What is Absinthe?
Absinthe is an anise-flavored spirit that was originally 136 proof and made with grande wormwood. It is typically made by distilling neutral grain spirits with herbs, predominately anise, florence fennel and grande wormwood. Other herbs such as angelica root, coriander, dittany leaves, hyssop, juniper, nutmeg, melissa, star anise, sweet flag, and veronica are also used.
The color of the distillate is clear and is often bottled this way in a style known as Blanche or la Bleue or as a bright green. The coloring is added, either through the chlorophyll from steeping herbs like hyssop, melissa and petite wormwood in the liquor or adding artificial coloring. Other absinthes are available in red or blue hues.
Absinthe in History
This potent liqueur was outlawed in many countries for years following multiple instances of harmful effects and even deaths of its drinkers, most of which were due to over indulgence of the green spirit. Since the 95 year absinthe ban was lifted in the United States in 2007, many brands have been released with lower thujone levels. During the bans homemade absinthe kits became popular, however this can be dangerous. For instance too much wormwood or the use of wormwood extract can be poisonous.
There have been a number of famous absinthe drinkers throughout time, most notably among artists and other creatives in the 19th century. Pablo Picasso, Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Rimbaud, Ernest Hemingway, and Oscar Wilde made this list and absinthe is often found or has influenced their work. Possibly the best known absinthe imbiber was Vincent Van Gogh, who drank it for years (presumably addicted to it), painted still lifes of absinthe, and some believe he was under its influence when he cut off his ear.
- Absinthe brands range in alcohol content, though you will rarely find one below 90 proof. Most absinthe falls in the 90-148 proof (45-74% ABV) range.
- Abisante, Anisette, Pernod and Herbsaint are often used to replace absinthe in cocktail recipes.
- Absinthe is commonly classified as a liqueur, however it does not contain any sugar and is actually a liquor.
- Absinthe is also known as absinth and the 'green fairy.'
- National Absinthe Day is March 5.
Since the shift of legality regarding absinthe we have seen many brands become available throughout the world. These are just a few:
It is not recommended to drink absinthe straight because of its potency and pungent taste. Consider it fair warning that if you do take a straight shot of absinthe, you may not taste anything else for a day or two.
A better way to drink absinthe is to use the preparation often called the absinthe ritual. It is a far more gentile option that involves water, a sugar cube and specially designed spoons and glasses.
There are many great absinthe cocktails available. When mixing with absinthe it is important to remember that the anise is a strong flavor and it is recommended to measure its portion according to the recipe. Also, be sure to properly clean any bar tools that have contained absinthe as the flavor and smell can remain for quite some time and taint other, non-absinthe drinks.