An Abbreviated Alphabetical Primer about La Fee Verte
Throughout history, alcohol has had to combat a lot of negative PR. In the 1700s, eager home distillers produced rotgut gin that created the Gin Craze, where a fifth of London’s populace was falling down drunk daily. Rum still exists in the shadow of the Triangle Trade. And then, there’s Absinthe. This is a spirit both simultaneously vilified and romanticized, blamed for Van Gogh’s ear-slicing madness and enamored for the image of the Green Fairy.
With the American ban on Absinthe (1917-2007) a thing of the past, it is time to leave the hyperbole behind. This Primer will hopefully offer up some of the nuts and bolts of Absinthe’s sordid and colorful history, and set the record straight on how to enjoy this wormwood-based spirit. And if you still want to roll around on the floor in a seemingly thujone-induced haze, well, that’s up to you.
ABV — At roughly 60% plus ABV, Absinthe is not meant to be drunk straight, but rather cut with water (see ‘Drip’, below) or as an ingredient in a cocktail.
The botanical name for Wormwood, which has been used throughout history as a medicinal aide and is also a key ingredient in vermouth.
Literally translates as “beautiful age” and references the sophisticated era from 1871 to 1914 in France. Art flourished through the eyes of Picasso, Braque, and Duchamp. Politics festered due to the Dreyfus Affair, in which a French Army officer was wrongly accused of spying. Entertainment reached a new level of decadence at the Moulin Rouge where the Can-Can was performed nightly. When we think Absinthe, we think Belle Epoque.
Death in the Afternoon
Hemingway claims to have invented this drink, which combines Absinthe and Champagne.
Traditional method of serving Absinthe whereby a water-filled container known as an Absinthe Fountain slowly drips water over a sugar cube perched on a flat spoon, dissolving the sugar and water into the spirit, thus diluting it.
As in an open flame. Don’t light your Absinthe on fire. It’s not necessary. It just flair. And Absinthe isn’t about flair, it’s about sophistication.
In drink terminology, this means to fill a glass with crushed ice. An Absinthe Frappé is one of the traditional ways to enjoy the spirit. Generally composed of Absinthe and simple syrup, the drink can be shaken or stirred, poured over crushed ice, blended, or amended with sweeteners like Anisette or Orgeat. It is often topped up with some seltzer.
Aka ‘La Fee Verte.’ The lyrical name given to Absinthe in the 19th century. The Green Fairy was a visual representation of the seductive and magical powers of Absinthe.
A Swiss worker, who in 1905 murdered his family after drinking an abundance of alcohol — including Absinthe. Lafray’s actions gave weight to the movement to ban Absinthe.
Aka ‘The Green Hour.’ Absinthe became so popular in late 19th century France that the late afternoon was dubbed “the green hour”, being the time when one enjoyed an absinthe aperitif.
A French term meaning “troubled” or “disturbed”, which is used to describe how Absinthe changes from clear to cloudy with the addition of water.
The Old Absinthe House
The aptly named New Orleans bar opened in 1869 bringing Absinthe Fever to New Orleans. Taken over in 1864 by Cayetano Ferrer, the bartender who originally tended bar, the spot became famous for its Absinthe Frappe.
There was nothing ordinary about this gentleman, a French doctor who created Absinthe in 1792 by distilling Wormwood.
A French town known for being the center of Absinthe production in the 19th and early 20th century.
A technique whereby a cocktail glass is “rinsed” with absinthe (or other spirit/liqueur) by swirling the liquid in the glass then tossing it out.
The classic New Orleans drink and one of America’s earliest cocktails. Recipe follows.
- 2- 2 1/2 oz. rye
- 1 Sugar Cube
- 1-2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
- 2-3 Dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
- Absinthe, to Rinse Glass
- Lemon Peel
Preparation: Rinse glass with Absinthe and discard remainder of spirit. Set aside. In a mixing glass, muddle the sugar cube with the bitters. Add rye, fill with ice, and stir until chilled. Strain into the Absinthe-rinsed glass. Twist lemon peel over glass to extract oils, garnish with peel or discard.
Yes, a spoon. The Absinthe spoon is the single most identifiable — and perhaps ritualistic — tool in the Absinthe arsenal. The spoon’s “bowl” is actually flat, allowing it to lie on top of a glass. The flat spoon has holes cut in it through which water can drip over a sugar cube placed on top.
The “hallucinogenic” compound — present in everything from sage to tarragon to wormwood — that resulted in Absinthe’s ban. In reality, the amount of thujone needed to cause any sort of “madness” is hyper-extreme. Modern science is what lifted the Absinthe ban — we were able to prove beyond a doubt that the amount of thujone in Absinthe was going to make you see pink elephants.
The best known imbiber in the world of Absinthe. Van Gogh is thought to have sliced off his own ear while in an Absinthe stupor. Among Van Gogh’s friends were Degas, Manet, Lautrec, and Gaughin. Now that was a house party.
Some Recommended Brands: Grande Absente, Kubler, Pernod, St. George Absinthe Verte, Vieux Pontarlier