There is perhaps no other drink that brings with it such a great degree of infamy in the public mind as absinthe. But what is absinthe and is its reputation truly warranted?
Absinthe is distilled in a similar method to gin, where the botanicals are macerated in base alcohol and redistilled. A wide range of herbs can be used in the production of absinthe with the primary three being wormwood, anise, and fennel. The green colour of traditional absinth comes from the seeping with more botanicals after distillation.
As with many flavoured spirits it was originally produced for its believed medicinal benefits in the late 18th century, as a remedy for all ailments. It was actually given to French soldiers as a preventive to malaria during the colonial wars in north Africa. The returning troops had grown a taste for absinthe and this together with the reduction in production and the resulting increase in cost of wine following the phylloxera epidemic in the late 19th century lead to absinthes increasing popularity.
It also became the drink of choice for bohemian Parisians, who espoused its supposed hallucinogenic effects brought on by a compound in the spirit called Thujone. In reality, there is only a minuscule trace level of this in absinthe that has no effect. The effects were rather due to their large consumption of such a high alcohol spirit.
This idea of hallucinations, supposed addiction and connections to crimes lead in part to its eventual banning in several countries in the early 20th century. Other factors were also at play however as with the Great War looming and the reduction in healthy recruits perceived to be the result of absinthe consumption. Lobbying by resurgent wine producers, who were facing loss of sales due to absinthe’s popularity was also a factor. The widespread consumption and increased demand also lead to poor quality and sometimes dangerous replicas being produced.
Modern, quality made, absinthe is no more dangerous to your health than any other alcohol product, albeit it should be drunk in moderation due to its very high alcohol content. It should not be drunk neat but rather diluted with cold water. The usual ratio is one part absinthe to five parts water. The addition of water causes essential oils to emulsify, creating a cloudy effect known as the ‘louche’. You could also add a little theatre to the serving by following a traditional method of slowly dripping chilled water on to sugar cube, dissolving it through an absinthe spoon to dilute the spirit.
So, here’s two options you can try, in moderation, to celebrate Absinthe Day on the 5th of March.
La Fee Absinthe Parisienne is distilled with 9 herbs and spices, all of which have their roots in traditional absinthe production. Smooth texture with fresh anise aroma and flavour.
Pernod Absinthe is from the company that opened the first absinthe distillery and based on a recipe from 1890. Balanced wormwood and anise with a silky-smooth body.