Brothers and SLIPSTREAM® Absinthe co-founders Dimitri and Michael Uhlik are the vanguard inventors of the self-contained SLIPSTREAM® Absinthe Pipe Glass, which provides a convenient, modern-day absinthe experience to absinthe enthusiasts and professional bartenders alike.
We recently caught up with Dimitri to learn more about his passion for absinthe, his take on the spirit’s bad rap, and his predictions for the future of absinthe in the United States.
KegWorks: How did you get interested in absinthe?
Dimitri: It’s a long story, but, to be honest, it was an accident. In college I was fascinated with the fall of the Berlin Wall, so I joined a study abroad program and went to study the political-economic transformation and the European Union in Prague, Czech Republic.
It was an amazing time there–much like Paris of the 1940s. We were celebrating the end of the semester, and a student from our group ordered flaming absinthe shots for everyone. We thought it would be fun and, of course, something new that was banned. We all wanted to be rebels–you know, young at heart in an Eastern European country–so we went for it.
It didn’t work out well. We were all throwing up afterward. The color was artificial, and it was like drinking mouthwash. Back then, there really was no Internet, so I started looking for every book I could find on the subject of absinthe.
KegWorks: After such a bad experience, why did you continue to pursue absinthe as an interest?
Dimitri: I started reading absinthe history and learned that my first experience was hogwash and started to look for people around the world that would help me enjoy authentic absinthe.
I was invited to the absinthe festival in Val de Travers, Switzerland, the birthplace of absinthe. I was able to meet distillers and try all these different types of absinthe for three days. The people there are amazing and resilient. They were bootlegging absinthe for over a 100 years, so it is so much a part of their culture. In fact, I read about the secret fountains that were scattered in the mountains, where distillers would hide absinthe. The people that knew about them would go there and drink it. The secret fountains are very special because these were places people could go to drink absinthe and louche from slipstreams coming off the mountains and drink it privately without going to jail.
We named our company SLIPSTREAM® because of these secret fountains. I continue to learn more about absinthe every day; the history is so rich. Like many the journey to understand the mystery of absinthe had taken us all over the world and we have met so many good people sharing in our passion. We have made so many friends along the way.
KegWorks: What is most appealing to you about absinthe?
Dimitri: Absinthe is what I call the lost spirit. There is so much lost knowledge that is being rediscovered. There is such a rich history, and it takes real talent for a distiller to be able to make it.
I love that I can drink three or four glasses of absinthe with water (the correct way to drink absinthe), and the “buzz” I get doesn’t make me feel like a sloppy drunk. It actually gives a sense of clarity; I totally understand why Picasso, Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde and many other artists loved to imbibe in it so much. It’s one of the reasons I have sketched out so many designs to create a more modern approach to drinking it correctly.
I also love the fact that diluting absinthe with water actually helps prevent a hangover in the morning. This is a plus for anyone that has a few drinks and wants to be productive or enjoy the day after.
I also find absinthe appealing for the reason that the herbs are proven to help with the digestive system. It’s excellent for disorders of the stomach: creating appetite, promoting digestion, and preventing sickness after meals. Many have reached out to use and enjoy our SLIPSTREAM® Absinthe Pipe Glass because it allows for a quick preparation to remedy stomach pain. Artemisia absinthium, or wormwood [a key ingredient in absinthe], has been used for over 1,000 years medicinally.
KegWorks: What value is there in performing the louching ritual?
Dimitri: I love the absinthe ritual. It’s the only way to truly appreciate the complexity of absinthe as a spirit. Most people have been “tricked” by fake absinthe distillers to light their absinthe on fire and drink it straight and have been sold on it making you hallucinate. This could not be further from the truth. We have a very tough road ahead of us to re-educate the masses to learn about the true absinthe experience and positive benefits it provides.
The symbolic absinthe ritual dates back over 100 years, and we respect that because, the way we see it, the louche that occurs is the dance of the Green Fairy. It is a very natural and beautiful effect that occurs, and it is a testament to absinthe’s uniqueness.
Many people do not realize that not adding water to absinthe before you drink it is like not having tires on a car and trying to drive it. The water activates the botanicals in the absinthe; it releases them. When you add water to absinthe, the essential oils and aromas come alive and it changes everything about it. Neat absinthe blossoms with the addition of water and releases the magic of the herbs and changes the taste.
Absinthe should really never be drunk as a shot. It will only burn your insides given its proof.
KegWorks: What about the ritual appeals most to you?
Dimitri: I love the visual effect of adding water to absinthe. It’s exciting to watch, and the louche tells a story about the absinthe before you drink it. The absinthe ritual itself is fun, and when you add water to the absinthe the aromas fill the room and create excitement.
KegWorks: What prompted you to design and produce an alternative to the traditional absinthe fountain?
Dimitri: My brother and I were looking for an easy way to drink it without losing the symbolic nature of the louche. We worked together to create the glass, not thinking we would end up selling it. For years, absinthe enthusiast were asking us if they could get one. We created a solution to a problem many others were having. It was designed out of necessity.
We enjoy the traditional rituals tremendously, but we didn’t want to drag out the fountain every time we were in the mood for a drink of absinthe. So, we set out to design something that was practical, symbolic to the absinthe ritual, and aesthetic. The SLIPSTREAM® Absinthe Pipe Glass covers all these things. It’s practical, because you can prepare absinthe correctly in less than 20 seconds. We added a dose line of 1 ounce (which is the SLIPSTREAM® logo), so people can pour accordingly just by looking at it. If anyone likes to use sugar, you can just add a sugar cube into the glass, and we also made an ice catcher. We like to travel with absinthe, and the ability to add ice if you cannot find cold water anywhere on the road goes a long way.
We essentially created a new absinthe ritual. We took the “absinthe drip” and turned it on its head using physics and chemistry to improve on an age-old tradition.
KegWorks: Would you say absinthe is growing in popularity in the U.S.?
Dimitri: Yes, I think absinthe is growing in popularity here in the U.S. There is a modern day absinthe revival. People are learning more about how intimate drinking absinthe is and the positive attributes it possesses.
KegWorks: What obstacles does it face in terms of becoming more mainstream?
Dimitri: The biggest obstacle is trying to reeducate people from a bad absinthe experience. First impressions can mean everything for a consumer. There is also a tremendous amount of misinformation. There are a lot of websites out there that are selling their “absinthe” as the ultimate panty remover or claiming high thujone content as a reason to buy it. So, we need to educate people on what makes an absinthe authentic and, second, how to drink it correctly.
The SLIPSTREAM® Absinthe Pipe Glass is a great tool to teach people the beauty and importance of the absinthe ritual, and, most importantly, we make is very easy for anyone to prepare absinthe correctly.
KegWorks: How would you respond to people who claim the absinthe we have in the U.S. isn’t “real” absinthe (i.e., that it isn’t the same or as good as pre-ban absinthe)?
Dimitri: It really depends on who is asking…
Some think that if it doesn’t make you hallucinate or have high thujone* content it is not real absinthe. We love these folks because it gives us the opportunity to educate them.
Absinthe never made anyone hallucinate. This was just a fallacy created by politicians and the temperance movement to justify banning it in the first place. However, there are many real absinthes you can purchase in the U.S. I highly recommend the Jade line of absinthe by master distiller Ted Breaux. Ted has recreated many pre-ban absinthes over the years, and this is the closest you can get to pre-ban. I also enjoy La Clandestine, a good la bleue absinthe made by Claude-Alain Bognon. The la bleue style of absinthe is less bitter and lighter but very pleasant to drink.
KegWorks: Have you noticed any absinthe trends?
Dimitri: In one word, millennials. I think they are starting to get bored of wine, and the craft cocktail movement is really in high gear. More and more restaurants and bars are serving absinthe now as they learn more about it. The ones that already do have trouble serving it from the fountains. It takes too long for a bartender to “babysit.” Bars are starting to look for a solution because people are starting to ask for absinthe. They are starting to use the SLIPSTREAM® Absinthe Pipe Glasses at their bars because it is so easy to serve, easy to store, and easy to clean.
Recently, Dan Frank, the writer of the documentary movie “The Green Fairy” (produced by 80s heartthrob and absinthe enthusiast, Richard Grieco) are winning the hearts and minds of others. He was invited the Sundance Festival this year and will be showing the movie at the Cannes Film Festival this summer. We are touring the screening of the movie and having absinthe parties along the way so we can introduce more and more people to absinthe and the absinthe ritual. The SLIPSTREAM® is always a big hit.
* The chemical compound thujone, although present in the spirit in only trace amounts, was blamed for its alleged harmful effects.