Absinthe is one of the world’s many spirits, yet remains one of its most misunderstood beverages. While absinthe once enjoyed great popularity and infamy during France’s Belle Epoque era, its reputation quickly declined after reports surfaced of hallucinatory properties and harmful side effects. But contrary to popular belief, absinthe is actually safe when consumed responsibly.
At its roots lies Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor living in Couvet, Switzerland. He created an herbal remedy combining green anise, fennel and wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) that became known as the “Absinthe Verte,” or the “Green Fairy.”
Once Phylloxera destroyed vineyards in France in the 1880s, an obsession for absinthe – considered an alleged elixir by some – quickly spread across working class France. Absinthe became a symbol of Parisian decadence and inspired artists and writers like Oscar Wilde and Arthur Rimbaud; Manet’s painting “The Absinthe Drinker” (1859) depicts an absinthe drinking street bum wearing rags while leaning against his top hat while holding an absinthe glass filled with spirit.
Modern absinthe is typically served with a sugar cube suspended over cold water on a slotted spoon and slowly poured until its sugar has disintegrated, followed by further diluting with cold water until desired concentration of alcohol concentration has been attained. Some brands even undergo an aging process for added smoothness.
Absinthe is a high-proof spirit (45-75% ABV or 90-148% proof in the US), usually sold unsweetened rather than as part of a dessert liqueur line-up. Absinthe’s distinctive herbal flavor comes from macerating whole herbs before maceration in its bottle; due to its higher alcohol content it should only be taken in small doses – typically between one and four ounces at once.