I’ve always had a great interest in ritual, and so when a number of years ago a friend of mine introduced me to absinthe, I got hooked on the whole ceremony of it pretty much instantly. There’s a romance to absinthe – its history as an artists’ drink, the mystery of its supposed hallucinogenic properties, the magic-seeming element of the louche.
There are all manner of accessories for absinthe indulgence (Special glasses! Slotted spoons! Strangely shaped sugar cubes! Fountains!), but really all you need is the absinthe itself, a wine glass, ice water, and possibly a shot glass, depending on how much you trust yourself to eyeball a shot. Just pour a little less than a shot of absinthe into the wine glass, and slowly add ice-cold water (no actual ice in the glass, mind you). The absinthe will slowly gain a lovely milky quality, known at the louche. Once you’ve added about 3 parts water to 1 part absinthe, you should have a proper louche.
If you want to add to the ceremony (and who doesn’t really?), that’s when you get into etched glasses, special spoons on which to set a sugar cube over which the ice water is poured, or even fountains to slowly, slowly drip water into your glass. I enjoy all of this, and really, it’s part of what draws me to this particular beverage, but don’t drop hundreds of dollars on your first absinthe experience. Besides, you might already have a friend who’s an absintheur.
For me to properly enjoy absinthe, the atmosphere is just as important as the beverage itself. My favorite place to partake in a glass of absinthe is with a lace parasol on the balcony of a haunted hotel as a train rumbles by. That probably sounds horribly bourgeois, but I assure you I’m a poverty-stricken poet and that said haunted hotel does not have central heating. My recommendation? Find a lovely spot (front porch, garden, study, bedroom), drink with a friend, and perhaps fake some accents. I’m never opposed to fabulous dresses, corsets, or bloomers.
I’ll be honest – I’m a lightweight. Just ask my friends who’ve had the pleasure of watching me get silly off one glass of wine. One of the things I love about absinthe is that it is absolutely a sipping beverage. Don’t try to down a whole glass in 2 seconds – you will very seriously regret it, and the taste is strong enough that you won’t enjoy it anyway. My advice to anyone trying absinthe for the first time is to savor it, not chug. Limit yourself to 2 glasses, tops. It’s strong stuff, and it creeps up on you. No one wants to be the sloppy lady at the absinthe party.
Regarding hallucinations: The debate over whether or not absinthe actually contains thujone, a hallucinogen found in wormwood, seems to rage on. Sites like Alandia claim to carry absinthe with high levels of thujone, while on a recent tour of the Great Lakes Distillery we were told that all thujone is eliminated from absinthe during the distilling process simply as a matter of course. I’ve never seen winged green bunnies hop over my typewriter while partaking in absinthe, but I do have friends who claim that when they drink it, their vision shifts, describing it as everything being “more 3-D”. I enjoy writing while drinking absinthe, particularly with my typewriters, and regardless of thujone, if you’re an artist there is something hilariously decadent about sipping absinthe and working on your art.
If you are interested in chasing the green fairy, below are my thoughts on a few of the absinthes I’ve tried:
– Strong68 from Alandia – Alandia, an absinthe site based out of Germany, is one of my go-to places for purchasing absinthe/absinthe accessories. The site is not necessarily for the faint of heart price-wise, in large part due to overseas shipping costs, and in part due to the dollar’s performance against the Euro. However, Strong68 is usually my choice when I’m putting together an event that will involve absinthe tasting. It has a high alcohol and (supposedly) high thujone content, so the slender bottle goes a long way. The scent and taste of anise are strong, but not unpleasant at all, and the color is a bit greener than some of the others on this list, which new absintheur’s tend to like. I would recommend sugar in the louche for this particular absinthe.
– Absinthe Amer – Very spendy, but very, very smooth. This is a traditional, wormwood absinthe, but has a smooth finish without any lingering aftertaste and a delicate anise scent. Sugar is unnecessary when louching this absinthe, and really would just serve to mar the taste. Personally, this might be my favorite absinthe at present.
– Gold68 from Alandia – While advertised as absinthe for people who do not like anise, I would more call this absinthe for people who do not like themselves. It sort of tastes like moonshine or rubbing alcohol. Not that I ever drank either of those, but I imagine this is what they would taste like. Strong68 – good. Gold68 – terrifying. 1 very disgruntled green fairy out of 5, if I were rating these.
– Absinthe Rouge from Great Lakes Distillery – While on a distillery tour during a visit to Milwaukee last month, I picked up a bottle of their Absinthe Rouge after a friend told me he’d enjoyed it in spite of disliking anise. the Absinthe Rouge is flavored with hibiscus. The bottles are small, but gorgeous and the louche is a beautiful pale pink. This absinthe doesn’t need any sugar, and I would definitely recommend using icy cold water for it. I also tried this absinthe for a Death in the Afternoon and it was delightful.
– Mephisto – My friend James purchased this absinthe during a trip to New Orleans and was kind enough to share some at a Hyacinth Girl Press editorial meeting a few months back. This absinthe is another good one for those unsure about anise. As with the Absinthe Rouge, the anise is still there, but in the case of the Mephisto the scent of the anise has somehow been muted by what to me was a very pleasant cinnamon smell. This absinthe is absolutely the one I would recommend for anyone unsure about the drink due to anise – moreso, even, than the Absinthe Rouge. It’s really neck and neck as my favorite over all with the Absinthe Amer.
Of course, always drink your absinthe responsibly, and whist wearing a corset or monocle. Or both, if that’s how you roll. If you’re in the US and under 21, ignore everything I just said in this post.