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A Toast to the Green Fairy: Exploring Absinthe

Affectionately known as "the green fairy," this mischievous liquor has been both the toast of the town and the scourge of Europe during its 200-year+ history. Although there is not one single accepted recipe, it is generally not considered truly absinthe unless it contains the flowers and leaves of the Grand Wormwood plant and, contrary to popular belief, it is not and has never been a hallucinogen!

Originally patented as an all-purpose general medicine around 1792, the concoction was also given to French troops in the 1840s as a malaria preventative during their deployment. Returning home, the troops had developed a penchant for the green drink and its popularity began to spread across Europe. By the beginning of the 20th century, the liquor had become so popular that revelers would celebrate "green hour" at the end of each workday.

By this time as well, stories and rumors of health risks and dangerous hallucinogenic properties of the drink had convinced many governments to begin banning the liquor. When a Swiss farmer was found to have consumed absinthe prior to murdering his family, the public debate in Switzerland led to an all out ban in 1908, preceded by a small handful of countries and followed as well  by many more, including the United States. There are theories that the public image of absinthe was intentionally tarnished by representatives of the French wine industry in a bid to unseat absinthe as the drink of choice. Given the abundant availability and high praise of French wine all over the world today, we wonder if it was true...

With research studies and the passing of time, we now know that there are no hallucinogenic properties of wormwood or absinthe, other than the alcoholic effects. And as the commercial opportunities of the drink have begun to motivate producers to challenge the bans, absinthe has been gaining in popularity since the 1990s. Now there are over 200 commercial producers of the liquor and it is legally available worldwide in a number of proofs, flavors, colors, and of course, gimmicks!

The preparation of absinthe can vary widely, and as the drink's popularity continues to spread, the list of creative and clever cocktails grows. There are, however, two generally accepted and proper ways to drink your absinthe: the French Method and the Bohemian Method.

The French Method involves diluting the liquor with sugar and water. Water is slowly dripped through a sugar cube that is resting on a slotted spoon across the lip of the glass. Because some of the ingredients are water-soluble, the liquid will go from clear to cloudy and show what's called the louche. Certain characteristics of the louche can sometimes indicate the overall quality of the ingredients in the absinthe.

The Bohemian Method is decidedly newer, and is considered by some to be something of a parlor trick. The sugar cube is still set atop a slotted spoon, but it has been soaked in absinthe and set on fire. As the sugar begins to carmelize, it is dropped into the glass, setting the rest of the drink on fire. At the time of your choosing, a shot glass of cold water is dropped into the glass, extinguishing the flame and finishing the drink. Enjoy!

As mentioned above, there are a growing number of interesting cocktails being developed all the time with absinthe at their hearts. Here are a few of our favorites!

Absinthe Frappe: see recipe

  • ice cubes
  • mint leaves
  • absinthe
  • simple syrup
  • club soda

Death in the Afternoon: see recipe

  • absinthe
  • dry sparkling wine
  • simple syrup

Sazerac: see recipe

  • rye whisky
  • sugar cube
  • Peychaud's bitters
  • Angostura bitters
  • absinthe
  • lemon peel

Billionaire Cocktail: see recipe

  • bourbon
  • lemon juice
  • simple syrup
  • absinthe
  • grenadine

Absinthe Suissesse: see recipe

  • absinthe
  • Herbsaint
  • white crème de menthe
  • orgeat
  • fresh egg white
  • half-and-half 

If you're daring enough, find a bistro with absinthe on the menu and ask your server to bring you one to try. Will they serve you the French Method or Bohemian Method? And tell us what you think!

posted on 12/18/2019