You Only Think You Know Absinthe

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Los Angeles’s Faith & Flower knows how to flame on.

Absinthe became legal again in the United States seven years ago, but only recently has it broken free of the chains of a silly reputation.

The herb-driven liqueur has been wrapped in a rather grand coil of myth that includes green fairies and hallucinations, elaborate services and exotic jade color.  Those trappings have become the tool by which some absinthe brands have attracted new drinkers. More often than not, though, they’re the rope that’s hung the genre, keeping it locked in pomp and frivolity while the cocktail movement marches toward a more modest sensibility.


A few spots have incorporated absinthe’s romance into a more accessible storyline. The newish Brooklyn bar Maison Premiere was a leader in the effort to move absinthe beyond gimmick. It has a broad selection and some of the best absinthe-based cocktails in the country. (Here’s looking at you, absinthe Piña Colada.)

Greater availability of small-batch imports in the absinthe market has prompted a new concentration of bars with an absinthe focus. Miles Macquarrie, co-owner and bar manager of the new Kimball House in Decatur, Georgia, offers 12 different absinthes, a selection impossible even five years ago.  The bar features two absinthe fountains for traditional service, but Macquarrie recommends that newbies start with a cocktail. “The Absinthe Frappe is a classic, and it shows off the distinct flavor of the spirit,” he says.

At the new Faith & Flower in Los Angeles, bartender Michael Lay uses a little flare to dazzle first-time absinthe drinkers. The bar’s spectacle: the Leap of Faith. To create the cocktail, absinthe is ignited and poured into a tumbler of root beer and ice. Before the guest tries the drink, she is encouraged to inhale a bit of absinthe vapor. The service is rambunctious, but it piques interest in the rest of Faith & Flower’s global absinthe collection, which comes from all over the globe.


Ready to open your home bar to the beguiling green beast? Get rolling.

  • Start light: Miles Macquarrie of Kimball House recommends starting with a white absinthe such as Duplais Blanche; this style doesn’t go through secondary maceration like its green brethren so its flavor is milder.

  • Add ice: Though absinthe cocktails are generally stirred and served neat, Michael Lay gives on-the-rocks the green light. “It slowly dilutes the spirit and mellows the flavor, mimicking what happens with a traditional absinthe fountain.” Macquarrie concurs, suggesting that newcomers try an Absinthe Frappe, which is shaken and served over crushed ice.

  • Pick quality: When shopping for a bottle, avoid absinthe with artificial green coloring.

  • Pair with oysters: At both Kimball House and Maison Premiere, absinthe is spotlighted for its harmonious relationship with oysters; both bars feature more than 30 varieties of the bivalve. “It’s a classic pairing,” says Macquarrie.
Kaitlyn Goalen is a writer, editor and cook based in Brooklyn and Raleigh, N.C. She is the editor and co-founder of Short Stack Editions, a series of single-subject, digest-size cookbooks, and has contributed to a variety of national publications.

Recipes: Absinthe Frappe
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  • camlanndpgmailcom1435363254 posted 1 year ago

    Those pictures are all kinds of yuck. Fake green cheap rotgut absinthe... the only thing I suppose you could do with it IS to set it on fire, but I wouldn't pay money to do it.

  • Gwydion Stone posted 3 years ago

    Absinthe has definitely not broken free of the chains of a silly reputation. I visit bars and interact with distributor reps, bartenders and servers on a nearly daily basis. The huge majority of people in the industry still have no clue what absinthe is or how to properly even think about it, let alone serve it.

    The phrase "move absinthe beyond the gimmick" rings false to my ears. If absinthe was gimmicky, it was ignorant bartenders who made it that way, with fire fetishes and an addiction to pointless ceremony. Is wine gimmicky because there are crappy brands with terrible marketing?

    There are those of us who have been debunking myths and TRYING to move absinthe "beyond the gimmick" for over a decade. The Wormwood Society has been promoting the truth about absinthe, its history, characteristics, proper service, the reasons for the various details of service since 2004.

    We've met with resistance from brand owners, bartenders, and spirits experts whose knowledge of other spirits is deep and erudite, but whose absinthe knowledge was effectively nonexistent. Famous and well-respected expert spirits reviewers are still tasting and evaluating absinthe neat and praising characteristics that are actually serious faults. Absolutely fake, artificially-colored absinthe has taken gold in serious spirits competitions. So have genuine but grossly inferior absinthes.

    Bartenders who would never think of flare-tending or gimmicky presentations with good whisky are still trying to be clever with super-premium artisanal absinthe. Bars that would never put MD 20/20 or Thunderbird on their wine menu are proudly listing equivalent brands of absinthe—and often fake absinthe—out of sheer ignorance.

    I have nothing but respect and gratitude for the very few bartenders out there who aren't too-cool-for-school and care enough to ditch their ignorance in favor of a hundred years of non-gimmicky, traditional absinthe service.

    Notes to bartenders:

    1. PLEASE stop serving absinthe in rocks glasses. If you don't have absinthe glasses, use a wine glass or stemmed water glass. Absinthe in a rocks glass looks like so much dish-water. A globular shape will accentuate the nuances of light refraction and the opalescence that a properly poured absinthe should have.

    2. Proper dilution is crucial. Absinthe is not drunk as a hard spirit. The proper ratio is ONE ounce of absinthe to between 3 and 5 parts water. This will make a drink of between 4 and 6 ounces with a target strength of around 12% abv. If you're serving 1.5 ounces, you're over-pouring (and over-charging). Higher proof absinthes get more water, lower proof get less. There are dilution aids on the Wormwood Society, including an app, based on the Absinthe Dilution Matrix written by Michael Meyers (whose comments are above).

    These more than anything else will help your staff and guests begin to understand how absinthe should be drunk, they'll enjoy their drink much more, and possibly re-order.

    Gwydion Stone
    Distiller, Marteau Absinthes
    Founder & Administrator, The Wormwood Society

  • drinkingwithdeidre.58bb1d posted 3 years ago

    I agree with the above gentleman whom I adore and admire greatly. And on the subject of great bars doing great things with absinthe. I realize I don't "pay to play" but my bar has the largest selection of absinthe in the country and the most interesting selection of original and innovative absinthe cocktails. But you featured the one that used inferior product on fire. Please do a bit more research next time, and look at the smaller places doing big things.

    Deidre Darling
    Also, here is what an article on Absinthe should look like:

  • ipomianowski.13da1 posted 3 years ago

    I first tried St. George Absinthe because of this amusing video.
    Experimenting with an Absinthe Cocktail called "Death In The Afternoon" was fun with friends. Still waiting to reach that sense of clarity mentioned in the video.

  • Michael Meyers posted 3 years ago

    Wow... where to start except to say that, at the least, I echo the sentiments of the more gentlemanly contributor who preceded me. And he's absolutely correct.

    But more to the point of what is wrong with articles such as this is that we seem to be living in an age where everyone, regardless of real acumen (or not) in a given field, seems to feel entitled to their opinion on any and all subjects, well informed or not.

    Kaitlyn, I'm guessing you do have real knowledge in some arena, otherwise I don't believe would have you as a contributor. But do us all a favor and stick to what you know. A good deal of the information in your article is accurate, but the inaccurate bits and pieces do more damage than you can possibly imagine. Those who know absinthe's real story and history work tirelessly to undo the myth and misinformation proffered by those ignorant or with an agenda. Articles such as this set that cause back immeasurably.

    The irony of this is the title of your article... "You Only Think You Know Absinthe"

    Michael Meyers
    A Guy Who Knows A Thing Or Two About Absinthe

  • brian.robinson posted 3 years ago

    Sooooo, you write an article about absinthe overcoming myth and silly reputation, yet post a picture of absinthe being prepared in a way that harkens back to one of the reasons why absinthe had a bad reputation: setting it on fire. That seems more than a little counter-intuitive to me.

    The absinthe fire ritual was invented in Eastern Europe in the 1990's by producers of knockoff imitation brands that had no resemblance to authentic/traditional absinthe. Not really something that a high end cocktail establishment should be considering when attempting to educate consumers about absinthe.

    Brian Robinson
    Review Editor
    Media Liaison
    The Wormwood Society

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