At the end of 2021 Spiritz.co.za focused on one of history’s most miss-understood spirits, namely Absinthe. In the article below we hope to debunk some of the myths such as green fairies appearing after a glass of Absinthe or that the spirit causes hallucinations which lead to thoughts of murder! What is the truth?
Most certainly one of the world’s lesser-known and more exotic spirits – Absinthe – has been making a comeback around the world over the past year. Find out what sets apart this unique spirit with its high alcohol content, herbal flavor and somewhat questionable reputation. Why not get hold of a bottle of one of our locally produced Absinthes and make the sugar and ice ceremony part of the experience!
Pieter van der Walt, owner and distiller of Posboom Distillers in Mossel Bay, has generously donated a bottled of his gold medal-awarded Absinthe to one lucky winner. CLICK HERE to visit our Facebook page and get in the draw by answering one simple question!
Absinthe is named for the herb Artemesia absinthium – or wormwood – which gives the spirit its unique, characteristic aniseed flavour. The history of the spirits goes back to the 18th century, when it was first produced in Switzerland’s French Val-de-Travers region. Sadly, in the early 1900’s Absinth was maligned, then banned and eventually bootlegged for almost a century. However, the spirit was re-legalized in Switzerland in 2005 and has slowly been making its revival all over the world. As a result micro-distilleries around the globe have tried their hand at producing absinthe and re-igniting interest in this fragrant spirit.
Where exactly is the devilish Green Fairy?
Also referred to as La Fée Verte (the “green fairy”) and “the devil in a bottle,” Absinthe is simply a herbal liquor manufactured by distilling alcohol, infused with various aromatic herbs, including anise, sweet fennel, hyssop, lemon balm, and flowers and leaves of wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). These herbs have a natural sweetness which is balanced with the slight bitterness of wormwood.
Some versions may have an ABV are as high as 74%/90 – 148 proof US), which puts in in the highest category of alcoholic spirits. (Whisky’s standard ABV is around 40%/80 proof US, and that of brandy 35–60%/(70–120 US).
Absinth is not as mysterious as you think… blame it on thujone
Contrary to popular belief (and a reason for its 95-year ban), absinthe is not psychoactive. Therefore, it won’t cause madness and won’t make you see shapes or colours or the legendary green fairy. The chemical that’s taken all the blame for its hallucinogenic reputation is thujone, a chemical compound which is present in trace amounts in wormwood.
So, will Absinthe make you hallucinate?
Legend has it that high doses can cause hallucinations – and even seizures. But, then again, so can large concentrations of other chemicals in common herbs as hyssop or fennel!
You will have to drink buckets of absinthe and probably fall victim to fatal alcohol poisoning long before you have consumed sufficient amounts of absinthe to see a green fairy!
The Absinthe Rituals (or, “How to drink Absinthe”)
Fire and ice…
Over the years various rituals of preparing and enjoying the liquor have been entrenched in cocktail bars and at cocktail parties.
Most fans of Absinthe enjoy it the traditional way, namely louched with water (a process of adding iced water to the absinthe, which dilutes the liquor and slowly transforms its colour from the original emerald green to a lighter, opalescent shade of milky green.)
The iced water is also often poured over a lump of sugar placed on a special perforated spoon that rests on the top of the glass.
For a more spectacular show, a sugar cube is doused with a tot or two of Absinthe and subsequently set alight (although many Absinthe purists denounce this practice). The burning sugar may then be tipped into the glass, which may ignite the liquor in the glass and needs to be extinguished with a splash of water.
Then there are the bold and the brave who prefer their Absinthe neat.
Absinthe cocktails, too, have long been a favourite way to enjoy this unique liquor. And in a modern culinary twist, Absinthe has recently found its way into ice cream sundaes, Dom Pedros and chocolates. Absinthe is again increasingly becoming the drink of choice at high society dinner parties, where it is incorporated in various offerings before, during and after the meal: as a pre-dinner cocktail, a palate-cleansing sorbet, and as a post-dinner digestive.
Originally, Absinthe was intended as an aperitif in the bars Paris, celebrating the “Green Hour” during the late afternoon. The liquor was diluted with iced water and sweetened with sugar before consumption, which established the modern take on the practice of placing a cube of sugar on a slotted spoon and pouring chilled water over the sugar.
The Colours of Absinthe
Although the traditional colour of Absinthe is green, don’t be surprised to find yellow, red, blue and black Absinthe – the latter commonly referred to as Czech-style. (They don’t necessarily originate from the Czech Republic – it merely refers to the place where these coloured Absinthes were first made.) Often coloured Absinthes have added sugar, which makes it friendlier to less experienced drinkers (or more often to hide a poor distillation technique as is often the case with vodka).
Green is the natural colour of Absinthe with colour varying from deep emerald to light green or olive green. Practically every manufacturer produces green absinthe, but because the natural dye (chlorophyll from the leaves) is not durable distillers are often tempted to use artificial coloring.
After it’s sprung from the still, the spirit is macerated with wormwood and other botanicals – this style is known as verte (green). This is when the spirit gets its color, as well as some extra flavor and aroma. The color which is imparted by the chlorophyll is naturally a dull green – a neon green absinthe is a dead giveaway that food colouring was added!
However, it is important to preserve the natural green color of absinthe by bottling it in darker coloured bottles. If left exposed to light, the colour may turn to various shades of brown and yellow as the chlorophyll in the wormwood reacts with light.
To achieve this, the spirit is macerated post distillation, using hibiscus to achieve a red colour. These methods of coloration don’t make them any less of a true absinthe, they do use wormwood, and equally important, anise.
Absinthe is made very similar to the way many gins are made: using neutral spirits and adding botanicals (wormwood and anise), and re-distilling. Anything that comes out of a still is clear – therefor some Absinthe may at this point be considered finished and called Blanche (white) or La Bleue. (The first absinthe available in Val-de-Travers after the ban was lifted, was a blanche. Any of these can be really easily colored.A