Booze 101: All about absinthe

Absinthe, aka “The Green Fairy,” has been the stuff of legends for generations of American cocktail drinkers. The green spirit, purported to be psychoactive and cause hallucinations, was considered illegal in the United States for 95 years, from 1912-2007.

However, the entire situation was apparently based on a misunderstanding, as noted by The Wormwood Society, “no laws have changed and no ban has been lifted; absinthe has been technically legal since at least the 1960s, possibly as early as the 1930s.” The mix-up? The law states that absinthe must be free of thujone (an active compound in Artemesia absinthium), but this does not mean completely devoid of it.

After decades of an erroneous ban, the misunderstanding of regulations was clarified with the appropriate agencies, absinthe became legal for distribution, production and sale in the United States.

The breakdown

Absinthe is a light green or clear high-alcohol spirit made with a variety of botanicals including anise, fennel, coriander, hyssop and the infamous wormwood (Artemesia absinthium). The green color is obtained from the chlorophyll of the herbs utilized in the maceration. Absinthe originated in Switzerland in the 18th century, and over its history became a favorite of Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, and a range of famous artists including Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent Van Gogh. While it was vilified for years as a dangerous drug and was banned in various countries by 1915, absinthe has never proven more dangerous than any other spirit.

Tools you need

Ice water: You will be using this to temper your absinthe. If you discover yourself to be a fanatic you can always splurge on a fountain for parties and home fun. Check out absinthes.com for a range of models.

Sugar cubes: This is up to your taste, and you may or may not desire the sweetness, but any type, refined or raw is acceptable.

An absinthe spoon: Resembling a flattened trowel, this beautifully decorated utensil is for holding the sugar cube and has an indentation in the handle for resting on the edge of the glass. There are an array of designs out there, so happy spoon-hunting.

A fancy-schmancy glass: In all fairness, you can pretty much use anything, but that’s not any fun. Head to a vintage shop, Pottery Barn or the locally owned Collins & Coupe (2876 El Cajon Blvd., #100, Normal Heights) for a range of glasses and absinthe accessories. 

How to prepare

  1. Grab the glass and pour in one ounce of absinthe.
  2. Place your spoon on the glass with the indentation resting on the edge and place the sugar cube in the center.
  3. Gently drip just enough water to saturate the cube and wait a minute for it to loosen up.
  4. Slowly pour five ounces of water in a steady stream over the sugar cube into the glass. The traditional ratio is 5:1 and produces a six ounce drink at around 12-14% alcohol (depending on the absinthe), similar to a glass of wine.
  5. Stir any undissolved sugar in the glass and enjoy.

Where to find absinthe cocktails in San Diego

Kindred: Try the Threat Level Midnight with gin, genever, dry vermouth, yellow Chartreuse, Cardamaro, absinthe or sage or the Ultraviolet Light with light rum, falernum, Batavia arrack, pineapple, lime, flower tincture, absinthe, aquafaba and fennel dust.

1503 30th St., South Park, 619.546.9653, barkindred.com                           

The Lion’s Share: Tuxedo No. 47 has Monkey 47 gin, Luxardo maraschino, absinthe, Dolin dry and orange bitters.

629 Kettner Blvd., downtown, 619.564.6924, lionssharesd.ccom

Juniper & Ivy: Try Winter is Coming Sazerac with rye, Benedictine, absinthe, maple syrup, and Peychaud’s bitters.

2228 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy, 619.269.9036, juniperandivy.com

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