What is Absinthe: A Comprehensive Guide to the Green Spirit

Exploring the Mysteries of Absinthe: What is Absinthe and How is it Made?
13 min reading time

We’ve all heard of it—the infamous, potent liqueur that has gained a mystique and mystery since its invention in the 1700s. It’s called absinthe and, if you haven’t tried it yourself or at least seen someone flambéing it before mixing it into an artistic cocktail, then you’re certainly missing out! Absinthe is not your average alcoholic beverage; its complex flavor profile makes for some delicious drinks while its history is colorful and peopled with characters on a journey from prohibition to today’s mixology popularity.

So what is absinthe and why do we love absinthe so much? Let’s take a deeper dive into what exactly defines this popular spirit.

What is Absinthe?

Absinthe is a powerful liquor, made from botanicals such as anise, fennel, and wormwood. It has been around since the early 19th century when it gained popularity in France among artists and writers who sought its effects.

The active ingredient in absinthe is thujone; a chemical found in some of the herbs used to make it. Thujone can act as a mind-altering drug under certain concentrations, which led to its prohibition across many countries for much of the 20th century. Today, however, many countries have lifted their bans on absinthe allowing it to be sold legally worldwide.

The unique taste of absinthe is derived from wild herbs that are macerated into alcohol which produces never-before-seen flavors unlike any other spirit out there. Its color ranges from emerald green to golden yellow depending on how long it’s been aged or if the dye was added during production – although natural coloring is ideal with higher-quality brands using extractions of aromatic plants like hyssop and mellow yellow petite wormwood rather than artificial additives or dyes. It typically has an alcohol content ranging anywhere between 45–89% ABV with most enjoying doses at around 68%.

Often associated with hallucinogenic properties due to past misconceptions surrounding its active ingredient; thujone – research conducted by toxicologists since then has revealed that this compound can only result in hallucinations when consumed in massive doses exceeding 200mg (impossible through regular consumption). Therefore modern-day enthusiasts consume Absinthe simply for its unique flavor profile and ritualistic presentation rather than anything else! It’s served cold but because some brands contain molasses or sugar syrup one must be mindful not over dilute it too much otherwise you risk overwhelming its aroma palate altogether!

Brief History & Origin

Absinthe has a long and storied history that is steeped in myth and mystery. It was first created in Switzerland during the 18th century by an alchemist named Pierre Ordinaire. Absinthe was first popularized among French artists, intellectuals, writers, and aristocrats. Its popularity spread throughout Europe due to its reputed ability to provide inspiration, clarity of thought, and increased creativity when drunk.

At one point it was even prescribed for various medical ailments such as depression or stomach disorders due to its mild psychedelic effects from the wormwood herb used to make absinthe – something which would eventually lead to it being outlawed in many countries. Although modern scientific studies have shown that absinthe’s illegal ingredients are not actually psychoactive like they were once believed to be, the drink still retains cultural cachet thanks largely to its historical significance as a romanticized drug of choice for famous creatives such as Van Gogh and Baudelaire among others.

What Does Absinthe Taste Like?

Absinthe has a unique and complex flavor. It is an herbal spirit that is made with wormwood, anise, fennel, and other botanicals. The primary taste of absinthe is that of anise, which gives it a licorice-like flavor. Some people also describe it as having hints of fennel, mint, and other herbs. Depending on the quality and type of absinthe, it can range from bitter and earthy to sweet and floral. The exact taste of absinthe can vary depending on the recipe and how it is prepared, but it is generally considered to be a bold and distinctive drink.

How is Absinthe Made?

what is absinthe and how is it made?

The process of making absinthe is surprisingly similar to other distilled liquors such as gin or vodka – here is a step-by-step guide on how to make absinthe at home:

  • Begin by gathering the ingredients necessary for making your own absinthe – you will need wormwood (Artemisia Absinthium), fennel, aniseed, hyssop, lemon balm, and boiling water.
  • Start infusing these botanicals – grind them into small pieces in order to maximize their surface area before putting them into separate glass containers filled with boiling water. Allow this infusion to steep for around 5 hours before straining out the plant material
  • Next, create a syrup using sugar or honey and some of your infused botanical waters – warm up some of the water while stirring in either sugar or honey until completely dissolved. Once this sweet syrup has cooled off, add it back into your essence collection. This sweetening stage not only accentuates aromas but also provides added sweetness so you can adjust the overall alcohol content should you wish!
  • Now comes the distillation process – place all infused liquids into one vacuum flask along with neutral grain alcohol (such as Vodka or Everclear). Place this flask in a double boiler so that when the heat gets applied from outside sources, the liquid inside boils without any exposure from air-borne particles which could cause contamination during fermentation processes Connect two tubes at opposite ends of the flask so vapourised alcohol goes through condensers where cold air keeps the temperature low enough for steam/alcohol mixture turn back into liquid form trapping flavors inside. Allow this process to complete several times over until desired ethanol percentage is achieved!
  • Finally, finish off your homemade absinthe by rectifying the final product – purify it further using an activated charcoal filter & cut down its potential harshness with fruits/ herbs like grapes oranges, etc. Bottle up homemade liquor & let sit 2 weeks minimum before drinking/serving.

Is Absinthe Legal?

Absinthe is generally legal in many countries, including the United States, Canada, and most European countries. However, there are regulations in place regarding the production and sale of absinthe due to its high alcohol content and the presence of thujone, a chemical compound found in the herb wormwood, which is one of the main ingredients in absinthe. In the US, for example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates thujone levels in absinthe to ensure that it meets safety standards. Absinthe that contains less than 10 parts per million of thujone is considered safe and legal to sell and consume. It’s important to note that some brands of absinthe may contain higher levels of thujone, so it’s essential to check the label before purchasing.

How to Buy Absinthe?

Absinthe is a unique and flavorful liquor that can provide a distinctive addition to cocktails or a standalone drink. In many countries, absinthe is a regulated alcoholic beverage and may only be available in specialty liquor stores or online retailers. When searching for absinthe, look for reputable sellers that offer a variety of brands and styles. There are different types of absinthe, including traditional green absinthe, clear absinthe, and absinthe with added flavors, such as blackcurrant or mint.

Consider your budget and purpose for purchasing absinthe when selecting a brand or style. It’s also important to note that some absinthe may contain higher levels of thujone, an ingredient that is believed to cause hallucinations. However, most modern absinthe sold today is thujone-free or contains only trace amounts. Always make sure to follow the recommended serving size and drink responsibly. With these tips in mind, you can find the right absinthe to add some flair to your cocktail game.

How to Drink Absinthe?

The best way to drink absinthe is to pour an ounce or two of absinthe into a glass, place a slotted spoon over the glass, and place a sugar cube on top of it. Slowly pour ice-cold water over the sugar cube so that the water dissolves the sugar and drips into the absinthe. As the water mixes with the absinthe, it will turn a cloudy, milky color due to the anise oils in the drink. Sip the absinthe slowly, and remember that it is a potent drink, so it is best consumed in moderation. It is important to note that absinthe is a highly alcoholic drink and should be consumed responsibly.

Are There Any Side-Effects of Absinthe?

absinthe in two glasses

Absinthe is a highly alcoholic drink that has been historically associated with several side effects. The psychoactive drug contains thujone, a chemical found in wormwood, which is its primary flavoring. Drinking too much absinthe can lead to a range of adverse side effects that include delirium, epileptic attacks, vertigo, hallucinations, and insanity. Many people who drink absinthe may also experience memory loss and addiction.

One of the most significant dangers of absinthe is alcohol poisoning. Absinthe has a very high alcohol content, which can be lethal in large quantities. People who drink absinthe may also die from alcoholism, especially if they consume it regularly. Additionally, absinthe may contain other additives and chemicals that are not regulated or authorized for human consumption, which can be harmful to health.

The effects of absinthe depend on the individual and the amount consumed. Absinthe can also cause seizures, convulsions, and cognitive problems. In severe cases, long-term absinthe use can lead to psychosis and severe mental illness.

In conclusion, absinthe is a potent alcoholic drink that can have serious and even life-threatening side effects. It should be consumed in moderation and with caution. If consumed excessively, it can lead to addiction, memory loss, hallucinations, seizures, and even death. It is essential to be aware of the risks associated with the consumption of absinthe and to drink responsibly.

Is Absinthe a Hallucinogen?

Absinthe is not a hallucinogen. Despite popular myths and legends, absinthe does not cause hallucinations. Its primary flavoring, wormwood, contains a chemical compound called thujone, which has been linked to its purported hallucinogenic properties. However, the amount of thujone present in absinthe is not enough to cause hallucinations.

Absinthe is a highly alcoholic drink that has a unique flavor and aroma due to the presence of herbs and spices. The high alcohol content can cause intoxication and impair judgment, leading to confusion and disorientation. However, these effects are due to the alcohol and not the thujone or other compounds found in absinthe.

It is important to note that improperly made absinthe may contain unsafe levels of thujone or other additives. Therefore, it is always recommended to purchase absinthe from reputable sources and to consume it in moderation.

What Are Some Precautions to Consider While Consuming Absinthe?

While consuming absinthe, it is important to take certain precautions to ensure safe consumption. Here are some of the precautions to keep in mind:

  • Always drink alcoholic beverages responsibly. Do not drive or operate heavy machinery while your judgment is impaired.
  • Do not drink too much absinthe at once – its high alcohol content can be dangerous when consumed in large quantities.
  • Avoid mixing absinthe with other substances such as drugs or medications as this can lead to adverse reactions.
  • Keep water and a fire extinguisher nearby in case of any mishap during the preparation process.
  • Do not light the absinthe on fire – this is a common myth and can be extremely dangerous.
  • Pregnant women should not consume absinthe as it can be harmful to the developing fetus.

By following these precautions, you can enjoy absinthe safely and responsibly.

Why Can’t a Pregnant Woman Consume Absinthe?

Pregnant women should avoid consuming absinthe because it contains wormwood, which is its primary flavoring. Wormwood is considered unsafe during pregnancy as it contains a chemical compound called thujone. Thujone is known to affect the nervous system and can cause contractions of the uterus, which may lead to miscarriage or premature labor.

In addition to the potential risk of miscarriage, there is also a lack of research on the effects of absinthe consumption during pregnancy. Therefore, it is recommended that pregnant women err on the side of caution and avoid all alcoholic beverages, including absinthe.

How to Properly Store Absinthe?

To properly store absinthe, it is important to keep it in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Exposure to light and heat can cause the color and flavor of the absinthe to degrade over time. It is also recommended to store the bottle upright, as storing it on its side can cause sediment to settle at the bottom, which can impact the flavor of the absinthe.

If you have an opened bottle of absinthe, be sure to keep the cap tightly sealed to prevent oxidation. It is also recommended to consume the absinthe within a year of opening for optimal flavor. Finally, if you have a vintage or rare bottle of absinthe, it may be best to store it unopened and in its original packaging to preserve its value and authenticity.

What Are Some Popular Absinthe Cocktails?

There are many cocktails that use absinthe as an ingredient. Here are some popular cocktails with absinthe:

  • Sazerac – A classic New Orleans cocktail made with rye whiskey, Peychaud’s bitters, sugar, and absinthe.
  • Death in the Afternoon – A cocktail made from absinthe and Champagne.
  • Corpse Reviver No. 2 – A cocktail made with gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, lemon juice, and a dash of absinthe.
  • Monkey Gland – A cocktail made with gin, orange juice, grenadine, and a dash of absinthe.
  • La Louisiane – A cocktail made with rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, and a dash of absinthe.
  • Waltzing Matilda – A cocktail made with gin, Pernod, lemon juice, and grenadine.
  • The Green Beast – A refreshing cocktail made with absinthe, lime juice, simple syrup, and water.
  • The Atty Cocktail – A cocktail made with gin, dry vermouth, absinthe, and orange bitters.
  • Improved Whiskey Cocktail – A classic cocktail made with rye whiskey, maraschino liqueur, absinthe, and Peychaud’s bitters.

These cocktails showcase the versatility and complexity of absinthe as an ingredient.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why is absinthe referred to as “The Green Fairy”?

Absinthe is often associated with the nickname “The Green Fairy” due to its vibrant green color and alleged ability to induce creativity and inspire artistic expression.

Can absinthe be used in cooking?

Yes, absinthe can be used as an ingredient in cooking. It can add a unique flavor profile to dishes such as sauces and desserts.

Why was absinthe banned in certain countries?

Absinthe was banned in several countries, including the United States and many European countries, in the early 20th century due to concerns over its alleged hallucinogenic properties and potential health risks. The ban has since been lifted in many countries.

How is absinthe traditionally served?

Absinthe is traditionally served by pouring it into a glass and then placing a slotted spoon or “absinthe spoon” over the glass. A sugar cube is placed on the spoon, and cold water is slowly dripped over the sugar cube and into the absinthe until it reaches the desired dilution.

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