Absinthe, or La Fee Verte (the green fairy), is a distilled spirit that originated in Switzerland as a medicinal compound. It became popular as an alcoholic drink in France in the late 19th century and early 20th century, especially among the artists and writers of Paris.
Absinthe has incorrectly been portrayed as hallucinogenic, psychoactive, and highly addictive. The chemical compound thujone, a component of grand wormwood, is responsible for this misconception-it is present only in trace amounts and certainly not in a high enough concentration to have that much of an effect. The high alcohol content (absinthe ranges from 90-148 proof) is probably more to blame for erratic behavior than the thujone. Because of it’s bad rap, by 1915, absinthe had been banned in the United States and in much of Europe, including France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria-Hungary.
In the 1990’s the European Union adopted modern food and beverage laws and production of absinthe was resumed. By the early 21st century, nearly 200 brands of absinthe were being produced in a dozen countries.
Absinthe is traditionally prepared from a distillation of neutral alcohol, various herbs, spices, and water. Traditional absinthes were redistilled from a white grape spirit. The principal botanicals are grande wormwood, green anise, and florence fennel, often referred to as “the holy trinity”. Many other herbs may also be used, including petite wormwood, hyssop, melissa, star anise, angelica, peppermint, coriander and veronica. The characteristic green color of absinthe is achieved by the extraction of chlorophyll from the plants during the secondary maceration in which the herbs are steeped in the distillate. The role of chlorophyll in absinthe can be compared to the role of tannins in red wine or brown liquors. Part of the bad press from absinthe, prior to the early 20th century ban, may have come from the use of copper salts (a toxic compound), in place of natural botanicals, to give an inferior absinthe the characteristic green tint.
Absinthe is typically enjoyed using the “French method”. This method involves the use of a specially designed spoon, a sugar cube, absinthe, and iced water. The sugar cube is placed on the spoon which is then placed over a glass containing a measure of absinthe. The water is poured over the sugar cube to mix with the water and absinthe. The typical final preparation should contain 1 part absinthe and 3-5 parts water. As the spirits are diluted by the addition of the chilled water, the drink becomes cloudy, and a perfume of herbal aromas and flavors are released.
Absinthe, in addition to being enjoyed in this traditional method, may also be enjoyed in a number of cocktails.
One of the more well known, and popular absinthe cocktails is the
CORPSE REVIVER # 2
¾ ounce St George gin
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
¾ ounce orange liqueur
¾ ounce Cocchi Americano
1 dash La Muse Verte absinthe
One variation calls for the absinthe to be added to a chilled glass which is swirled around to coat the inside of the glass with absinthe. The other ingredients are added to an ice filled cocktail shaker, blended, and strained into the glass.
1 ½ ounce Vieux Carre Absinthe
¼ ounce simple syrup
2 ounces club soda
6 fresh mint leaves
Muddle the mint leaves in shaker. Add absinthe, simple syrup and ice. Shake vigorously for 10-20 seconds then strain into an ice filled Collins glass. Top with club soda. Garnish with mint leaves if desired.
1 sugar cube
3 dashes Fee Brothers Grapefruit bitters
2 dashes Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters
2 ounces High West Double Rye
lemon peel for garnish
Rinse a chilled rocks glass with absinthe. In a mixing glass, muddle the sugar cube and bitters. Add rye whiskey, fill with ice and stir. Strain into glass. Twist the lemon peel slice over the surface of the cocktail then discard.
Written by Richard Edwards. Permission to publish by The Local.