Ever wonder why the mere presence of absinthe in your glass needs to be regulated by the FDA? We’re fascinated by absinthe, and with good reason: The anise-flavored spirit is steeped in controversy. Banned for nearly 100 years in the United States and most of Europe, this misunderstood libation – a favorite of artists in 19th-century France – was blamed for all sorts of madness, from hallucinations to murder. And who can resist the ritual of absinthe preparation? The sugar cube, the slotted spoon, the magic of watching the bright green Hellfire-like liquid turn into a milky, iridescent shade as the water releases the essential oils from the alcohol….
So let’s set the Drip Fountain and pull back the milky curtain on some of the most ubiquitous green-fairy tales.
Fiction: Absinthe can cause hallucinations and psychosis.
Fact: Absinthe is not a hallucinogenic, narcotic or psychedelic. The only drug in absinthe is – you guessed it – alcohol. (The hallucinations reported by early absinthe drinkers were likely the result of alcohol poisoning – or withdrawal.)
Fiction: If it’s not hallucinogenic, why was it banned?
Fact: For much the same reasons all alcohol was banned in the U.S. in the 1920s: The people who drank it were having too much fun, so religious and temperance groups viewed it as a threat. (The French wine industry felt much the same way.)
Fiction: Absinthe was only consumed in secret “absinthe dens” by artists, writers and unsavory characters.
Fact: Absinthe in the late 1800s and early 1900s was like craft beer today – everywhere.
Fiction: The absinthe you buy today is not “authentic” because it doesn’t include wormwood.
Fact: Actually, it is and it usually does. While there are faux, absinthe-like products on the market, called “absinth” – without the “e”, you can find the real stuff pretty easily.
Fiction: The proper way to prepare the drink is to soak a sugar cube in absinthe and set it on fire.
Fact: Nope. People didn’t begin setting absinthe on fire until the 1990s, probably inspired by the popularity of flaming Sambuca in the ‘80s. Any absinthe aficionado will tell you this is an abomination. Don’t ask for it. Don’t do it.
In fact, rather than heating it up, absinthe is best if served cold – like revenge. Welcome back our favorite “green fairy.” Dying to give it a try? Here’s a recipe for an absinthe-minded cocktail:
- 1.5 oz of absinthe
- 2 oz rye whiskey
- 3 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- Place ingredients into a shaker
- Shake with ice and strain into a glass
- garnish with lemon peel