“The Green Fairy” as it’s also sometimes known, has a bad (although irresistibly romantic) reputation as dangerous, hallucinatory stuff. Countless nineteenth-century artists and bohemians were supposed to have become addicted to, driven mad by, or been poisoned by this shady spirit until it was finally pulled off the shelves in 1915. But how much of this is true?Armed with a recently acquired absinthe spoon, and inspired by a pretty vintage cocktail glass given to me by a friend, I decided to test-drive some of this legendary - and newly-legalized - green liquor at home. I obtained some samples of two of the many brands now available in the U.S.: Pernod and Lucid. I was all set.
But then doubt began to creep in. This stuff was banned for over 90 years. Um, should I be worried?
I scurried over to a big, authoritative website, The Virtual Absinthe Museum, to find out all I could:
Ok, then. So why was absinthe banned?
It got a lot of really, really bad press. At one time, it was a pricey, aristocratic drink in France, but during the late 19th Century it became mass-produced (and mass-consumed). Some unscrupulous distillers added cheap, unsafe, and untested ingredients to their products. Eccentric artists and political radicals liked to drink it. “Absinthism” was cited in a famous Swiss murder case. Finally, absinthe was scapegoated by those who wanted to ban alcohol altogether.
Ok. My mind was set at ease. It was time to try my first glass of absinthe.Part of the fun and attraction of absinthe is the ritual that goes into its preparation. Absinthe needs water (to dilute the alcohol and release the aromatic oils). And sugar (to offset the bitterness of the wormwood and to complement the herbal flavors). And it needs to be drunk cold. Here’s the classic technique:
makes one drink
1 ounce absinthe
3-5 ounces ice water (I used 4)
1-3 sugar cubes (I used 2)
Pour absinthe into a glass. Place a slotted absinthe spoon (a tea strainer would work in a pinch) across the rim of the glass and set sugar cubes on top. Slowly trickle the ice water through the sugar until it is dissolved and the mixture turns a milky white. Stir in any remaining sugar with the spoon.
It was fun to pour the ice water and watch the green liquor magically turn to white (an effect called the “louche”). With its distinctive anise-licorice tang, the flavor of the drink was a little like pastis, but not quite as herbal. Even with two added sugar cubes, I could still taste the bitterness of the wormwood, but not in a bad way. No druggy effects were observed.
Related: Summer Drink: Pastis
Have you ever tried absinthe?
(Images: Nora Maynard)