How to Serve Absinthe

Gwydion Stone is a founder of the Wormwood Society and the owner and master distiller at Marteau Absinthe. His knowledge of absinthe history is second to none and he was glad to share some of that knowledge with us in this very special episode. For more on absinthe on Small Screen Network click here: ABSINTHE.


Chris Milligan 9 Mar 2010
10:11 am

Great episode Natalie.

I have seen the sugar cube carmelized with a brulee torch or lighter when serving absinthe.  Is this a matter of personal taste?

Robert Hess 9 Mar 2010
10:23 am

Chris, you ask a very common question, and one which we unfortunately have to work hard to correct.

The “fire ritual” is one that isn’t proper/appropriate to use on real absinthe. It was something that was created around 1995 for the fake absinthes (faux-sinth we call them) which were coming on the market and didn’t louche properly. They needed some sort of ritual to replace the loucheing ritual so they did the flame thing instead.

I often tell folks that thinking it is proper to flame absinthe is like saying it is proper to put a worm in your tequila. There are no tequilas which come with a worm. There are “some” mescals which do this, but to the best of my knowledge it is only the cheaper ones which are doing it as a marketing ploy. :->

Kimberly Patton-Bragg 9 Mar 2010
11:43 am

Well said, Robert! Great analogy. At The Absinthe Museum here in New Orleans, they sell T-shirts saying “Friends don’t let friends burn absinthe.”

blair frodelius 9 Mar 2010
12:45 pm

Speaking of sugars, I’m assuming that cubes either made from beet or cane sugar were used during the Belle Epoche.  Is there any evidence that chunks of cone or loaf sugar might have been used?

Blair Frodelius

Natalie - The Liquid Muse 9 Mar 2010
12:56 pm

Thank you, Robert, for answering the above.  Yes, Chris, I was going to basically say what Robert said - although with far less articulation… :-)

Blair - that is an interesting question.  I’m going to see if I can find anything online regarding sugars used—- and if you find something in the meantime - or if anyone else does, please feel free to share it here.

A general comment: My main mission - both at and in this video series, is to make quality cocktails and spirits “accessible” to the general public.  We in the cocktail geekdom get very concerned with the “right” way to do things.  For this reason, I loved that Gwydion showed pouring water from a pitcher as well as from an absinthe fountain, for example.  (My dad is French and loves his Pastis—- a relative of absinthe - and since a kid, I’ve seen him just pour some into a glass and then add water to taste.  Easy peasy without pomp & circumstance. Anyone can do it and not feel wrong.)

Drinks, like food, are about enjoying it as you like it.  The more information and understanding people have about the traditional ways of doing thing, the more they can develop their own palates and experiences to maximize the enjoyment… and even add their own twists.

Cheers - and thank you all for watching Inspired Sips!

Gwydion Stone 16 Mar 2010
7:19 pm

I’m late to the conversation, but Robert is correct about the flaming, although I don’t think the fire method was observed much before 1998 when it was first popularized in the goth/industrial clubs in Prague.

“Proper” absinthe preparation is not so much a matter of propriety as practicality.  The cloudiness of the louche of a good absinthe comes from the aromatic oils from the botanicals reacting with the addition of the water. Think of it in terms of an emulsion, like a vinaigrette. The slower addition allows a more gradual and more complete dissolution of the mixture, thereby developing the flavors and aromas latent in the solution more completely.

The fire thing is just a showy bar stunt that has no particular function and was developed to make up for the non-event of adding water to the inferior absinthe. Whereas the slower addition of water has a real effect on the quality of the drink.

The fire method consists of dousing the sugar with the high-proof absinthe, lighting it and allowing it to burn, dripping the molten sugar into the (now also burning) absinthe.  Needless to say, this makes the absinthe taste like burnt marshmallows and leaves little brown candy globs at the bottom of the glass.

I like to compare it to boiling a pot of coffee or tea, grilling a fillet mignon extra-well or serving Pinot Noir over crushed ice… with a straw.  Hey, it’s your drink, but people will look at you funny. ; )

The sugar cube wasn’t invented until 1843, and prior to that time loaf or cone sugar was indeed used.  I have an image around here somewhere of the loaf on a cafe table with the little nippers used to break off bits.

The special absinthe spoons and fountains didn’t appear until the latter 1800s and during this period sugar was usually added to absinthe in the form of gomme syrup or simple syrup. 

Prior to that time the carafe method shown in this video was nearly universal, with emphasis still on adding the water gradually.

When preparing absinthe on my own at home, I add some simple syrup to the absinthe and stir it in well, then slowly add icy cold water from a carafe.


Ryan Beard 8 Jun 2010
8:59 pm

I really loved this video. Great info. What are some of the best brands to try if you’re jsut getting started?

Gwydion Stone 8 Jun 2010
10:11 pm

I’m glad you liked the episode Ryan, I had fun!

Of course I’ll recommend my own brand, Marteau, when it returns to the shelves at your nearby retailer (I’m currently looking for a place in Seattle to open my own distillery).  I make it myself from the best raw materials available, strictly according to tradition.

Other brands I recommend are Pacifique Verte, made in Woodinville, Washington by absinthe specialist Marc Bernhard, and Viuex Carré, made by Rob Cassell of Philadelphia Distilling (Bluecoat Gin). Keep an eye out for Ridge Verte, too, coming out of Montana later this year and made by Joe Legate.

European brands that meet with many experienced absintheur’s approval are the Jade line made in France by New Orleans native, Ted Breaux and the Duplais line coming out of the Matter-Luginbuhl distillery in Switzerland.

These can all seem a little more costly compared to some of the mass-produced corporate brands, but remember that there are 25 drinks per bottle, and these are all handcrafted according to 19th century traditional standards, not made with essential oils and artificial coloring.

It’s always a good idea to check out the consumer reviews in The Wormwood Society review section and browse the discussion forums BEFORE making a purchase.


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