Originally hailed for its healing properties, then banned under false pretenses of causing hallucinations and evil doings, Absinthe is now legal to produce and purchase again across the globe.
Absinthe was first distilled in Switzerland at the end of the 18th century by Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor researching distilled wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) for its health benefits. With the discovery of wormwood’s anti-parasitic properties, Absinthe was regularly used to curb malaria and dysentery in French soldiers during the mid 1800s. Returning troops had unsurprisingly gained an affinity for the drink not only as a medicinal elixir, but also as an enjoyable and fashionable aperitif. Distilled along with fennel and green anise, the drink’s distinct color and unique flavor made it an attractive newcomer to the spirit world.
Known as “la fée verte” (the Green Fairy) Absinthe became highly popular in late 19th-century bohemian Paris and was embraced by writers, poets, and artists, or those posing as such. At the same time, a wine shortage caused by a vineyard blight throughout France helped give the Green Fairy her chance to steal the lime light at drinking establishments world wide.
Absinthe’s popularity in Bohemian culture made it an especially delicious and easy target for prohibitionists, who helped to create an image of Absinthe as the poster child for inebriation and impropriety that was tearing apart the fabric of society. Stories of absinthe-induced insanity and hallucinations surfaced, partly due to impurities present in cheaply produced absinthe, and partly due to the fact that those overindulging in high-proof absinthe were also overindulging on every other kind of booze available to them. Winemakers too, recovering from the shortages, had a vested interest in helping to classify Absinthe as a drug so that they could regain their foothold in the alcohol market. Research done on Absinthe identified the presence of trace amounts of thujone, a known psychoactive drug in large quantities. The minute amounts of thujone present in Absinthe were in no way a threat, but this final revelation was enough to convince governments to ban production for decades.
Nearly a century later, wide spread bans enacted in the early 1900s were lifted due to increasing demand by consumers and producers, and because no evidence after years of analysis could be found indicating psychoactive properties for this vintage herbal distillation. The US lifted its ban in 2007 followed by France in 2011.
Enjoy this recently liberated spirit with 3 or 4 parts very cold clean water to 1 part Absinthe – we use chilled Evian water. It’s a matter of preference how much water you add. Drip the water slowly over a sugar cube resting on an Absinthe spoon, until the cube is dissolved. (Please do not ruin the subtle flavors of an expensive bottle of Absinthe by setting it, or the sugar cube, on fire.) The slow addition of water brings out the essential oils and flavors from the alcohol, causing a slight cloudiness to form in the glass. This is when you know the Green Fairy has made her appearance. Sip slowly to fully appreciate the nuances – at about 120 proof Absinthe is a drink to be lingered over and savored.
More information about Absinthe including an excellent FAQ page can be found at: La Fée Verte