The history of absinthe is a cocktail of myth, conjecture and controversy. A turn-of-the-twentieth-century favorite of artists and writers, the spirit was banned in the United States in 1912 because it was believed to be hallucinogenic. Just a few years ago, it once again became legal in America to buy the high-alcohol, anise-flavored liquor.
The term “absinthe” comes from Artemisia absinthium, the scientific name for its key ingredient, wormwood. Long before distillers discovered it, the herb was used for medicinal purposes.
The production of absinthe is much like that of gin: High-proof neutral spirit is infused with a blend of botanicals, including wormwood, and redistilled. Traditionally, the alcohol is infused a second time before bottling to intensify the flavor and create the signature green color. Many modern producers skip this final step and use dyes instead.
HOW TO DRINK ABSINTHE:
The traditional preparation is to slowly drip water over a sugar cube and into the spirit, which becomes cloudy (this is called the louche). According to Jim Meehan, an award-winning mixologist and a Liquor.com advisor, you can also use small quantities of absinthe (a few dashes, a rinse or a quarter-ounce) to add a floral, bittersweet quality to just about any cocktail. You also need absinthe to make a proper Sazerac, a Corpse Reviver #2 and a Death in the Afternoon.
NOTEWORTHY ABSINTHE BRANDS:
Kübler, La Fée, Lucid, Pernod, St. George, Vieux Pontarlier
Learn all about even more types of liquor in our Spirits 101 stories on bourbon, cognac, gin, Irish whiskey, rum, rye whiskey, Scotch, tequila and vodka.