Absinthe Minded

written by Chaz

Absinthe is a lesser-known spirit with a well-known aura of mystery. The preferred drink of Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway and Vincent Van Gogh, it has conjured a devout yet specific following historically. This liquor has actually only been legal for 20 years in America and is still confusing to many today. Why? Let’s take a trip.


Artemisia absinthium L. (absintalsem) by Photography workshop Hortus Botanicus Leiden. Image found here

What is Absinthe

Although at France 44 we keep absinthe in the cordial section, actual absinthe is a stand-alone liquor with no added sugar, generally high ABV, and contains three defining botanicals. Typically, absinthe runs anywhere from 90 – 148 proof, but many sit approximately between 120-130 proof, one of the highest ABV items you can find on a shelf. The main botanicals are star anise, green fennel, and the enigmatic wormwood. Artemisia absinthium, the scientific name for wormwood, is where absinthe derives its name, but also its centuries of misinformation. Wormwood contains a ketone, thujone, which in higher doses can lead to muscle spasms and convulsions. For years, wormwood and thujone were associated with THC and other cannabinoids. With some help from wine makers and other anti-absinthe bodies of power, the general public came to believe wormwood consumption would induce hallucinations. However, the amount of thujone in absinthe never approaches the toxicity level it takes for any of the adverse effects to take place. The notoriety, accompanied with propaganda and bad science, ultimately leading to a world abstinence from the “Green Fairy”.

The Green Hour

Most accounts mark absinthe’s invention sometime around 1790 by either Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, or the Henriod Sisters. Regardless, the wormwood botanical elixir was sold as a medicinal cure, and the drink began to catch on in the 19th century, with the Henriod Sisters starting the Pernod Fils distillery. The second half gave way to an explosion in absinthe drinking. Absinthe, due to its anti-establishment nature of high ABV and misunderstood botanicals, became the symbol of European bohemianism. Bohemianism was a movement of aesthetics, artists, and counter-culturists who poked the eye of the mainstream. Five o’clock was renamed the “Green Hour” in France, because behind wine, absinthe was becoming the drink of choice for many. French wine makers and the law makers began to take notice, and action.

Bad science made people believe absinthe contained toxic levels of thujone inside, causing hallucinations, seizures, and death. Looking back, we see how horribly inaccurate this is. Reports of 19th century absinthe containing lethal levels of thujone have been disproven, and any outrageous or immoral actions could be closer associated with the loose social values of its main drinkers and the high ABV (absinthe drinks easier than 60% ABV). In Edgar Degas portrait L’Absinthe, the melancholy patrons drinking the green drink were vilified by art critics and considered a ghastly portrait of its real drinkers. By the 20th century, laws to ban the drink for its dangerous levels of thujone were introduced. By 1915, America, France, and England had banned the drink. How closely this was followed is questionable, especially with the ease of movement of distilleries to Czechoslovakia and Spain, but for the next 100 years, absinthe struggled to stay around and became a faint infamous drink of another era.

The Return of the Green Fairy

Fast forward to 2007. Absinthe is illegal in America and other parts of Europe, but not impossible to find across the Ocean. The growing cocktail scene in America makes people reopen old cocktail books from before 1900. While anise liquors to replace absinthe were available, people wanted to true thing.  Lucid Absinthe Superiore negotiated with the USDA to keep thujone levels to a low level in the absinthe, and other countries soon followed. In 2007, France and the United States had both lifted their ban, and for the first time in 95 years, absinthe was available for sale in America. In the years prior, St. George spirits in California had been distilling and experimenting with absinthe (distillation was legal, sale was not). When the ban was lifted, St. George released the first American made absinthe in almost a century. 12 years later, more imports have been coming and craft distilleries in America are beginning to experiment more and more.

Although some bad science and lore still follows absinthe in 2020, its comeback is something to note. With a better understanding of chemistry, less judgment on what people drink, the green fairy is here to stay and clear you head.

Absinthe to try after reading; 

Pernod Absinthe 136 proof Liqueur 

St. George Absinthe [200 ML bottle] 

Two James Absinthe Nain Rouge 

Single Barrel Season

written by Chaz

The leaves may still be falling, and Halloween is just a few days away, but holiday shopping has already begun. Social distancing and staying safe has many people already thinking about Thanksgiving, Christmas, and even New Year’s Eve. We have already started multiple services to accommodate people including curbside pickup and a concierge service. Keep an eye out for our holiday gift packs coming soon as well. But as we have made changes to the shopping experience, the premier end of year products are still coming through the door, including our single barrel whiskey selections.

With the rise of American whiskey in the last 20 years, people are always on the hunt for something different and unique, and we certainly have those here at France 44. At the moment, we have three unique single barrels perfect for whoever you may know in need of another special bottle for their shelf. While Maker’s Mark is one of the most well known liquor brands, few know of their private select program. Our newest Elijah Craig barrel that arrived last week is a steal, and our Rossville Union Rye is one of the best whiskeys you have never tried.


From the private stave collection, this wheated bourbon came out the barrel at 111 proof. The barrel leans hard into the French Mocha and American Pure seasoned staves, giving it a rich, chocolate forwardness. It finishes with notes of sweet orange rind and vanilla. If you like wheated bourbon, you will love this selection.


Not your typical Heaven Hill single barrel. The barrel is light on fruit and dry oak, with instead a heavy helping of vanilla and caramel, bordering on ice cream sundae. The age statement comes in at a youthful eight years, but older is not necessarily better. We think this bourbon is mature beyond its years.


Sweet, fat, and spicy! This single barrel is exactly as it is named, with prominent spices in the aroma, yet sweet pastry in the palate. The finish is big, long and full of flavor. MGP, the maker of Rossville, is a big reason behind the success of Willett Distillery rye and the High West lineups. Expect the same high standard in this single barrel.

Be Cool, Shop Vintage!

Written by Sam

Are you IKEA’d-out? Does your bar need to evolve in a maximalist direction? Are you tired of plastic? Did you Marie-Kondo your house, only to find that you actually want a little more charming clutter back in your life?

If your answer to any of the above was yes, you may be ready to come and peruse our new vintage glassware & barware section at France 44! Curated by yours truly, it’s a fabulous way to bring some unique, mid-century-modern style to your home bar.

I first became interested in collecting antique and vintage glassware after reading Imbibe!, David Wondrich’s wildly informative (and quite funny) tome on the history of the cocktail. Once I started fooling around with Sherry Cobblers and Improved Whiskey Cocktails, it was a slippery slope to monthly (then weekly, and… ok, sometimes daily) trips to thrift stores and antique sales for more coupes, cocktail glasses, jiggers, shakers, and barspoons than I could ever hope to fit in my tiny apartment—because, after all, doesn’t a fancy old drink need a fancy old glass?

But, I promise, there is more than just aesthetics on the line here—those vintage glasses really do serve a specific culinary purpose! Pick up any classic cocktail recipe written pre-1950, and you’ll quickly find that the three-or-so ounces of whatever deliciousness you mix up looks pretty measly when you dump it into a modern cocktail glass. The reason? As the cocktail hour has shrunk over the years, our modern cocktail glasses have gotten larger in order to accommodate a single, headache-inducing Margarita (or Martini, or Manhattan, or, god-forbid, a Midori Sour) that can be downed in twenty minutes, rather than a series of smaller-sized cocktails that could be enjoyed over an hour or two (with slightly less debilitating effects).

Thankfully, our recent, more homebound lifestyles are the perfect time to revive the joys of a long, drawn-out cocktail hour—resplendent with small, session-able cocktails (and snacks—don’t forget the snacks!) that looks great served in tiny glasses with pretty etchings and silver rims and… well, you get the point. And, as long as you’ve got that stylish glassware lying around, you might as well complement it with a midcentury cocktail shaker, or a set of wooden-handled Japanese bar tools, or maybe a really chic cocktail tray? Who uses a cocktail tray anymore?? You do.

The cocktail “renaissance” that swept the country over the last decade has wound down. Every 30-year-old you meet has heard of a Negroni and wants a Mad Men-style tumbler to put it in, which means it’s never been harder to hunt down items of genuine quality and provenance in a sea of imitations. Luckily, that’s where your neighborhood geek at your neighborhood wine shop comes in, putting together a selection of excellent finds from around the Twin Cities—so that you don’t have to go hunting yourself! Come by the store and check it out.

Beer Cooler Picks

For the beer staff these days, the only constant has been change. On any given week we are likely to receive north of 50 new items into our cooler space. While the logistical challenges have become more daunting, the benefit is that we are now able to carry even more of the world’s finest beers. With an overwhelming list of new brews to consider each time you shop, it is important to acknowledge that you’ll never be able to try them all, and that’s ok. It is important to us, however, that we can assist you in discovering beers that you’ll truly enjoy each time you leave our doors. You already know that we have a top-notch selection of the freshest hazy IPAs, but here are some other gems worth your attention right now:

Indeed Pistachio Cream Ale — $9.99/4pk Cans 

Yes, it works. Softly sweet, nutty malt notes with a creamy body.

Utepils Receptional Festbier — $8.99/4pk Cans 

This golden festbier has a wonderful biscuit-y malt character and smooth, dry finish.

Bad Weather Tippin’ It Down Earl Grey Tea ESB — $9.99/6pk Cans 

Spicy, floral tea notes envelop a chewy malt character and an herbal hop finish.

Drastic Measures Humble Mumble — $15.99/4pk Cans 

A milk stout brewed with lactose sugar and crushed Oreos. So delicious. Need we say more?

Oliphant Spooky Squishy Sour Ale — $9.99/2pk Cans 

It’s fall in a can. Tart apple with a sprinkle of vanilla and spice.

Ology Resolved Enigma West Coast-Style IPA — $16.99/4pk Cans 

Dry, light body from pils malt and a beautiful hop bouquet from Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe hops.

Black Stack Side of Ranch Lager — $8.99/4pk Cans 

It’s a beer made for pizza, what’s not to like? Totally gulp-able and delicious.

Wine Feature: Dopff & Irion ‘Crustaces’

We dare you to buy the ugliest label in the wine world.

No, really. We dare you. This back-to-the-80s-looking white from Alsace in France is all you need for these warm, springtime temps and ever-lengthening days. We’re talking about a fresh, clean, unoaked, can’t-wait-for-another-sip white made primarily from a grape called Sylvaner–one of France’s (and Germany’s) best-kept grape secrets. If you like Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Grigios, Elblings, wines from Savoie, or any other crisp and mineral-driven white wines, there should be no hemming and hawing about this wine.

PAIRS WITH: everything you see on that silly label, with any starter course, cheese plates, or just by itself

PICK ONE UP: regular $16.99 | on sale $14.99