If you’ve seen Eurotrip, you’ve likely been under the spell of absinthe, the once-illicit substance that fuelled the creative works of Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Pablo Picasso, and Ernest Hemingway. Despite its fearsome reputation as a hallucinogen, absinthe actually has a much more practical and accessible role in modern cocktail. Absinthe was originally distributed as an elixir by a French doctor in 1792, similar to the Canadian discovery of penicillin—and if a doctor a markets it, you knows it’s good for you.
Similar to a fine aperitif or French wine, the delicate balance of herbs and botanicals in absinthe conveys a spicy, herbal essence refreshingly unlike the drinks popular today, which often sacrifice flavour for simplicity. It’s liquorishy essence offers a classic twist to a contemporary lifestyle too often crowded with the quick, shortcut cocktails. Absinthe is meant to share, and the ritualistic drinking of the spirit fosters conversation in a way that quick and cheap cocktails are unable to—sitting around a table and slowly watching absinthe louche creates camaraderie in a way that shooting back paralyzers doesn’t.
Originally from Switzerland, but popularly associated with France, absinthe is a spirit derived from grand wormwood (the ball-tripping substance that partially motivated van Gogh’s ear loss—or, at least, was witness to the whole proceedings), green anise, sweet fennel and about fifty other ‘secret’ herbs and botanicals known only to the distillers. To serve absinthe, you louche it—which essentially adds sugar and water to the absinthe with gentle pressure, releasing the oils and essences of the spirit. Try it—one you’ve louched absinthe properly, you can feel the difference on your palate. The alcohol breaks down a bit, and the botanicals release in a toe-curling bouquet of exotic aromas—a sensory overload to be savoured. To louche, slowly add ice water and refined sugar to the dose of absinthe.
The effects and preparing of absinthe are one in the same, as both are subtly important for the louching ritual; the effects of sugar and water dissolving in absinthe releasing the flavours and essence of the spirit. The sugar in the ritual of absinthe dissolves the bitterness of the absinthe spirit and release the flavours of the oils and botanicals. If you’re not into absinthe’s essence, there are a number of absinthe-based cocktails sure to please your pallet. One of the classics, the Sazerac, smacks of Kerouac-era New Oreleans soul and jazz era bourbon. To make a Sazerac:
½ oz absinthe in a double cocktail glass with ice shaken
2 oz premium bourbon (try Woodford’s Reserve or Knob Creek)
½ oz simple syrup
2 dashes Angostura
2 cracked ice cubes
Stir and pour into cold Absinthe burnt glass with an orange rind. Toast the Big Easy.
If bitters aren’t your style, try a Heart Attack and Vine. This energizing cocktail is the ideal cocktail to warm up to while practicing dance moves and warming up your best lines.
In a pint glass, pour one bottle of premium European beer (try Stella Artois or Heineken)
Add 1 oz Absinthe
Half a can of red bull
Alcohol percentage aside (usually between 55 and 70 percent), absinthe is famous for its aphrodisiac properties—but check back next entry for cocktail suggestion sure to put you in the mood!