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Absinthe

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All about absinthe

What is absinthe?

If giants of the art world such as Vincent Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde and Charles Baudelaire chose to celebrate absinthe, there must be something special about this spirit. Known as “La Fee Verte,” (the green fairy), absinthe is legendary for its green color, its strong licorice flavor, and a reputation for making people go crazy.

Taking the romance out of it, distillers make it in a similar way as gin and other liquors, by mixing a grape or grain spirit with botanicals such as green anise and sweet fennel, giving it a faint licorice flavor. There are two types of absinthe: blanche and vert. The vert variant undergoes an additional steeping process with various herbs, creating the characteristic bright green hue. To make the blanche variant, which has a more delicate flavor and a clear appearance, producers skip the steeping process. 

The story of absinthe

In the 18th century, French doctor Pierre Ordinaire made the first "prototype" of green absinthe as a medicinal remedy. Soon after, Henri-Louis Pernod bought the recipe and opened the first distillery dedicated to the green fairy in Switzerland.

In the mid-19th century, this liquor gained international popularity. French soldiers drank absinthe to prevent malaria, and they liked it so much that they wanted to bring it home after the war. Meanwhile, distillers started to export the green fairy from Switzerland and France to Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

Around the same time, people started to think that this delicious green liquor had hallucinogenic properties. Science has never backed up this popular belief, but many countries banned the spirit until the 1990s, and the US didn’t legalize it again until 2007.

Now, absinthe is on the rebound, and you can enjoy the magic of the green fairy for yourself. Shop for it on Drizly or see if we've made it to your city. Here are some handy links to search for Drizly in your city, or look for liquor stores on Drizly near you.

Is absinthe legal in the United States?

Yes, it's totally legal, as long as it is created within certain parameters! While absinthe was banned in the U.S. and several European countries in the early 1900s, due to alleged dangerous properties, it was made legal in the U.S. again in 2007 with regulated thujone levels (more on thujone below).

Is absinthe bad for you?

Absinthe is a distilled spirit, so there are plenty of ways drinking too much of it can affect your health. One of the reasons for the absinthe ban back in the 1900s was because people believed it could cause hallucinations, convulsions, mental deterioration, and psychosis. Many of these alleged effects were said to be caused by thujone, a substance contributed by the wormwood, which is why that ingredient is regulated in modern recipes. It is also important to remember that absinthe was incredibly cheap, wildly accessible, and pretty much unregulated back in those days, as well as sporting an higher ABV (alcohol by volume) than other spirits, all of which could have led to its overall reputation.

What ingredients are in absinthe?

The main botanicals are grande wormwood, green anise, and florence fennel, all of which contribute to the black licorice flavor. A variety of other herbs can be used as well, including petite wormwood, hyssop, melissa, star anise, angelica, peppermint, coriander, and veronica, which kind of makes it sound like you're throwing a party instead of distilling a famous beverage.

What does absinthe taste like?

This liqueur is usually dry and a bit bitter in flavor, and it's also highly aromatic, typically with notes of black licorice and fennel. Absinthe is usually made from a spirit high in alcohol, such as brandy, and can be marketed with alcoholic content of up to 74 percent by volume, or 148 proof, so it definitely has some "heat" if tasted straight.

Can you drink absinthe straight?

That's kind of like asking "can I punch myself in the face?" You certainly could, but we don't recommend it. There's a reason the absinthe ritual exists, and that reason is to help temper the nigh-overwhelming flavors present in the unadulterated liqueur.

How do you drink absinthe?

There are a variety of "right" ways to drink it, and the most fun way is the absinthe ritual. You've probably heard of all kinds of equipment you need - spoons, fountains, even specific glasses. While that's all fun, all you really need is a clear glass, some absinthe, and some icy cold water. The point of the ritual is to slowly drip the water into your glass, causing the absinthe to "louche," or release its oils and turn from clear to cloudy. It's a sight to behold, and we recommend you do it as slowly as your patience allows. That's all you really need, and you can save the money for equipment purchases to spend on absinthe.

Am I supposed to light absinthe on fire?

In short, absolutely not. There are some versions of the ritual that include soaking a sugar cube in absinthe, and lighting it on fire to let it drip into your glass. We've heard apocryphally this was introduced to the ritual to attempt to cover the taste of second-rate absinthes, and it is completely unnecessary (burnt sugar doesn't really make a good absinthe taste any better). You also don't want to have an open flame around such a high-ABV product, especially if you've had a few drinks yourself. Let's all decide now to leave our lighters at home, shall we?

Can you use absinthe in cocktails?

Absinthe-olutely! (Sorry). We have a few absinthe cocktails to recommend - we like the Sazerac (a brandy or whiskey cocktail with an absinthe rinse for the glass), the Corpse Reviver #2 (gin + lillet + an absinthe-rinsed glass) and one of our favorites, Death in the Afternoon, the delicious combination of absinthe and champagne.