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What is absinthe?

What is absinthe?

If you aren’t a 19th century poet struggling with the crippling burden of your own genius, you may not have a ton of experience with absinthe. Indeed, in the US you couldn’t even get your hands on “the green fairy” unless you brought it back from Europe. Well not anymore. It’s time to dust off your “La vie en rose” playlist, brush up on your Hemingway and embrace the mystical, myth-laden spirit that is absinthe.

What is absinthe?

Absinthe is a powerfully strong spirit (usually distilled neutral grain) with a haunting green color. Like gin, absinthe is infused with botanicals, but instead of gin’s juniper base, absinthe blends wormwood (artemisia ABSINTHIUM), anise and spicy fennel with other mysterious herbs like hyssop. The herbs turn absinthe a pale green that might make you wonder “what am I getting myself into?”

History of absinthe

Absinthe is a powerfully strong spirit (usually distilled neutral grain) with a haunting green color. Like gin, absinthe is infused with botanicals, but instead of gin’s juniper base, absinthe blends wormwood (artemisia ABSINTHIUM), anise and spicy fennel with other mysterious herbs like hyssop. The herbs turn absinthe a pale green that might make you wonder “what am I getting myself into?” 

History of absinthe

We suspect that absinthe debuted in Switzerland - a pretty intense offering from a neutral country. It soared in popularity in 19th-century Europe among the bohemian crowd - you know, the free-spirited gang that always knows what the next cool thing is gonna be. Hey, they were right about jeans shorts.

Why was absinthe illegal?

Absinthe’s extraordinary flavor and astronomical strength caught the attention of big names like Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway and even Van Gogh himself, who was inspired enough to paint it in still life. In 1912 US law enforcement also took interest, but not as drinkers. They banned it that year, 6 years before Prohibition, so absinthe had clearly ruffled some feathers.

Absinthe myths

Why all the fuss? Well, nasty rumors had begun to spread about absinthe: that the wormwood caused hallucinations, turned you into a “crazy criminal” and promoted tuberculosis. Wormwood, thujone and bears, oh my.

Was any of that true?

There’s zero evidence to support any of that. Wormwood does contain a chemical compound called thujone that can cause muscle spasms in high concentrations, but there’s not nearly enough of it in absinthe to cause spasms, “madness” or, quite frankly, tripping.

Can absinthe kill you?

Absinthe is a natural botanical spirit, so there’s no hidden “poison” in it that’ll kill you. However, it does have a very high alcohol content that really isn’t good for you if you overdo it. Sip your absinthe in moderation and you’ll have a lovely time with the green fairy.

How much alcohol is in absinthe?

Quite a bit. In fact, absinthe is mostly alcohol. Alcohol content ranges between 55-75%. Delicious, but decidedly dangerous.

What does absinthe taste like?

This is why we’re all here, right? Absinthe has an edgy, unforgettable flavor profile. You’ll pick up a ferocious but complex aroma of flowers, herbs, licorice, mint and sweet spice. The flavor is a strong, warming blend of those components. The herbal ingredients lend some bitterness, as well. Absinthe isn’t sweet; it doesn’t qualify as a liqueur because it doesn’t have any added sugar. However, we’ll show you how to add your own a little later.

Is absinthe legal now?

Yes. Calmer heads eventually prevailed in the US, and absinthe was legalized again in the US in 2007. The US’s Alcohol, Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) simply requires wormwood/thujone levels to be under 10 parts per million. The government isn’t trying to stop you from tripping, mind you; you’d need a toxic amount of thujone to do that (don’t do that). Our interpretation is that they don’t want any potentially harmful chemicals in your booze. Tough but fair.

So does absinthe cause hallucinations?

No. If you’re trying to hallucinate, you’re not going to do it with absinthe. HOWEVER, if you’re throwing a prohibition-themed party or some kind of old-timey european cane-and-tophat night, you’re gonna want to have the green fairy around. When you break out the absinthe at your cocktail party, chances are everyone will have an opinion about it.

How to drink absinthe

Absinthe brings intrigue to the swankiest parties and injects class into classic movie nights. You’ve got to use it sparingly, so here are some ways to get the most out of it.


Absinthe doesn’t make a great straight sipper because it’s too strong and fairly bitter, but try it straight so you can break down its baseline flavors. 

In a cocktail

This is where it’s at for absinthe. A spirit with such strong botanical character and potency has a lot of applications in your home bar.

Absinthe cocktails

Absinthe Drip

Enjoy absinthe the proper Parisian way with this simple method. Ideally you’ll have a few items:
  • Cooler of ice water with faucet
  • Slotted spoon
  • Sugar cubes
  • Proper glassware is a stemmed, conical 10 oz. glass - the more ornate the better
  • If you don't have a slotted spoon or cooler, you can use chilled simple syrup (2 parts water, one part sugar)
  • Pour yourself an ounce of absinthe in the glass
  • Lay the spoon over the glass and place a sugar cube over the slots
  • Slowly open the cooler faucet over the ice cube and let the cold water slowly dissolve the sugar cube. Add as much water as you want
  • Stir and enjoy

  • The water dilutes the super-strong absinthe and the sugar cube cuts the bitterness. The absinthe will take on a milky, cloudy look called a “louche”. This is a deliciously different drink for a summer afternoon cocktail hour.


    Sazerac is a classic New Orleans cocktail. With an ounce and a half of rye whiskey leading the charge, this is a strong drink, but it’s incomplete without absinthe’s herbal contribution. Check out our recipe here and make one for yourself, mes amis.

    Death in the afternoon

    Ernest Hemingway came up with this cocktail just for you. It’s basically 4 parts chilled champagne to 1 part absinthe. Talk about a “moveable feast”!

    A note about lighting absinthe on fire…

    A common - but not historical - way of shooting cheap absinthe is to dip a spoonful of sugar into it, light the spoon on fire, put the fiery spoon into the absinthe, blow it all out and shoot it. This is not super safe, as you could burn your mouth, your tongue and possibly your house. Perform this parlor trick at your own risk.

    What is good absinthe?

    Good absinthe displays excellent herbal qualities. It shouldn’t be all licorice flavor and alcoholic potency. We like Lucid Absinthe Superieure because it balances well between herbal wormwood and licorice (anise). St. George Abstinthe Verte has even more complexity, with citrus/pepper notes blending well with the traditional herbal flavor. These two are a little pricier, but we aren’t dealing with an ordinary spirit here.

    Could it be that the haunting green light shining across the harbor from Gatsby’s dock in The Great Gatsby was a giant bottle of absinthe backlit by a heavy-duty flashlight? We’re not sure. More likely it represents a dream that perpetually remains beyond Gatsby’s ambitious reach. Luckily for us, absinthe is one dream of the past that’s well within our reach. Order tonight with Drizly and the green fairy will soon be knocking on your door. Remember, you invited her in...