Absinthe is a strongly flavored and highly alcoholic distilled spirit and it is not recommended to drink it straight. Instead, you will find it best to dilute it with water by pouring it over a sugar cube. This traditional preparation is called the "absinthe ritual" and it is very easy to do.
The Purpose of the Absinthe Ritual
If you have ever tasted straight absinthe, you will certainly remember the taste. The anise-flavored liquor has a distinct bitterness that is punctuated by its high proof (often bottled between 45 percent to 74 percent ABV—90 to 148 proof). On its own, absinthe is not an easy liquor to get down and you might even find that it burns your taste buds. It needs to be tamed and that's where the absinthe ritual comes in.
The traditional preparation was popularized in France. It's a simple technique that involves absinthe, sugar, and ice-cold water. The sugar quells the bitterness and the water dilutes the liquor; the combination of the two makes absinthe far more palatable than it is straight out of the bottle. Once you get the hang of pouring it, you will be able to create the perfect louche (the white cloudiness that occurs when water touches the absinthe).
Absinthe Glasses and Spoons
Though not required, there are specific "tools" used in the absinthe ritual. If you find you enjoy absinthe prepared this way, it's not a bad idea to buy a set of absinthe glasses and spoons. Both are designed specifically for this drink and the styles available can be quite stunning, including many elaborately decorated reproductions or original antique pieces.
The glasses are often small pieces of stemware that hold 5 or 6 ounces in total. Some styles include a small reservoir at the bottom that holds a little over 1/2 ounce. This is designed to be filled with absinthe, taking the guesswork out of how much to pour. The main part of the glass is larger and is meant to hold the water-absinthe mix.
Absinthe spoons are pierced with holes and flat so they can rest easily on top of the glass. A sugar cube is placed on the spoon, acting as a filter for the water. They too can be very fancy, with various designs cut into the metal that allows the sugar and water to drip through.
As an alternative to the spoon, you can also use an absinthe dripper (brouilles-absinthe in French). It's a bit like a broad funnel that holds sugar and ice (or either according to your taste) through which water is poured, offering more precision in developing the louche.
How to Pour Absinthe
This method is called a "ritual" because it is designed to be done slowly and deliberately. It allows the drinker to enjoy the entire experience—including the visual transformation—rather than just the drink itself.
In the more traditional sense, the water is poured drop by drop. It's the reason why absinthe fountains were created; these can still be found in some bars that proudly promote the absinthe ritual.
- Pour about 1 ounce of absinthe into an absinthe glass, or similarly-stemmed glass.
- Place a sugar cube on an absinthe spoon and lay the spoon across the top of the glass rim. If you do not have an absinthe spoon, a large fork will work.
- Slowly pour cold, distilled water onto the sugar, just enough to saturate it, and allow it to set until the sugar cube begins to dissolve.
- Pour more water over the sugar (again, slowly) until the desired dilution is found and the sugar is completely dissolved. The most common ratio is between 3 and 5 parts water to 1 part absinthe. As the water hits the liquor, the louche will swirl through the liquid, creating quite the spectacle and releasing the absinthe's herbal bouquet.
- After the louche has been allowed to rest, stir in any remaining undissolved sugar.
- Sit down and slowly enjoy your absinthe.
The "absinthe drip" is very similar to the traditional ritual, though it adds ice and club soda to soften the drink a bit.
- Pour 1 ounce of absinthe into a mixing glass half-filled with crushed ice.
- Place a sugar cube on top of the ice.
- Very slowly drip cold club soda onto the sugar cube until it is completely dissolved.
- Mix well.
- Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Another popular method is to dunk a sugar cube in the absinthe, place the cube on a spoon and light it aflame. Allow the sugar to melt into the absinthe and, as the flame lowers, stir the remaining sugar into the liquid.
This works because absinthe is high-proof, so it will easily light on fire. However, as with any flaming drinks, you need to be very careful. Be sure to take a few safety precautions—pull back loose clothing or hair, clean up any alcohol spills, and have a fire extinguisher or, at least, a glass of water nearby—to avoid accidents. It's also not a good idea to ignite alcohol when you're drunk. Keep your wits about you and play it safe!