Mr. Brian Petro is a designer, educator, mixologist and bon vivant. His quest for knowledge never stops and he loves to share what he learns with others. Today in honor of National Absinthe Day, we rerun this post where Brian researches the green liquid.
It was not too long ago that the only absinthe in the United States was smuggled in. You had to know the right people to get a taste of a cocktail that was cloudy, aromatic, and a little bitter. Sure, there were some legal, poor substitutes, but there ain’t nothing like the real thing. The legal state of absinthe was not the only draw; the possibility of not only getting a good buzz, but the possibility of hallucinating also attracted the curious and adventurous.
One of the allures of absinthe, or la fée verte (the green fairy in French), is the mystery that surrounds the drink. In the late 19th century, it was a drink that was enjoyed across the European continent. Kings enjoyed it as much as the working class, which lead to a peak consumption of 36 million liters in France alone. It was so popular that they did not just have a happy hour; they had l’heure verte (the Green Hour). Some of the most creative people of the day were known to be avid absinthe drinkers, like Van Gogh, Gaugin, Oscar Wilde, and later Ernest Hemingway, who made his own drink with it (1 oz. of absinthe in a champagne glass, topped with champagne. He called it Death in the Afternoon). It was also such an interesting emerald color. And when you added the water, it took on a cloudier, softer complexion.
But rumors started to swirl that drinking absinthe caused hallucinations, possibly drove you insane (Van Gogh cutting his ear off didn’t help), or even kill you. They were spread not only by proponents of the growing temperance movement, but by bitter wine growers and merchants that were losing huge amounts of sales to the green liquid. And many of those artists who loved the liberating effects of the drink painted images of listless patrons being enveloped by green demons, or seduced by misty jade ladies. Eventually the universally loved beverage became a universally banned beverage, and with all of its “dangers” it stayed banned in most places for over 80 years.
What absinthe is is much less racy. It is a distilled spirit made with a blend of herbs that is fairly unique to each brand, and adds the green tint it is known for. Anise and fennel are common to all brands, giving the drink a distinctive black licorice flavor. There is also a subtle hint of bitterness on the end from the major culprit to the hallucination myth – grande wormwood. Wormwood contains a chemical called thujone, which in large enough quantities can cause hallucinations. Large quantities which will not be found in just a few glasses. Absinthe also runs at a higher proof than your average liquor, usually clocking in between 90 and 150.
The Absinthe Drip
1.5 oz. absinthe
3 – 5 oz. ice water, in a pitcher or carafe
Sugar cube (optional)
Absinthe spoon or other slotted spoon
Pour the absinthe in the bottom of a wine glass or water glass. There is also a specially crafted absinthe glass, but it is not commonly found. If you are using the sugar, place the spoon across the mouth of the glass and place the sugar cube on it. Pour the water over the sugar cube so it all dissolves into the absinthe. As the water hits the absinthe, it will louche (cloud up), releasing some of the more subtle flavors in the spirit. Stir the rest of the sugar into the drink and enjoy.
It is rare to find a cocktail that uses absinthe as a major ingredient. But since it is close to Mardi Gras, here is a traditional New Orleans cocktail that will make you feel like you are there for the celebration.
2 oz. rye whisky
3-4 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters
1 tsp. of sugar
Splash of absinthe
Prepare two glasses, chilling one glass with ice and water for the cocktail, one to mix the cocktail in. In your mixing glass, muddle the sugar and the bitters together. When it is well mixed, add the rye whisky and some ice, and chill the whole concoction. Pour the ice out of the second glass and add the splash of absinthe, swirling it around to coat the walls of the glass. Pour out the excess absinthe. Strain the rye mixture into the coated glass, Twist the lemon peel over the glass, and drop the peel into the drink or discard it.