Spirit Spotlight: Absinthe

National Absinthe Day is March 5. 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. Wormwood-infused liquor dates back to the days of the Egyptian empire, but credit for the invention of Absinthe goes to a French doctor named Pierre Ordinaire.

Ordinaire mixed local herbs with Artemisia absinthium (wormwood) and created an emerald green medicinal liquid, which was believed to cure many different ailments. Ordinaire passed down the recipe for Absinthe on his deathbed and five years later, Henri-Louis Pernod (of the Pernod brand) opened his first Absinthe distillery in Switzerland. With Absinthe’s growing popularity came a larger distillery in France, and the elixir gained an international reputation as the spirit of choice for writers, artists, and intellectuals.

This popularity, however, did not last. In 1901, a Pernod plant fire caused by a lightening storm led to a major decline in the product. Also, what started out as a cure for ailments, eventually became somewhat of a curse. Many human tragedies were blamed on the consumption of Absinthe, including the notorious story of Jean Lanfray. Lanfray was a Swiss man who murdered his pregnant wife and two children. Although Lanfray was a drunk who had consumed large amounts of wine and liquor, his drunken rage was blamed on the Absinthe he also consumed before the murders. These events led to a ban of Absinthe in many countries, including Belgium, Brazil, The Netherlands, Switzerland, France and the U.S.

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.

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 lives of absinthe, and some believe he was under its influence when he cut off his ear.

During the 1990′s, Absinthe resurfaced and was able to be produced due to the many “loopholes” of the ban. For instance, liquors labeled “Absinthe” were banned, but if you named them “wormwood-based” they were allowed to be produced and sold. A worldwide repeal of the bans began in the early 2000′s and countries have once again made Absinthe legal. 

Absinthe Facts:

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.'

Here are some obscure cocktails using Absinthe, most of which were developed in the 20th century:

Green Beast

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz Pernod Absinthe
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1 oz simple syrup (one part sugar, one part water)
  • 4 oz water

Preparation: Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into a glass. Garnish with a cucumber slice.

 

Maidens-Blush-cocktail

Maiden’s Blush

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz of Pernod Absinthe
  • 1 oz of gin
  • 1/2 oz of fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz of sugar syrup
  • 4 fresh raspberries

 

Cheers!