For years, American drinkers were tantalized by tales of the supposed hallucinogenic effects of the banned spirit absinthe. But while the alcohol packs a wallop (the proof ranges from 110 to 145), it’s not actually mind altering, and since 2007 the so-called “green fairy” can once again be purchased legally in America.
Drinkers now have a large selection of both foreign and domestic absinthes to choose from, including the historic Pernod Absinthe ($77) with fennel and hyssop on the nose and mint and anise on the palate; the California-made St. George Absinthe Verte ($60) with aromas of mint, green pepper and fennel and a bittersweet bite; and the artisanal Vieux Pontarlier Absinthe ($70) with hyssop, anise and dark chocolate on the nose and a savory finish.
The production of absinthe is much like that of gin. A high-proof neutral spirit is infused with a blend of botanicals, including wormwood, and redistilled in a copper pot still. Traditionally, the liquor is infused a second time before bottling to intensify the flavor and create the signature green color. Many producers skip this final step and use dyes instead.
There are basically two ways to drink absinthe. The traditional preparation is to slowly drip water over a sugar cube and into the spirit, which becomes cloudy. (An excellent selection of traditional absinthe glassware, spoons and fountains is available at Maison Absinthe.) You can also use small quantities of absinthe—a few dashes, a rinse or one quarter of an ounce—to add a floral, bittersweet quality to just about any cocktail.
With absinthe not only legal but now quite easy to find at liquor stores and bars, you can enjoy a real Sazerac or a Corpse Reviver #2. Then try my Green Deacon recipe, with gin, sloe gin, grapefruit juice and an absinthe rinse. I’ll take good drinks over hallucinations any day.
This recipe is adapted from “The Bartender’s Guide: How to Mix Drinks: A Bon Vivant’s Companion” by Jerry Thomas.
1 1/2 ounces absinthe
1 sugar cube
Water, to drip
Pour the absinthe into a stemmed glass.
Place a slotted absinthe spoon over the rim of the glass and set a sugar cube on top of the spoon. (The sugar is optional. For an unsweetened version, omit the spoon and sugar cube.)
Using an absinthe fountain or water carafe, slowly pour or drip 4 1/2 to 6 ounces of ice-cold filtered water over the sugar cube into the glass.
When the mixture is completely cloudy, the drink should be ready. Stir, taste for strength and sweetness, and adjust with more water or sugar if necessary.