It’s about high time (haha..I made a funny four words in!) that I did an article about that mythical, infamous, lecherous little concoction that made college students today go crazy over the legal right to purchase after a half a century: Absinthe. Even the word sends illegal and devious shivers down my spine! However, because of it’s wild and sultry history as being the inspiration for many books, songs, and works of art…the youth of today have unimaginable expectations for the once volatile green liquid so high that disappointment is not uncommon. They want hallucinations, they want a green fairy, they want the Absinthe of Toulouse-Lautrec, Hemmingway, of Wilde! What they get is something nowhere close to that!
Once upon a time, alcoholic drinks were designed as medicine. Yeah, just about every early drink was proposed as a cure all of some sort. So it comes as no strange shock to me that Absinthe was also in this category. It was under that sneaky “patent” remedy which means it was alright if you didn’t know what was in the ingredients, just know it made you feel better…or compel you to try flying off the roof of a barn on your magic silver unicorn…either one.
The drink was first distilled in France by the company Maison Pernod Fils who was the leading producer of Absinthe until 1914 when the drink became illegal. One of the things Absinthe was said to cure was malaria so it was distributed to the troops like cigarettes and beer in Vietnam (I’m not joking) so they brought the taste home. It became so popular in bars and cafes that 5 o’clock was “the green hour” (in case you didn’t know, Absinthe is green) which I take it as like being “Margarita time” at Jimmy Buffets.
So we have a popular drink on our hands now! It was green, it tastes like anise, and when drunk in vast quantities you believe that the gargoyles of Notre Dame are giving you the evil eye! It actually got that green tint from natural plant chlorophyll, but the wormwood is not what made people see the fairy of legend.
Ever tried to speed a distillery process along? You tend to skip steps to get the drink faster. When you skip, you tend to add things that a normal human shouldn’t digest in mass consumption. Sort of like making bathtub gin, you mix stuff together to get to the end result quickly. Most “bathtub absinthe” was made with copper salt to get that green tint. This additive could have been the reason why you woke up in a fountain covered in mime paint.
Still, despite all the fun hijinks one could get into if one was poisoned with enough chemicals to put an elephant into a coma, there has to be another reason this drink was and is so popular. It is one of the few drinks that has a substantial “prep time” to it. That could have something to do with it. As a matter of fact, there are several ways to enjoy Absinthe and it’s all for personal choice, but let’s talk about the most popular method before we move onto the hardcore S&M type stuff!
1. The Traditional French Method
For starters, you need a sugar cube! Next you need a specially made slotted spoon (or if you’re a college frat boy with a lot of free time but no energy, a fork) to place said sugar cube upon. Place over drink and slowly drip ice water over sugar cube which thus drips into the clear Absinthe turning it milky. You may add as much as as little sugar as wanted. This process is time consuming but is unique to Absinthe making it desirable.
2. Glass Within A Glass Method
I learn new things on this blog every day! I had never heard of this process but it sound messy and, I take, not as popular. You basically take a shot of Absinthe, place it in a larger glass and then slowly drip ice water into the shot making it overflow into the large glass. By the time you’re done, the shot is filled with water and you can remove it out of your newly mixed Absinthe. After a few of these I can understand why it wasn’t that popular. There was probably a whole lot of spilled Absinthe on the floor by the end of the night.
3. Modern Method
This is a very new way of preparing Absinthe that is not highly looked upon by purists but the young folk think it’s all hep and stuff! And who wouldn’t be enthralled knowing our current generations obsession with anything that burns in a flaming lava ball! What you do is soak a sugar cube in Absinthe, put the cube on a spoon, light it on fire, drop into drink while adding water then down quickly hoping that the water took effect and the liquid itself doesn’t scorch your esophagus on the way down! Or even better, pray your drink itself doesn’t catch fire and engulf your face in flames so much you get to visit Nurse Teddy at the hospital burn unit while he tries to graft your face from the flesh of some guys scrotum! I’ve seen it happen! Granted that is the worst case scenario but is your money maker something you’d be willing to gamble? If you are going to try this method, please have a designated fire extinguisher handy just in case you forget the water part of the process! Anyway, this method is not the traditional way you’re supposed to drink Absinthe so let’s just stick with dripping ice water, shall we.
4. Straight Up Method
Okay, so this is not that crazy of a method. This is just a dose of Absinthe straight out of the bottle with no prep or water. It’s not really looked upon as a bad thing but since Absinthe, like all spirits, have a high alcohol content they really recommend the sugar water method. Also, I don’t think this applies to the Absinthe of today but more traditional Absinthe still made the same way. The over the counter stuff is nowhere near as strong!
So after preparing your glass of Absinthe one is now expected to down a shot and converse with that legendary lady of inspiration, the green fairy. But where is she? Why haven’t I see her yet? Why does my drink taste like Listerine? There could be many answers to those questions. To start off: Did you by a good brand of Absinthe? Did you louche (that milky process from above) properly? Are you sure you didn’t buy a knockoff Absinthe made from green Listerine? That has been known to happen especially in Amsterdam.
Unless you guys add something to your Absinthe in order to channel Vincent Van Gogh’s green fairy moments…you’re not getting her! Absinthe itself is no more harmful then Vodka and whatever “hallucinations” one has on it was caused by either a bad batch of Absinthe made in a Parisian sewer trough or whatever else those people might have been on combined with Absinthe!
Additional Note: I have to keep adding these since I get rather wonderfully strange comments every so often telling me that I made a mistake or got something wrong. I’m not saying my research is flawless but I had someone (whom I had to go through a translator to understand) tell me that Absinthe was made in the 16th century in Czech Republic….first, the Czech Republic did not form until 1993. Next, if an anise based wormwood drink was distilled there it probably wouldn’t have been called Absinthe and it wasn’t a traditional drink for that region. Lately, I have heard, that the Czech brands are not very authentic nor well made so even by today’s standards I don’t know if you could call it Absinthe.