Absinthe is a distilled (not fermented), high proof, herbal liquor (not a liqueur), first used by its legendary creator, Dr Pierre Ordinaire, as an elixir in the late 18th century. By the turn of the 19th century Pernod Fils were distilling it in France using a wine alcohol base flavored with a variety of herbs. The Pernod recipe included wormwood, aniseed, fennel, star anise, lemon balm, hyssop, angelica, nutmeg, juniper, dittany and veronica.
Unlike other alcoholic beverages, Absinthe is served diluted with water according to the method known as “The Ritual” or “La Louche”. A shot of Absinthe is poured into an Absinthe glass and a cube of sugar is placed on a slotted Absinthe spoon resting on the rim of the glass. Iced water is then dripped over the sugar and into the Absinthe. As the water mixes into the Absinthe the drink louches, turns milky or cloudy. This wonderful effect is caused by the essential oils in the Absinthe not being soluble in water. Absinthe has a lovely anise taste.
Absinthe was outlawed in many countries, including France and the United States, in the early 1900s. Its ban was due to the fact that its key ingredient, wormwood oil, contained a chemical called thujone. Absinthe was thought to contain vast amounts of thujone, up to 350mg per bottle, and thujone was alleged to cause many psychedelic effects and ill health:-
- Brain damage
Absinthe was even blamed for a man murdering his pregnant wife and children even though he had only consumed two glasses of Absinthe and many glasses of other spirits! He was also a man prone to abuse and violence.
The French government was persuaded that Absinthe was fueling the country’s growing alcohol abuse problem and that it would cause the downfall of the nation. Absinthe was therefore made illegal in 1915, just like it had been in the USA in 1912.
Many people were not happy to go back to drinking beer and wine, so Absinthe substitutes were produced, like Pernod Pastis, which had an anise taste but without the wormwood. In 1934 two men, J M Legendre and Reginald Parker, started producing a thujone free Absinthe style drink in New Orleans. They used knowledge they had learned in France in the First World War to produce Herbsaint. They first named it “Legendre Absinthe” but this was not allowed so they changed the name to Legendre Herbsaint. Herbsaint did not contain wormwood and so was legal for sale in the USA and it gave people some of the taste of Absinthe without the risk of having to get Absinthe shipped from abroad or making bootleg Absinthe.
Herbsaint is still available to buy and is often used in cocktails such as a Herbsaint Frappe.
What is Absinthe law today?
Today, Absinthe is legal for sale in many countries. Research, studies, articles and tests have shown that Absinthe actually only contains small amounts of thujone and that you would have to consume somewhere over 100 liters to suffer any harmful effects of thujone! Even in countries where Absinthe is still strictly regulated, it is possible to buy Absinthe online for personal consumption. Absinthe essences from AbsintheKit.com are also available online and can be shipped worldwide. They contain wormwood and are already distilled. All you have to do is to mix 20ml of essence with 730ml of Everclear or vodka – simple and they make a true wormwood Absinthe.
What is Absinthe? A wonderful mysterious drink with an extremely colorful history!