Maktub Verte: A Review

I was very keen to sample Maktub, a relative newcomer to the absinthe market. It was recommended by a friend who said: “I am yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like this one.” She was right.

Mind you, Maktub is an unusual absinthe. Its makers explain:

Maktub (recipe) was created over 120 years after the Henriod sisters of Switzerland made the first absinthe ever, and about 50 years after absinthe first became popular amongst the bohemian crowd.

Essentially, Maktub’s is a more modern recipe, and it shows in its taste. The bohemians and party-goers of the jazz age no longer cared for anise as much as their predecessors, so Maktub contains less. And less anise, of course, means less of the unpopular licorice flavor.

If you do actually like the (often overwhelming) flavor of anise then Maktub probably isn’t for you. But my experience is that most people don’t, at least not until they’ve developed the taste for it — which makes Maktub a reliable choice if you want to throw a party and introduce your friends to the “Green Fairy” for the first time.

First impressions

I first tasted Maktub with a bunch of fellow absinthe drinkers one Saturday evening. We decided to serve it the Russian way: very chilled, with plenty of crushed ice and some nibbly bits to go with it. Chilling the drink to near-zero temperature isn’t the most popular absinthe-drinking method, but it is good for sampling new absinthes since it is easier to detect complex flavors that way.

Letting the ice melt a little (a minute or two) released a strong but very agreeable aroma. Nicely herbal and fresh. Not too sweet, which is good (I don’t like pre-sugared absinthes; I like to have the option to either add sugar or not.) The first sip? Definitely strong, no doubt about that, but surprisingly smooth (bearing in mind Maktub is 140 proof, or 70% ABV).

Taste

As expected, there wasn’t any of the the tongue-numbing, sticky licorice taste that so many people need getting used to. (After many years of absinthe drinking, I personally don’t mind anise at all, but I do believe many absinthes could use less than they do). As any true absinthe, Maktub clearly contains anise, but it seems there is only just enough of it to smooth out the inevitably rougher edges of wormwood.

Most of our tasting party agreed that fennel, hyssop, mint and melissa must be used in its making, plus something else unknown (at least we couldn’t place it) which gives it this peculiar–but not unpleasant–floral quality (which seemed to come out more strongly the more we drank). Interesting.

Overall, Maktub goes down very well. The flavor is balanced, fresh and crisp. Almost deceptively light given its alcohol proof (read: it’s easy to have one too many :-) ). To be fair, Maktub isn’t as complex as some of the best absinthes I have had, but still there are plenty of herbal aromas and flavors to explore each time you take a sip.

Effects

It is the effects where Maktub really shines, especially the speed with which it delivers. Sure, any thujone-bearing absinthe will do the trick, but the thing with Maktub is that it happens really fast. This is either because of the potency of the strain of wormwood used, or due to some other herb that accelerates the process. (My bet is on the latter.)

In any case, we sure did have a good time sampling Maktub. For most of our party, it took just a single glass for the effect to kick in. The label caught our attention; it reads “Je suis l’inspiration” (I am your inspiration) and “Everyone perceives the world in ones’s own way and nobody knows what the world in fact is.” This kick-started a discussion that carried on into the early hours.

To conclude, Maktub is a fun, self-confident absinthe that won’t let you or your party guests down. I certainly applaude Maktub for daring to be a little different.

Afternotes

There is a passage in John Glassco’s “Memoirs of Montparnasse” which comes to mind here. Describing his experience in Luxembourg in 1928 (where absinthe was still legal at the time; the French banned it in 1915), he wrote:

We went back to the Grosplatz, where the heavy men had now switched from beer and buns to aperatifs and anchovies. Many of them were sitting in front of elaborate ice-filled glass tanks with little spigots extending over their glasses. When I learned these were filters for absinthe I at once ordered one and was served an aperitif glass a quarter full of pale green liquid over which was fitted a flanged and perforated spoon holding a large domino of sugar. A tank of ice was then brought and the glass placed under one of the spigots. I had now only to turn a little tap to let the iced water drip slowly over the sugar until the glass was full.

The clean sharp taste was so far superior to the sickly liquorice flavour of legal French Pernod that I understood the still-rankling fury of the French at having that miserable drink substituted for the real thing in the interest of public morality. The effect also was as gentle and insidious as a drug: in five minutes the world was bathed in a fine emotional haze unlike anything resulting from other forms of alcohol. La sorcière glauque I thought, savouring the ninetyish phrase with real understanding for the first time.

Eventually, most of Europe followed the French example and banned absinthe as well — as Glassco notes — “in the interest of public morality”. But this is exactly what makes Maktub so different and so intriguing: it is a recreation of the absinthe drunk in the apparently “immoral”, frivolous and carefree jazz age. In other words, people had fun back then. And who can say no to that, especially in these challenging times?

Your comments and tasting notes are welcome below.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry 03.25.09 at 1:02 pm

This review is spot on, the effects sure come on pretty fast. I first tried Maktub last weekend, on the rocks just like you guys. My wife found it too strong that way so she drank it in a frappe (not bad either, I tried). Overall, we had a good time, listened to music, laughed a lot, enjoyed the buzz. My wife’s into mixing drinks so she wants to try the red version next. I’m not so sure, I think I’ll stick to the green myself.

Aaron T. 03.25.09 at 11:32 pm

Maktub is a great absinthe. Most people do not know how to judge an absinthe. The way to judge an absinthe is a combination of three factors:

1. Taste - has to have a decent taste when sipping it neat or with just ice/water, without anything else.
2. Thujone - has to have the capability of causing the secondary effect.
3. Alcohol - has to be in harmony with the taste and thujone in order to magnify (not interfere with) both.

Given these factors, I started sipping and let it stay on my tongue until I could feel the taste. It has balanced herbal tones, yet I could still feel the alcohol. And after sipping two glasses, I was on my way to feeling the secondary effects. The low/high clarity of mind that comes with the buzz does not dissapate quickly.

This is a very nice absinthe - I highly recommend.

JBaskett 05.26.09 at 9:50 pm

I was just wondering if anybody has tried the Maktub Noir and what do you guys think about it. I just got it and this is going to be my first time drinking Maktub Noir, I haven’t tried the original and rouge yet but anyways is there a certain way to drink Noir to get the best affects. I Have tried absinthe form France before and it was ok i guess but I think Maktub will be better. Anyways it would be great to get any comments back from you guys.

JBaskett 05.26.09 at 9:57 pm

Also what does the sugar cube have to do with absinthe? Does it release more things in the absinthe?

Rob Bannister 06.04.09 at 10:48 am

I just got 2 bottles of Maktub :-) green and black it came real fast and together with spoons and neat sugar cubes (hearts, spades, and diamonds). JBaskett, you pour cold water through the spoon with a sugar cube on it, about 25% absinthe and the rest iced water. It’s the water that releases the oils (thujone) and the effect. Cool colour and nice real worwmood flavour, but it is very high proof alcohol & it makes you feel kinda drunk but mellow and talkative. Make sure you are in a good mood / chilled when you drink this as it is STRONG :-)

Samuel Haynes 09.03.12 at 7:58 pm

I guess there is a whole bunch of wormwood in Maktub as the aroma just hits you when you open the bottle. I was also kinda curious about what other herbs there were in the absinthe as well; t is really fresh and herbal. Mint maybe or what? What is that! First couple of glass are going down real well! The alcohol is smooth and don’t feel like I am getting drunk, more like powering up!!

Sally 09.22.12 at 9:02 pm

I am glad you liked it!:) It is very cool to see even beer drinkers accepting this great beverage these days. Though I should point out that absinthe SHOULD NOT be lit on fire. Anyway, if you enjoyed the drink even with that preparation, you will LOVE it prepared correctly. Two sugars is typically considered excessive, especially with that small an amount of absinthe, and caramelizing makes matters worse. Cheers, and I hope you find more brands to enjoy, my friend.

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