Review Detail

5.0 1 0.5
The REAL Berger
(Updated: April 19, 2013)
Overall rating
Flavor / Mouthfeel
-Color Before Water-
Beautiful copperish-golden-brown fueille morte.

There were some significant particles of sediment in my sample. However, it’s one of the last samples from a century old bottle, and this does not represent the actual quality of C.F. Berger production or necessarily other vintage samples that may still be out there. I decided to treat the particulate as an anomaly that doesn’t affect the actual score. So there!

(outside on a beautiful sunny day at the end of summer)
The iced brouille louche was perfectly paced and not explosively fast as I’ve seen with a few other pre-ban samples. A slowly growing, diffuse amber fog grew from the bottom, bringing with it some delicate greens as it engulfed the copper-gold transparency. Though the louche was more wispy and did not have super defined multi layers like some vintage Pernod Fils samples, it did form lovely swirling, cascading jellies that glowed and rippled crimson and orange in the sun. The remainder of the clear band disappeared and the louched glass presented perfect glowing absinthe opacity.

-Color After Water-
In the shade, the louched glass was creamy gold and amber with the hints of green brought out during the louche. In the sunshine it took on more vibrant peachy orange color.

Before water, smoothly herbal green anise and fennel with earthy butterscotch hints.

After water, blooming floral notes that were neither faded, nor fresh and springy, but rather perfectly pitched, harmonious and refined. I’ve seen mention of the Berger baby powder; “flower powder” seems like the right phrase to me. With each inhale a stately kaleidoscope of wonderful flower aromas that were somehow both new and familiar to me. These were backed by sumptuous smooth butterscotch fullness.

-Flavor and Mouthfeel-
Leads with the same sweet floral scintillations of the aroma. The flower powder could be felt through the nose and around the teeth. This became augmented by the full, smooth butterscotch going leathery. Then towards the lower range, rich and warm, with a big spicy, earthy, musky, woody, pronounced wormwood bitterness on the bottom end. Though not as luxurious and tongue coating as Pernod Fils 1910, the mouthfeel was super smooth sailing on golden milk seas; it was a perfect medium for the huge range of flavors.

Absolutely incredible, the most memorable finish I’ve had in any absinthe, the aftermath of each sip a flavor revere. Endless singing, shifting waves of notes in the reverberating sustain. It just kept going and going. My stalwart companions and I had set the tasting up as a side by side with Jade VS and had other excellent absinthes on the table. However, we didn’t drink very much more of anything once the Berger got started, for fear of destroying the divine finish. After the glass was done, we only interrupted the still-lingering sensations because we had some Duval-Dubied 1895 and Pernod Fils 1914 to take care of.

Like every sample of vintage pre-ban I’ve had so far, the Berger was a revelation of complexity, contrast, and balance that I didn’t imagine could exist. I’ve been lucky enough to taste several vintages/cache samples of Pernod Fils, so it was extremely cool to try a different Grande Marque from the Belle Epoque. And like pre-ban Pernod Fils, it was so good, it’s impossible to truly convey in words. I will be shocked if I ever taste a beverage whose excellence and wonder supersedes that of this amazing ancient absinthe.


Iced brouille drip at 3.5:1, no sugar.


-Attack of the Clones-

*Prototype Berger clones*

I’ve had a couple of well-regarded green Berger clone prototypes that were very tasty and impressively floral, with nice bases that could have conceivably transformed into something like the vintage Berger, but I don’t think they were really any closer than the Jade VS (see below).

And then there were bitter brown Canadian and Polish prototypes that were intended to be Berger reconstructions, as well as simulate a century of ageing. Though the bitterness of the Polish clones became infamous, the pronounced bitterness of the aged wormwood in the Berger provided a bit of validity/perspective to the overall concept. The second generation of the Polish Berger was more tolerable in terms of woody/rooty bitter, provided good vintage-y caramel/butterscotch aromas, and the underlying distillate showed promise. However, the bitterness was still an obfuscating blunt fart compared to the glorious, harmonious basso profundo of the real thing.

*Side by side with Jade VS 2005 (Verte Suisse label), Jade VS 2012 (VS1898 label), plus L’Ancienne*

I made sure to have some Jade VS (the only commercial absinthe explicitly intended as a C.F. Berger clone) available for the Berger tasting, but thanks to a generous friend, we were also able to have some seven-year-old VS. Comparing the VS 2012 with the VS 2005 was interesting- impressively consistent, but as one might expect, the 2005 was nicely fuller, smoother and rounder.

Comparing these two with the C.F. Berger was a different story however. While Jade VS is my favorite Jade and one of my all around favorite COs, the Berger was so much more florally complex at the high end, rich and bitter on the low end, that it quite eclipsed the Jades. Of course, the Berger had a century of ageing on the Jades, so such direct comparisons are not so simple. This raised for us the much pondered question- “Was pre-ban just that amazingly good on the day it was bottled or is extreme ageing the primary factor?”.

L’Ancienne (2011) had immediately preceded the Jades and Berger, and we agreed that the characteristics of butterscotch/old leather were very close to those notes that we tasted in the Berger. Something else I did notice though- the grape base of the L’Ancienne that seems to provide those vintage flavors also tastes like it could be an older version of the grape base of the Jades. If one tries the Jade VS, then L’Ancienne as the next ageing step, then imagine what a 3rd time step might be like with a big musky woody wormwood presence and super-floral notes, one might be able to get an approximate idea of the Real Berger.
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