Absinthe has got itself a pretty bad reputation in society. Popular amongst those looking to get drunk quickly, absinthe’s long history and unique flavour have all but been forgotten.
So, how much do you know about the ‘green fairy drink’? All of your frequently asked questions about absinthe are answered below…
What is absinthe?
Absinthe is a spirit made from distilling a neutral alcohol with botanicals like wormwood oil, anise and other herbs and spices. Absinthe has a proof of 110 to 140. On average, absinthe has an alcohol content of between 45% - 75%. However, modern varieties of absinthe go as high as 80% or 90% ABV.
History of absinthe
Absinthe has a long history, spanning back to ancient times. Ancient Egypt was the first civilization where there is a record of absinthe, as a medicine. This was more so the use of wormwood oil, rather than the spirit itself, however. It was also used in Ancient Greece for stomach problems around the same time.
The spirit was made in the late 1700s by a doctor looking to create a drink to aid digestion, using wormwood and other herbs. It was later named ‘Dr. Ordinaire’s Absinthe’.
Absinthe became infamous during the 19th century in France. Its low price and wide availability saw absinthe truly take off within French society. During the height of the absinthe craze, there were 220 million litres of absinthe sold. It was believed that there was a strong correlation to criminality/insanity and drinking absinthe. This was false, but those under influence were deemed to be suffering from ‘absinthism’.
The flawed scientific studies of French doctor Valentin Magnan drove these fears. He gave pure wormwood oil to animals which brought on violent and erratic tendencies, a common side-effect of exposure to the herb. After linking absinthe to two brutal murders in Switzerland, a whole host of countries decided to ban the drink. First, the Republic of Congo banned absinthe in 1898, followed by Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands and France in the years soon after. In the end, the drink was blamed for the degeneration of society during this period.
How to drink absinthe
The most common way to drink absinthe is through diluting the spirit with water and a sugar cube. Drinkers also use an 'absinthe spoon', which is a spoon with a grate-like pattern. The sugar cube is placed upon it and the spoon is then positioned over the spirit in the absinthe glass. Slowly, cold water is dripped onto the sugar cube to dissolve it into the spirit, thus making it more palatable. Sometimes, an 'absinthe fountain' is used to produce a steady flow of water over the sugar cube.
It's a myth that absinthe should be consumed with a flaming sugar cube, as this was more of a marketing gimmick.
There are some absinthe cocktails, for those true absinthe fans. 'Death in the Afternoon' is a much loved cocktail made with absinthe, Champagne and simple syrup. Another suggestion we have is the 'Corpse Reviver'. This cocktail is made of absinthe, gin, fresh lemon juice, Cointreau and Lillet Blanc.
Want to know about more cocktails? Visit our 'what is a cocktail' page for more inspiration. Or if you want to keep it solely absinthe, read up on our '5 easy absinthe cocktails' post.
Here are some more frequently asked questions about absinthe answered for you...
Why is absinthe called the 'green fairy drink'?
Absinthe was thought to contain hallucinogenic properties. Pure wormwood oil can cause epileptic fits when exposed to a large enough amount. However, absinthe only has traces of this ingredient and does not cause hallucinations. Its high alcohol content and proof also contributed to this reputation as the 'green fairy drink'.
How strong is absinthe?
Traditional absinthe has an alcohol percentage of between 45% to 75%. Many modern absinthes have a much higher alcohol content of above 80%.
What does absinthe taste like?
The taste of absinthe is most often a liquorice-like taste. However, the drink has a complex make up of herbs and spices that allows other flavours to come through too.
Are there different styles of absinthe?
Yes. There are two different styles of absinthe, French/Swiss and Czech/Bohemian.
French/Swiss is considered to be the original recipe and is made through slow alcohol distillation with botanicals. Czech/Bohemian style absinth is spelled without the ‘e’. This style is made through mixing alcohol with colourings, flavourings and sugar. It normally has less of an aniseed taste and is sweeter than French/Swiss.
Are there different varieties of absinthe?
Yes. There are two varieties of absinthe, 'blanche' and 'verte'. Blanche absinthe (blue) is uncoloured as there is less herbal complexity. Verte (green) is blanche-style absinthe but with a more complex herb make-up. This is where the green colour comes from.
Why is absinthe green?
Absinthe is green because of the plants and herbs used during the production process. The colour seeps into the neutral-coloured alcohol. This variety of absinthe is called, 'absinthe verte'.
Is absinthe illegal?
No. Absinthe is legal worldwide. There are regulations on production and selling, which differs from country to country, however.
What are some popular absinthe brands?
Some popular absinthe brands include: Hapsburg Absinthe, Pernod, St. George, Leopold Brothers, Tennyson, and Nouvelle-Orleans. Our recommendation is the Hapsburg Absinthe for its wide variety.
How much absinthe should I drink?
Drinking absinthe traditionally with water and sugar does not require a lot of absinthe. For one serving, use 50ml (2 shots) of absinthe to best enjoy the drink.
Find out more about cocktail measures here.
Feel inspired to master absinthe behind the bar? Take a look at our EBS Bartender Courses here.