Mysterious Absinthe

by Steph Totten | January 1, 2008 11:22 am

When you hear the word “absinthe” what do you think of? Most likely you picture a sunken, mentally unstable man with long greasy hair and a wild eyed look hunched over a glass of green, hallucination-inducing potion. While the myth and mystery of absinthe is what led to its prohibition, the facts about absinthe are quite different. In fact, the sale of absinthe is now legal in most places, including the United States.

Absinthe is shrouded in mystery because of its role in movies, stories and the legends of artists and writers who used it as their muse. You have probably seen it demonized in such films as “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and “From Hell”, as well as heard stories of how its consumption drove brilliant artists mad. It’s true, there were many brilliant, albeit mentally unstable artists, (yes, I’m talking about you, Van Gogh) but they were brilliant and mad without any help from the green fairy.

So what is this mysterious, illicit-seeming spirit? Basically, absinthe is a strong, herbal liquor that is distilled with wormwood and anise. It originally came from Switzerland, but became wildly popular in France at the end of the 19th and early in the 20th centuries. It was, not surprisingly, hailed within the artistic community.

Now that absinthe is legal, and the illicit mystery is gone, how will it keep its reputation? It will, easily. Drinking absinthe is more of a ritual than a casual experience. It is served in a special absinthe glass – which is really cool looking in itself. Then a special, fancy slotted spoon is held over the glass with a sugar cube on top. Ice cold water is dripped onto the sugar cube, which then melts, and the syrup trickles into the absinthe glass. The syrup reacts with the anise in the absinthe causing it to louche, or turn to a cloudy, opalescent white. That, by itself, is pretty cool.

Sorry to disappoint you, but the myth of absinthe making you hallucinate is just that – a myth. It doesn’t do that, but absinthe drinkers say that the intoxication from it is completely different than anything else. It gives the effects of strong alcohol, mixed with a “clear headed” feeling, and some report a seemingly heightened state of mind.

The taste of absinthe is very strong, and the dominate flavor is of anise, or licorice. Many different ingredients can be added to absinthe, such as hyssop, angelica root, coriander, nutmeg and juniper. It is believed by many that mixing the effects of these different herbs is what causes the different effect that absinthe has when drunk.

Absinthe is pricey, and if you want to try it, the best way would be to split a bottle between friends. It is not a shooting liquor, but a sipping liquor meant for a social experience. In Omaha it is available at Spirit World at 75th and Pacific. They carry a French variety for $42.99 a bottle.

Death in the Afternoon

Ernest Hemingway – Pour one jigger of absinthe into a champagne glass. Add iced champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.

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