What is Absinthe?
Many people are asking “What is Absinthe?” because there has been an Absinthe revival since the 1990s when the liquor Absinthe was made legal to buy in many countries after having been outlawed since the early 1900s.
Absinthe is a strong spirit, not a liqueur which is high proof and has approximately twice the alcohol content of other alcoholic beverages such as whisky and vodka. Although high proof when bought in the bottle, it is served diluted with iced water to taste, normally at a ratio of between 3:1 and 5:1 water to Absinthe.
Absinthe has an interesting history. It is claimed that it was created in the 18th century by a French doctor living in Couvet, Switzerland, Dr Pierre Ordinaire. He created it as an elixir to treat his patients and it apparently had miraculous effects. This story is legend but what is known is that a pair of sisters living in the same town as the doctor used the recipe commercially to sell the elixir to pharmacies and then sold the recipe to a French major, Major Dubied whose daughter married into the Pernod family. Henri-Louis Pernod, Major Dubied and his son, opened an Absinthe distillery in Couvet, distilling Absinthe under the name of “Dubied Pere et Fils” (Dubied and Son). A few years later, in 1805, Pernod opened a distillery in Pontarlier, France and started trading under the name of “Maison Pernod Fils”. The Pernod family opened another new distillery in France a few years later. Commercial Absinthe production began and by the middle of the 19th century Pernod were producing over 30,000 liters of A bsinthe every day!
Pernod became known, and is still known, for the quality of their Absinthe which is distilled from wine and contains the essential herbal ingredient wormwood (Artimisia Absinthium), fennel and the herb melissa.
Absinthe may also be flavored with many other herbs including green aniseed, star anise, hyssop, angelica root, licorice, lemon balm, coriander and sweet flag. It is the essential oils in these herbs which make Absinthe “louche” when mixed with water. The oils are not water soluble and so cause the drink to go cloudy or milky – this is meant to happen and is great to watch.
The main ingredient, wormwood, has been used since ancient times as medicine for treating:-
- parasitic intestinal worms
- the poisoning effects of hemlock and toadstools
It has also been used to stimulate digestion and as a tonic.
Wormwood contains a chemical called thujone which was believed to be psychoactive and cause psychedelic effects and to be an hallucinogen. This chemical ingredient, and the fact that Absinthe was such a strong drink, was the reason for Absinthe being banned and made illegal in the early 1900s in many countries.
Later studies showed that drinking Absinthe was no more dangerous than drinking any other strong alcohol and that it only contained small amounts of thujone.
There are strict guidelines for the sale of Absinthe in the EU and United States. Bottled Absinthe in the EU can only contain a maximum of 10mg/kg of thujone and US laws mean that bottles shipped to or sold in the United States can only contain trace amounts of thujone as it is an illegal food additive in the US.
Absinthe is available for sale online from many different suppliers but if you want real Absinthe you need to make sure that it contains wormwood. Absinthe essences are available online at AbsintheKit.com and these enable you to make your own bottled Absinthe by mixing the essence, containing real wormwood, with vodka or Everclear.
So, what is Absinthe? It is a wonderful drink which is a joy to prepare and drink and the perfect aperitif.