Drinking absinthe straight is not recommended because the green distilled spirit has a powerful flavor and high alcohol content. Beyond the potential of burning your taste buds, absinthe is so strong that it can be dangerous if you drink too much. That's not to say that absinthe cannot be enjoyable; it's an intriguing spirit with an exceptional taste when treated with respect.
The best way to drink absinthe is to dilute it with water by pouring it over a sugar cube. The traditional preparation is called an "absinthe ritual," and you can try the "absinthe drip." There's also a safe way to flame absinthe and, to ease into its distinct taste, cocktail recipes to mix up.
The Purpose of the Absinthe Ritual
If you have ever tasted straight absinthe, you will certainly remember the experience. The anise-flavored liquor has a distinct bitterness that is punctuated by its high proof (between 45 percent and 74 percent ABV, 90 to 148 proof). On its own, absinthe is not an easy liquor to get down. It needs to be tamed, and that's where the absinthe ritual and drip come 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 makes absinthe far more palatable. 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, Spoons, and Fountains
Absinthe glasses and spoons are specifically designed for drinking absinthe. Each is available in various styles and, whether reproductions and original antique pieces, they tend to be elaborately decorated.
Absinthe glasses are small pieces of stemware that hold 5 to 6 ounces. 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 and takes 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. Any short, stemmed glass is a good alternative.
Absinthe spoons are flat, so they can easily rest on the glass rim. A sugar cube is placed on the spoon and acts as a filter for the water. The spoon is pierced with holes or has fancy cuts in the metal that allows the sugar and water to drip through. If you do not have an absinthe spoon, a large fork will work.
An absinthe dripper (brouille-absinthe in French) is an alternative to the spoon. It's a bit like a broad funnel that holds sugar and ice (or either, according to your taste) through which water is poured. This setup offers more precision in developing the louche.
In the more traditional sense, the water is poured drop by drop. Absinthe fountains were designed for this purpose and can still be found in some bars that proudly promote the absinthe ritual. To replicate this, fit a speed pourer or clean olive oil dripper on a bottle of water.
The French Absinthe Ritual
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.
Pour about 1 ounce of absinthe into an absinthe glass.
Lay an absinthe spoon across the top of the glass rim and place a sugar cube on the spoon.
Slowly pour ice-cold, distilled water onto the sugar, just enough to saturate it. Allow it to sit 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 a visual spectacle and releasing the absinthe's herbal bouquet.
Allow the louche to rest, then stir in any remaining undissolved sugar.
Sit down and leisurely enjoy your absinthe.
One popular method is to pour the absinthe over the sugar cube while on the spoon, then light it aflame. Allow the sugar to melt into the absinthe. Extinguish the flame whenever you want with a drizzle of cold water or club soda to create the louche, then 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!
Fire, Alcohol, and Glass Warning
Some absinthe drinkers suggest dropping the flaming sugar cube into the absinthe so the entire glass of alcohol catches on fire. This can be extremely dangerous because even thick glass can shatter if the flame burns too long. Dim the room lights because if it is too bright, you may not see the blue flame, and blowing on it doesn't always extinguish the fire.
The "absinthe drip" is very similar to the traditional ritual, though it adds ice and club soda to soften the drink a bit more. You also don't need a special spoon or glass; common bar tools work just fine.
In a mixing glass half-filled with crushed ice, pour 1 ounce of absinthe.
Place a sugar cube on top of the ice.
Very slowly drip cold club soda onto the sugar cube until it is completely dissolved.
Stir well, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Absinthe Cocktail Recipes
When you are new to a strong, unusual flavor like that found in absinthe, it's a good idea to train your palate to its taste. Absinthe cocktails will introduce yourself to the spirit because they often use just a small pour and let drink's other ingredients take center stage. Don't worry; you will be able to taste the absinthe in these recipes.