Like any self-respecting cocktail fanatic, I’ve been dipping at the well of IMBIBE! for the past few weeks, trying out different drinks and occasionally latching onto one for a few torrid nights (hello there, Prince of Wales cocktail; good to see you again, Absinthe Cocktail; good evening, Sherry Cobbler, I’m sorry I haven’t called in so long).
This drink isn’t in the book.
Not completely, anyway. Certainly, there’s a close relative — an ancestor, I suppose — traveling under the name of the Fourth Degree. Simply a dry martini that’s been dosed with a dash of absinthe, the Fourth Degree is a very pleasant drink. At this level, the absinthe lends a flush of anise-tinted herbaceousness to the drink’s aroma and flavor, and it’s just enough to give the cocktail a cruel sneer and nothing more.
The Obituary Cocktail, however, takes this formula and turns up the volume — no longer playing a minor role, the absinthe shoulders its way forward, putting on the sap gloves and taking a firm grip on your collar. The absinthe still gives the gin and vermouth plenty of room to move around, and rightly recognizes that its flavor much benefits from doing so, but even though there’s four times as much gin in the glass as absinthe, the absinthe is the big gorilla in the room.
I don’t know when or where the step from Fourth Degree to Obituary Cocktail occurred. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop in New Orleans claims to be the drink’s home, but the last time I had one of these at Lafitte’s it was made with Herbsaint (or Pernod — too damn dark in there to see what they were using), and was tepid and too sweet.
Herbsaint is useful in small doses as an absinthe substitute, but for drinks that require more than a couple of dashes of the stuff, Herbsaint (and other substitutes) can’t summon the seductively menacing glower that absinthe brings to a cocktail. While the absinthe substitutes are useful and even necessary for the bar, drinking a cocktail made with a substitute is like playing poker with your grandpa — it’s all good fun, but for a really lively game you need a competitor who’ll take a poke at you on occasion. With Lucid and Kubler now on the market in the U.S., and available by online order in most states, domestic drinkers should really make it a priority to lay in a bottle or two, for use in such concoctions. (Though be warned: in Canada and much of Europe, what’s sold as “absinth” or “absinthe” is frequently a nasty impostor. What you want is a decent French or Swiss brand; check the ratings and recommendations at the Wormwood Society and/or Fee Verte for suggestions).
I should note, of course, that “Obituary Cocktail” is also the name of a book by New Orleans photographer Kerri McCaffety, which surveys some of the city’s historic bars. I’m ashamed to say I don’t have a copy of this book (*cough* Christmas present *cough*), but from having seen it at Tales of the Cocktail, it looks absolutely gorgeous.
One last selling point about the Obituary Cocktail: should you decide to wrap up an evening in the company of these, you may be able to legitimately claim the need for Corpse Revivers the following day.
- 2 ounces gin (I’ll take Plymouth in mine)
- 1/4 ounce dry vermouth
- 1/4 ounce absinthe (or a substitute such as Herbsaint, if you must)
Stir well with cracked ice; strain into chilled cocktail glass. The drink’s light opalescence is its own garnish.