The Green Fairy - Absinthe - History & musings...
Updated: Mar 29
Ah the infamous drink that fuelled the debauchery of a 1000 frat parties & almost took down the French government(pinch of salt here). It is interestingly similar to the Gin craze of England to which the press ended up battling the infamous spirit & created a modern myth. Love or hate the 'anise' flavour often derived from the spirit it is definitely a staple in many classic drinks yet at the same time the bane of a million others. Let's investigate! One of the best videos around that helps us understand the production of Absinthe can be found here. Ripped straight from the Discovery Channel it is interesting to look into this French spirit as there are few brand trips exploring this magical & mystical product!
Regardless of production to really UNDERSTAND the spirit you have to delver into the history...
History of Absinthe:
Modern day Absinthe is derived from Wormwood (Artemisia Absinthium) along with other herbs and was originally curated by French Dr. Pierre Ordinaire during the French Revolution (1789-1799). However, the medicinal uses of the herb Wormwood can be traced back to Ancient Egypt Ebers Papyrus - circa 1550 BC.
By using distillation, Ordinaire was determined to create a more consumable elixir of the bitter herb. His final recipe came about in 1792 and was a mixture of wormwood bark, star-anise, liqourice, fennel, hyssop, camomile, parsley, coriander and spinach. This drink was named Extrait D'Absinthe - Latin for wormwood. The drink was used as a healing remedy for French soldiers suffering from malaria and fevers and quickly became one of the most obtainable and cherished drinks of the 19th century.
Absinthe has carried its unique romantic aesthetic throughout the hearts of Parisian intellects and artists such as Vincent Van Gough, Oscar Wilde, Charles Cros, Charles Baudelaire, Edgar Allen Poe, and Pablo Picasso. However, despite being known as the artists' drink, it became equally as popular to the common people.
During this time the wine and brandy industries were doing poorly due to plagued vineyards, leading absinthe to be a more obtainable alternative. Sold in cafe's on every corner, thus began the beginning of "l'heure verte" translated to "the green hour" and as we call it today, happy hour. People would gather in local cafe's around the hours of 5 - 6 o'clock to sip absinthe and socialise.
Unfortunately absinthe had become banned in 1915 and was believed to be the reason behind unexplainable seizures, hallucinations and violent, murderous behavior. Fret not! The ban was lifted in 2007 after chalking up earlier stated behaviours to simple intoxication.
Albert Maignan's Green Muse (1895): A poet succumbs to the Green Fairy.
The original ritual for consuming Absinthe called "La Louche" involves diluting the liquor to change from an emerald green color to a servable milky green by pouring water slowly over a sugar cube that sits on top of a perforated spoon, over your cup of absinthe.
This was commonly practiced in cafes and bars throughout the 19th century by using Absinthe Fountains. Which are still able to be purchased today. A great company that makes and sells these fountains is called Absinthe on the net. Yet most of us probably have encountered absinthe from the 'family friendly' comedy - EUROTRIP:
Famous Fans: Ernest Hemingway is often mentioned as being one of the great absinthe drinkers of the 20th century. Well. not just a great absinthe drinker, but a prodigious drinker generally. Absinthe lovers often refer to this Hemingway quote (from a 1931 letter about an evening in Key West):Got tight last night on absinthe and did knife tricks. Great success shooting the knife into the piano. The woodworms are so bad and eat hell out of all furniture that you can always claim the woodworms did it.The similarity between woodworm and wormwood is, of course, intentional.He is also credited with the creation of the Death in the Afternoon cocktail.
This is historically very interesting since it is one of the few contemporaneous records of moonshine absinthe made, sold and enjoyed in Paris after the 1915 ban. I then asked about Hemingway's exposure to absinthe as a drinker living in Paris. Some of this is clearly reflected in his first novel.
While in Paris, Hemingway moved in creative circles, including Picasso, James Joyce with whom Hemingway frequently embarked on "alcoholic sprees," and F. Scott Fitzgerald who inspired him to write his first novel. On his birthday in 1925, Hemingway started writing The Sun Also Rises, and this includes many references to absinthe and/or Pernod being enjoyed in both Paris and Spain. Of course absinthe was legal in Spain and illegal in France, so the references (which would have been at least partially based on Hemingway's encounters with absinthe) are quite illuminating.
Hemingway is claimed to have been to so many bars in Europe that there is even a bar in Madrid called “Hemingway never drank here!” In Paris he drank at Harry's New York Bar, The Ritz, and many other top hotel bars (who may not have served absinthe openly after the ban), but in The Sun Also Rises the most notable encounters with absinthe are at Café Napolitain and Closerie des Lilas where absinthe/Pernod are enjoyed quite openly. Both these bars were real bars that still exist today. Cocktail of the Day - Death in the Afternoon
Bartender - Ernest Hemingway
Ingredients: - 40ml Absinthe - 150ml Champagne Method - Build Garnish - N/A Notes - GOOD LUCK!