Absinthe, much like New Orleans, has been given a bad reputation in many circles. This article takes a look at the history of absinthe and it’s return to the US. It’s resurgence has a connection to the Metro New Orleans area.
Absinthe Chasing The Green Fairy
Upon returning to the French Quarter after several years of absence we stumbled upon an establishment, on Royal Street, known as the “Absinthe Museum of America.” Oddly enough in our recent travels around the city we had heard that Absinthe was not only legal again in the US but readily available. So, what is Absinthe?
What is Absinthe?
Absinthe is best described as a liquor which is highly alcoholic beverage and distilled at a range of 90–148 U.S. proof). It has an anise-flavored that is derived from botanicals. These include the flowers and leaves of the Grand Wormwood or Artemisia absinthium along with green anise, sweet fennel, and other medicinal and culinary herbs.
In its traditional form Absinthe has a green color that comes naturally; however, it may also be without color. In historical literature absinthe has been called “la fée verte” or the green fairy. While called a liqueur by some this is not the case. Absinthe is a spirit because it isn’t traditionally bottled with added sugar. This makes Absinthe a spirit. Because of its high alcohol content Absinthe is normally diluted with water or mixed with something before being enjoyed.
Absinthe was originally found in Switzerland, in the canton of Neuchâtel, during the late 18th century. Absinthe gained popularity because of a shortage of wine late 19th- and to the early 20th-century in France. It was a favorite of Parisian artists and writers. Absinthe became associated with the bohemian lifestyle and was opposed by more conservative socialites. Still it had a following and some notable fans were Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Aleister Crowley, Erik Satie, Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Byron and Alfred Jarry.
When the wine producers were able to recover from the blight that had destroyed their vineyards wine producers began a campaign against Absinthe. Their marketing was effective, and Absinthe gained a reputation as being dangerously addictive as well as being a psychoactive drug and hallucinogen. While it does contain the chemical compound thujone in trace amounts, it is no more harmful than any other alcohol. Still by 1915, absinthe had been banned in the United States along with much of Europe, including France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and Austria–Hungary.
A revival of absinthe began in the 1990s following the adoption of modern European Union food and beverage laws which removed long-standing barriers to its production and sale. By the early 21st century, nearly 200 brands of absinthe were being produced in a dozen countries, most notably in France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, and the Czech Republic.
Today Absinthe has become very popular in part because of the efforts of one man Ted Breaux.
You see, Ted is guy, much like myself, who questions everything. When he asked a friend “What is Absinthe?” and the friend replied ” It’s a liquid that makes people crazy.” This response simply compelled Ted to find out how:
What made Absinthe illegal in the first place?
Did people really go crazy after drinking it?
Being a chemical engineer Ted had the knowledge and tools to reverse engineer pre-ban era bottles of Absinthe. Taking knowledge acquired from this process Ted was able to prove that Absinthe wasn’t any more harmful than any other spirit.
How To Enjoy Absinthe
First if you see someone “lighting” Absinthe either they don’t know what they are doing or they are drinking cheap Absinthe. The only reason to light Absinthe is to burn off impurities. So let’s look that best way to enjoy Absinthe.
Part of the allure of Absinthe is the preparation. Those who are steady of hand and maintain a cool demeanor but with practice anyone call pull it off. Get the proper tools, ingredients and mindset and you can enjoy the pleasures of “The Green Fairy” whether or not you are in Paris, New Orleans or your own home.
- Start with a bottle of good Absinthe. Do your research either on your own or using the link included at the end of this article.
- The proper glass is a Pontarlier glass – This type of glass is named for the French town, which is the home of the first Absinthe distillery. The reason this glass is preferred is the special bubble or “well” reserve located at the bottom of the glass, This will tell you how much absinthe is needed. This well located at the bottom of the Pontarlier glass will give you the perfect pour. However, you can enjoy absinthe can out of a paper cup.
- A traditional Absinthe spoon This is highly recommended and will make the process run smoother.
- A decanter of clean ice cold water (or Absinthe Fountain). The traditional absinthe recipe calls for 3 parts water to 1 part absinthe.
- Sugar cubes – While organic sugar cubes are recommended again, this isn’t required.
- Absinthe Fountain – If you REALLY want to get into it
The Traditional Absinthe Blend
Mixing your Absinthe is relatively simple. While you can adjust to your taste our recommendation is:
Three (3) parts water
One (1) part absinthe
One teaspoon to the above.
The Absinthe Drip: The Traditional Absinthe Ritual
Preparing Absinthe is the Classic French way is a treat. If you get this ritual down, you will be the hit of any party.
Before you get started, you should take a deep breath and calm yourself. While often overlooked, this is an important step. Going into the process relaxed will make it more enjoyable.
Once your mind is clear pour the Absinthe into the glass. In the case of the Pontarlier Absinthe glass, simply fill the bottom reservoir “well” or “bubble” to the tapered middle dose line. Make sure that you don’t overflow, this will give you the proper effect of the “Green Fairy” in the next step.
Next take the Absinthe spoon and place the sugar cube in the bowl. Next slowly, poor ice water over the sugar cube, allowing it to flow into the glass, where the water and absinthe will combine into a milky blend, or louche. Louche is the French word for opaque, and it is caused by certain ingredients in the absinthe (especially fennel) reacting to water. The cloudy louche is a good thing, and you’ll notice the bouquet of aromas blissfully gliding out of your glass.
The final step is the easiest part of the ritual. Take your first sip and ENJOY!