s oldest sparkling wine. Thomas Jefferson loved it, and served it to guests when he was president. It typically costs $13 or $14 in the US (though friends tell us it can be had for $10 at Costco).
  • Lots of options here. My advice? Drop by your local liquor store and ask the sales people what “champagne” they recommend for cocktails (in the price range you prefer). They’ll usually have several good suggestions.
Death in the Afternoon Cocktail in champagne flute and cocktail glass

A Happy New Year

“Nice drink,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “But I’d like a bit less Pernod next time—I can barely taste the champagne.”

“I know how that must trouble you,” I said.

“Champagne is just so charmante,” said Mrs K R. “I hate to crowd out those bubbles.”

“Of course, Hemingway couldn’t resist champagne either,” I said.

“Yeah, he once claimed to have drunk a case of Piper-Heidsieck with some friends to celebrate his birthday,” said Mrs K R.

“You sound envious,” I noted.

“Well, it’s always good to have stretch goals,” said Mrs K R. “Reach exceeding grasp, and all that.”

“Especially as we head into a new year,” I said.

“Thanks for reminding me,” said Mrs K R. “It’s resolution time!”

Uh oh.

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Or check out the index for more

98 comments:

  1. Hemingway was always brief and to the point. :) Happy New Year!

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  2. Oooo, this sounds wonderful. I like Pernod, but usually have Sambuca on hand. Maybe not quite the same but worth a try. The good thing about experimenting with cocktails is you can drink the mistakes. This is a beautiful drink.

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    1. Hi Karen, isn't this a pretty drink? I think Sambuca would probably work fine - definitely worth trying! Thanks for the comment.

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  3. How is it I have never heard of that book??? I know the author but I had no idea...a quick check reveals it's rather pricey. Oh well, I'll be adding it to "the list" right along with this drink which I think just has to taste fabulous!

    Thanks for sharing, John...Happy New Year!!!

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    1. Hi Louise, I don't have a copy of that book but I wish I did! Maybe someday, but as you say it costs $$$. Maybe somebody will reissue it. Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  4. Well, I must say that I already feel rather dead this afternoon. I started last night with your French 75's. I am not sure how many I had, but those and some great wine, sure had me. We all agreed it was a good drink, but I must admit I haven't felt like this since college. The good news was that Manservant cleaned the entire kitchen...

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    1. Hi Abbe, if you're having wine, I wouldn't do more than 1 or 2 of those French 75s! They're wonderful, though, aren't they. Glad to hear you have the Manservant starting off 2014 on the right foot! ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  5. WOW!!
    That drink would be a killer! Let alone 5! :0
    Great Story!
    Have a happy New Year

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    1. Hi Julie, it's awfully good once you get the right ratio of Pernod to champagne, but one is enough for me! Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  6. Good luck with those resolutions! But oh no - absynthe! It's so lethal. My Archie likes it but you only need a sip or two. I'm a bit like Mrs Riffs in that if I'm going to have a champagne, I like to be able to taste it. Happy New Year to you and all your family xx

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    1. Hi Charlie, I like absinthe, but only every now and again - it really can be a bit tough to take. Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  7. Hi John , what a beautiful drink , have to give it a try . Had fun with your cocktails bringing in the New Year . I was the bell of the ball . I will be that time soon for me to pitch my tent in your back yard :D.... I , too, are very glad to have made your acquaintance and more good things in store for 2014 ... Happy New Year to you and Mrs. K R from my family to yours . Thanks for sharing and thanks for your visits and kind comments they mean a lot . :)

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    1. Hi Nee, isn't this pretty? And if you like anise-flavored drinks, it's just the ticket! It's been a fun year, hasn't it? Looking forward to even more fun next year! Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  8. Happy New Year!!! This is a serious cocktail - I think I could only handle a couple sips lol.

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    1. Hi Alyssa, this really is a serious cocktail! Awfully good, but probably not for every one. Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  9. Hi John and Mrs KR... happy new year 2014. I think one sip of one of these might just knock my head off! Great story and informative post as always. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hi Lizzy, no question, this drink has a lot of heft! It's fun, though, if you like anise. Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  10. Death in the Afternoon cocktail?! It's stunning! Ok...I'm ready, then....it's my time to go! I have always wanted to try absinthe. I just never quite knew what to do with it! This looks luscious! And your photography, John....is just amazing, as always. All my best to you and Mrs. KR. I wish you both a wonderful happy and healthy new year. And looking forward to another year of your beautiful creations and entertaining conversations! : )

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    1. Hi Anne, isn't this pretty? One of the nicest looking drinks I know! Thanks for the comment (and kind words!), and Happy New Year!

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  11. Since I have a ready supply of absinthe at home (don't ask. LOL), I can make this quite often. The name is so intriguing, and nobody can resist it as a result. Happy New Year!

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    1. Hi Carolyn, absinthe is interesting stuff, isn't it? ;-) The name of this cocktail really is a great part of its appeal, I think. Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  12. I'm a lightweight in the alcohol department but this drink does sound interesting - Happy New Year!

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    1. Hi CJ, this probably isn't the drink for you if you're not much of a drinker. Pretty to look at, though! Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  13. I would like to try this with champagne, but only one!! Haha. Great recipe title!
    Happy New Year! I hope 2014 brings you much happiness and success.

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    1. Hi Kristi, for most people, one is enough! It certainly is for me. ;-) Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  14. It feels good to be getting caught back up on blogs. I missed too many lovely posts. I made sure to pin all the posts I was behind on for you, basically everything after your lemon cookies. I love anise flavors. So now I am curious about how I would enjoy this flavor combo....I bet I would love it!!! I definitely love the name of the drink for sure:-) Happy New Year to you and Mrs. kitchenRiffs!! Cheers, Hugs, Terra

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    1. Hi Terra, my sense is you have a pretty adventurous sense of taste, so I'll bet you'd like this one! Thanks for the comment (and all the pins!), and Happy New Year!

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  15. I bought some absinthe when we were in Prague years ago. I thought the top of my head was coming off. :) It was fun though.

    Hemingway certainly knew how to drink and he would approve of your cocktail ten times over.

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    1. Hi Maureen, that absinthe really is interesting stuff, isn't it? ;-) Thanks for your comment.

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  16. Happy New Year to you John and Mrs. K R! This drink sounds like it is pretty strong, I am not sure if I could handle it. I love the photos.

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    1. Hi Dawn, it is a rather strong one - both because of the booze factor, but more because the anise flavor is pretty intense. Once you get that tamed by champagne, though, it's rather nice. Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  17. We are always awed by the info you so generously provide along with sharing glorious food & drink...we would have never known this strong concoction was an invention of Hemingway,thanks so much for the inspiration :-)

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    1. Hi Kumar, thanks for that very kind comment!

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  18. Cheers to a beautiful year ahead. HAPPY NEW YEARS!!
    What a gorgeous drink to start the New Years. That picture is amazing.

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    1. Hi Asha, isn't this pretty? Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  19. Sounds amazing. Never tried this concoction. YUM!

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    1. Hi Honey, it's a fun drink! And pretty. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  20. Happy New Year! I love my cocktails :)

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    1. Hi Tamara, aren't cocktails fun? Happy New Year!

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  21. Have a wonderful new year full of satisfactions!!

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    1. Hi Candy, thanks so much! Happy New Year!

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  22. Ha! I could never pass up a drink with literary origins like this. Happy New Year to you and Mrs. KR, and much happiness in 2014.

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    1. Hi Beth, isn't this an interesting drink? Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  23. I love the name of this cocktail! I have always wanted to try an absinthe rinse. I hear that's common at bars since it is such a strong drink.

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    1. Hi Laura, isn't this a fun cocktail? Absinthe has a very distinctive flavor, so the little bit of absinthe that remains in a glass is faint but noticeable. Kind of the way bitters in a drink work. Thanks for the comment.

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  24. Oh, yeah, this one must have quite a kick! Very pretty!!!

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    1. Hi Liz, I agree it's so pretty! Good flavor, too. Thanks for the comment.

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  25. The best drinks in my book are the pretty ones :) Love it!

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    1. Hi Ashley, pretty certainly has its appeal when it comes to cocktails! And this one is pretty. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  26. 2014 is the year of Absinthe for me. So I'll give this one a go. GREG

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    1. Hi Greg, absinthe is good stuff! It'll be fun to see what you do with it this year. Thanks for the comment.

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  27. Wow - psychoactive and addictive? I think I'll try the Pernod. It sounds like a safer alternative. Have a terrific start of the New Year!

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    1. Hi Kristi, absinthe in the old days was something else! No danger in today's absinthe, other than the fact that it's high proof (but its flavor is so strong it always gets diluted). Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  28. Ok, so I'm going to confess, in my youth I did have a bit of bubbly, my favourite Veuve Cliquot. Yes, I had an expensive taste even back then. Gorgeous cocktail and hilarious post, I was laughing so hard. Hemingway could drink. Have a wonderful New Year John, I look forward to your wonderful posts in 2014.

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    1. Hi Nazneen, Hemingway's drinking was legendary. Veuve Cliquot is good. We used to drink that frequently, although these days tend to prefer Pommery or sometimes Pol Roger (and more often than that, some of the amazing grower champagnes that are available). Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  29. Mr. Hemingway wasn't kidding with this drink - really strong stuff and the looks of this drink is deceiving. Thank you John and have a Happy New Year. Wishing you and the family the best of the New Year! :)

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    1. Hi Ray, indeed he was not kidding! Fun drink, though. Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  30. I'm with Mrs. KR - I too am jealous of the case of champagne consumed on his birthday. I now have my 2014 goal set. To do the same on my birthday. CHEERS!

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    1. Hi Pamela, sounds like a great goal! Have fun achieving it. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  31. Very interesting cocktail! Did not know that about Ernest!

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    1. Hi Sarah & Arkadi, isn't this a fun drink? And cocktail history is always so interesting! Thanks for the comment.

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  32. First time I've heard of this drink and it sounds wonderful. Happy New Year to you and your family!

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    1. Hi Peachy, isn't this an interesting drink? Tasty, too! Happy New Year!

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  33. Love this cocktail! Happy New Year!

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    1. Hi Asmita, isn't it nice? Happy New Year!

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  34. I will have to give this a try, because I love pernod and ouzo. I'll be drinking it by myself though, because Larry doesn't like the flavor of licorice at all. What a pity! :)

    Cheers, John!

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    1. Hi Donalyn, anise/licorice flavors do turn a lot of people off! Too bad - it's good stuff. Thanks for the comment.

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  35. Mrs. KR is a person after my own heart. Don't like crowding champagne too much - especially if it is indeed true champagne! Hemingway's reputation continues intact. (Of course he built it with care!) Happy New Year to you and Mrs. KR!

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    1. Hi Claudia, Hemingway certainly did built his reputation with care. ;-) And never crowd true champagne - wonderful motto! Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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    1. Hi Marta, it is an unusual name, isn't it? Good drink, though. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  37. My wife loves drinks made with sparkly stuff. Although she's not a heavy drinker she'll love this one! Will surprise her one day with this beautiful drink. Great stuff!

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    1. Hi Yi, if she loves anse-flavored stuff, this one is perfect! It's a good drink. Thanks for the comment.

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  38. Hehe....I would love to give this drink a try! What a delicious way to ring in the New Year! I'm not familiar with pastis but I love anise flavors. :) Cheers to you and yours. Happy New Year and have a wonderful 2014!

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    1. Hi Amy, if you love anise flavors,you gotta give pastis a try! I think you'll like. Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  39. Happy New Year to you and what a fun drink to help ring it in! I've actually never tried absinthe before, but I like anise, so I should give it a go!

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    1. Hi Amy, if you like anise you'll probably like absinthe (or a pastis like Pernod, which is a lot easier to take IMO). Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  40. Blimey this sounds like a strong one!

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    1. Hi Caroline, it's definitely on the hefty size. One of these is about all I can take! Thanks for the comment.

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  41. Haha! What a great cocktail name John! :) Sounds like a cocktail I would very much enjoy for brunch. Thanks for sharing and happy New Year my friend!

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    1. Hi Anne, this would be an interesting brunch choice - it's definitely a drink you want to sip. Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  42. I've always wanted to try Absinthe, especially after reading about Hemingway and other writers and painters of that era when it was quite popular for its effects. :) Actually, I've always loved any anise flavored liquor so I know that this cocktail could be the death of me. He He. Hope your 2014 is off to a great start!

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    1. Hi MJ, if you like anise, absinthe is your friend. ;-) And yeah, this could be the death of you! Thus far 2014 looks great - thanks for the comment.

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  43. I have heard some interesting stories about the after affects of when people have consumed a bit too much of the deadly Absinthe. I am with you on changing up the original recipe a tad to go a bit lighter on the Absinthe. I heard that absinthe glows in the dark? Does it? Great background on Hemmingway and his original drink. Wishing you and Mrs. Riff a stupendous 2014! Take Care, BAM

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    1. Hi Bam, as far as I know absinthe doesn't glow in the dark! I think maybe people who had too much saw a "glow!" Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  44. Thanks for the information about Hemingway and his drinks. I used to pass by his haunts when I lived in the Paris Latin Quarter. BTW, I just received a summary of my blog stats for the year, and it turns out that you gave me the most comments on my blog for the year. THANKS SO MUCH and Happy New Year!

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    1. Hi Fran, never knew I was so long-winded! I envy you the opportunity to have lived in Paris - such a great city. Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  45. See there, an absinthe drink! I am not sure if anise flavor goes with champagne, but who knows, I ll have to try it first. Just that we will wait to come across some real absinthe. I suppose the writer and inventor of this cocktail needed inspiration during writing. It does look very attractive especially the first picture with the dark background. Thanks for sharing John and Happy New Year!

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    1. Hi Helene, the combo of anise and champagne works, but just. You do have to balance the amount of anise you use, IMO, otherwise the anise overpowers the champagne. Thanks for the comment, and Happy New Year!

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  46. Quick, easy and true to its name. This cocktail definitely would have packed a punch and 3-5 would have sent anyone to an early grave.

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    1. Hi Amanda, more than two of these is ridiculous! Good drink, though. Thanks for the comment.

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  47. WHOA. So, yes, i'd say this cocktail should probably be enjoyed at a slow pace by me, because, floor. :) I have a low tolerance anyway, but more than one of these and i probably WOULD want to take on the bull. Dangerous, but i imagine it's delicious.

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    1. Hi Shannon, this is a pretty strong cocktail. I can drink two, but one is really all I want. ;-) It's so good, though, I'm tempted! Thanks for the comment.

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  48. Hahaha! Good luck with resolutions! Wonder what are yours. ;) Beautiful cocktail!

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    1. Hi Nami, I always resolve not to resolve. ;-) Thanks for the comment.

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  49. I was reading this article a while ago from Gizmodo and I suddenly remembered you, you should join this http://gizmodo.com/shooting-challenge-cocktails-1511629379 your cocktail shots are amazing

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    1. Hi Raymund, thanks for the heads up! I'll check this out.

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