Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder as it makes a comeback

Has anyone ever not heard of the dangers of drinking Absinthe?  In the 1970’s friends from the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain who had come to live in the United States bemoaned the fact they could not get Absinthe for drinking an after dinner cocktail to settle the effects of overeating or eating spicy foods.  They went so far as to take trips back to Europe and smuggle a random bottle back in their luggage just for the joy of the after dinner nip.

Absinthe is making a comeback today.  The history of Absinthe makes for entertaining reading while tasting Absinthe to settle the stomach after a rich meal.

Legend has it that Absinthe was created in the late 1700s by Dr. Pierre Ordinaire in the canton of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, as a digestive tonic and to promote appetite.  It is historically described as a distilled, highly alcoholic beverage.  An anise-flavoured spirit derived from herbs, including the flowers and leaves of the herb Artemisia absinthium, commonly referred to as “grande wormwood”, together with green anise and sweet fennel which gives it a slightly bitter taste straight out of the bottle.  Absinthe traditionally has a natural green color but can also be colorless. It is commonly referred to in historical literature as la fée verte (the Green Fairy) because it was believed to make you hallucinate. It achieved great popularity as an alcoholic drink in late 19th- and early 20th-century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers. Owing in part to its association with bohemian culture, consumption of absinthe was opposed by social conservatives and prohibitionists. Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Aleister Crowley, were a few of the many known drinkers of absinthe. (source:  Wikipedia)

Although it is sometimes mistakenly called a liqueur, absinthe is not bottled with added sugar and is therefore classified as a spirit. Absinthe is unusual among spirits in that it is bottled at a very high proof but is normally diluted with water when consumed. Absinthe can be considered bitter to the taste buds and by diluting it with very cold water, smoothes the taste.

Absinthe has been portrayed as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug.   The chemical thujone, present in small quantities, was blamed for its alleged harmful effects.  Wormwood was considered to be the source of the effect, while in fact it is a poison and should not be consumed in an attempt to emulate the effects of Absinthe.

By 1915, absinthe had been banned in the United States and in most European countries including France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although absinthe was vilified, no evidence has shown that it is any more dangerous than ordinary spirits. Its psychoactive properties, apart from those of alcohol, were much exaggerated.  Although Absinthe had been banned in the United States and most European countries for nearly a century, a majority of the allegations regarding the dangers of the spirit were perpetuated by competitors who had ulterior motives for getting the product off the market.  A revival began in the 1990s when countries in the European Union began to reauthorize its manufacture and sale. The Absinthe blend currently on the market is completely legal and meets the US standards for content.

Absinthe has been popular outside of France, including Spain, New Orleans – home to the Absinthe Museum of America – and the Czech Republic. Absinthe was never banned in Spain or Portugal, and its production and consumption has never ceased. New Orleans also has a historical connection to absinthe consumption. The city has a prominent landmark called the Old Absinthe House, located at 240 Bourbon Street. Originally called the Absinthe Room, it was opened in 1874 by a Catalan bartender named Cayetano Ferrer. The building has historically been rumored to be frequented by many famous people. The signature drink is the Absinthe House Frappe:

Note:  the glass should be cold to the point of having a icy frosting to the outside of the glass to have the preferred effect.

Fill a rocks glass with crushed ice add:
1 1/4 ounce of Herbsaint
1/4 ounce of Anisette
top with a splash of soda water

Substitutions:  Herbsaint is an Absinthe substitute made in New Orleans. It is their preferred liquor for the drinks mentioned. If you cannot find it – you may use Pernod Fils or Anisette as a substitute. Peychaud is a locally produced brand of aromatic bitters. Since it’s flavor is unique it is preferred for mixing these cocktails – however Angostura bitters can be used in its place.

Preparing_absinthe

Preparing_absinthe; Photo courtesy Wikipedia Creative Commons

Traditionally, Absinthe was served in a glass with a cold drip of water added until it reached a milky white state. Also to help with the bitter taste, it was common to serve the drink with a sugar lump on a special spoon between the drip of iced water and the Absinthe.

Absinthe_spoons

Absinthe_spoons; Photo courtesy Wikipedia Creative Commons

  1. Fill the reservoir of the glass with absinthe (or about 1/3 to 1/5 absinthe of the volume).
  2. Place an absinthe spoon and a sugar cube on top of the glass.
  3. Slowly drip ice water through the sugar until it dissolves completely. A green line will form at the top. As this line forms it is common to sample the absinthe by drinking off this green line to get the full impact of the absinthe’s qualities before the drink is fully diluted.
  4. The drink louches (turns white; this is due to the oils being soluble in alcohol but not in water) and new flavours come out.

Now, in a comeback, cocktail aficionados looking to take advantage of the newest trend in spirits can head over to Cutter’s Cigar Bar at the Charlotte (North Carolina) Marriott City Center where a new Absinthe Fountain is flowing as part of a cocktail revival.  Patrons of Cutter’s Cigar Bar can participate in the very intriguing experience of the Absinthe Fountain, where a glass containing an ounce of Lucid Absinthe is placed underneath the fountain which is filled with ice cold water.  The specially designed spoon holding a raw sugar cube is placed on top of the glass.  The ice cold water is slowly “dropped” onto the sugar, allowing the sugar water to be released into the glass and mixed with the spirit.  Once the “louche” is created and the oils in the spirit are released to create the classic green and opaque appearance, the cocktail is complete.

The Absinthe Fountain is part of an overall cocktail revival where local seasonal ingredients are incorporated into many cocktails including making house bitters for Cutter’s Cigar Bar.  Fresh farm produce such as chocolate mint, arugula, and seasonal berries are also used in cocktails.  With the growing demand of “retro cocktails,” Cutter’s has reintroduced such classics as the “New” Old Fashioned, and the Sazerac, comprised of Rye Whiskey, Lucid Absinthe, Peychaud’s Bitters, house-made simple syrup, and a lemon twist.

While visiting Charlotte and the hotel. There are many dining and cocktail outlets include fine dining at Savannah Red Restaurant and Wine Bar, spirits and smoking at Cutter’s Cigar Bar, a fun and relaxed atmosphere at Champion’s Sports Bar & Restaurant, as well as the new Rooftop Garden.  For additional information, visit www.MarriottCityCenter.com or call 704-333-9000.

You can order absinthe online from several sources,or purchase a Green Devil Absinthe Glass and Spoon barware set from Amazon.com,  making a lovely gift for your favorite gourmand.  For the history and more information on Absinthe, you can pick up the book, Absinthe: History in a Bottle by Barnaby Conrad III also from Amazon.com or head on over and check out the Absinthe Buyers Guide website.

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