How to Drink Absinthe

By Robert Hess

The allure of the "green fairy" is probably due in part to the illicit aura which surrounds this spirit, both in the wide-spread myths of its hallucinogenic properties, and that it is banned in many countries around the world. As the truth get's around that it isn't a hallucinogen, and as the bans gradually get lifted, we'll once again be able to enjoy absinthe for just it's taste, and the ritual associated with its service.

Recipe

Instructions

Fill Absinthe glass to proper dosage line

Suspend sugar cube over glass using strainer or Absinthe spoon

Drip ice water over sugar cube until sugar is dissolved and glass is full

Stir to dissolve any residual sugar

Comments
Robert Hess 14 Dec 2007
9:10 am

I should point out, that I filmed this prior to the recent, and rather suprising, change in availability of Absinthe in the US.

Lucid (http://www.drinklucid.com), a true absinthe, recently made its way into the US market by taking advantage of the fact that true absinthe is fairly low in thujone, and in fact is so low that it is possible for it to be “technically” classified as “thujone free” (the small amount falls within the range of being classified as a “false positive”).

Since then, several others have either come onto the market, or are in the process of doing so. Including “St. George Absinthe Verte” (http://stgeorgespirits.com/) the first commercial Absinthe to be made in America since Prohibition. I have a pre-release bottle of this product, and feel it is quite good.

You can read more about St. George here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/05/dining/05absi.html

And my writeup on Lucid can be found here:
http://thespiritworld.net/2007/06/21/lucid-absinthe/

-Robert

Owen Webb 14 Dec 2007
3:21 pm

Wow, and I thought Chartreuse was expensive (definitely worth it).

Do you know of any true absinthe under $50 a bottle on the horizon?

cc 14 Dec 2007
4:19 pm

how do you feel about brands such as kubler 45 a swiss product rate?i have seen unnaturally colored Czech versions ranging from red to blue that put me off from tasting them. is clear ok.  the green opalescence is stunning and most desirable for authenticity. cc

Robert Hess 14 Dec 2007
5:17 pm

Yes, Absinthe is currently rather expensive. This has to do with supply and demand. Absinthe is such a “nitch” market at the moment that most producers aren’t making enough to bring the price down, and since it is selling at those prices, they aren’t feeling the need to bring the price down. If good quality Absinthe starts catching on however, I’ll expect we’ll see prices come down to something better.

Kubler is a nice Absinthe, and in a totally different league from the Czech stuff.

Clear Absinthe is perfectly fine, and authentic. One important thing to look for in both clear or green absinthe is the quality of the “Louche”. Bad absinthe either won’t louche at all, or louche in what almost appears to be a fake way. A real louch will be as you say “opalescent”, with little layers and eddies.

Gary Westfall 17 Dec 2007
11:00 am

Where do you currently get your absenthe?  I was at the local liqure store and found a product called Absente, which I guess uses a different type of wormwood.  What are your feelings on that product?  Are the flavors similar to traditonal absenthe?

Robert Hess 17 Dec 2007
11:40 am

I get my Absinthe online. I’d recommend checking http://www.WormwoodSociety.org for links to respectable online sites for Absinthe.

As for Absente. It isn’t absinthe, even though they try to pretend that it is. It is more technically a “Pastis”, and a good one. That it is using southern wormwood instead of roman/petite wormwood is not nearly as much of an issue for me then the fact that (like other Pastis) it is sweetened, and the results doesn’t really taste like absinthe.

If you want something that “tastes” like absinthe, but perhaps doesn’t cost as much, I’d recommend trying a good Arak. Here in Washington State, the liquor stores carry “Arak Razzouk”, which tastes far more like absinthe than a pastis (including Absente) does. It costs around $20 a bottle. You can find it at SamsWine.com and other online liquor stores.

-Robert

Matthew Rowley 17 Jan 2008
9:16 am

Snagged a bottle of St. George’s remarkable absinthe, and friends asked if we would be drinking the “traditional way” with flaming sugar. A little impromteau education, a redirect to a Flaming Homer, and we’re back on track. I’ll send them to this great little video for confirmation, so thanks Robert.

I did smile. though, when you say “Real absinthe has to be distilled. You cannot make it at home.” In fact, out West, absinthe is nearly the holy grail of home distillers. Same in New Orleans ~ at least, before the levees broke. Not legal, of course, since it requires a still so you *shouldn’t* make it at home, but there are plenty of folks who resurrect 19th century recipes, make their own base spirits, source high-quality herbs, and put out decent hausgemacht absinthe. With legal varieties more readily available for comparison, you can bet California moonshiners will be tweaking recipes and procedures in the coming years. Keep your eye out ;)

Robert Hess 17 Jan 2008
10:13 am

Matthew…

Glad you’re able to provide a little education to your friends and keep them away from fire!

And as for making real absinthe at home… since I would never condone somebody breaking the law by attempting to undertake home distillation, I have to stand by my “on the record” statment that you can’t make absinthe at home… :->

-Robert

blair frodelius 11 Mar 2008
8:50 am

Great interview and info on absinthe and St. George spirits can be found here:

http://www.chow.com/stories/10977

Vic Ladd 27 Apr 2008
1:19 pm

Very good instructive video-thanks.

You do need to update your law information. as of feb 2008 it is legal to purchase absenthe in the US. I just purchased a gift Lucid, from France for my son. Made with genuine Grande Wormwood, not the southern US Wormwood. Lucid is 62% Alc which proofs to 124.

Gary Hanley 28 Apr 2008
1:23 pm

Hmm. Considering what we all know, which is that sugar has a hard time dissolving in alcohol, I wonder what the difference in the end result would be if you skipped the sugar cube ceremony and just mixed in an amount of simple syrup equivalent to a sugar cube and then the water?

Robert Hess 29 Apr 2008
2:11 pm

Gary, that works perfectly fine, the “end result” is not only essentially the same, but you don’t have any undissolved sugar in the glass to clean out later.

You do however lose the “ritual”, which frankly I find rather relaxing.

Robert Hess 29 Apr 2008
2:20 pm

@Vic,

Actually, nothing has changed in the US laws at all. The situation that has occured to allow absinthe to now be legally available in the US, is along the lines of what happened about 10 years ago in the UK… somebody just noticed that the law didn’t make absinthe “totally” illegal, and was then able to bring it in via legal means.

Here in the US what happened was that it was realized that while “thujone” is not allowed in products (such as Absinthe), the official test for thujone allows a certain level of discrepency for “false positives”, and since properly made absinthe is usually fairly low in thujone anyway, you can make a real absinthe which is going to fall below that threshhold.

-Robert

Wouter Vullings 27 Jun 2008
6:53 am

How does that absinthe fountain works?
I know of a shop in Amsterdam where i will be able to buy one. And its easy for us simple folks here in the Netherlands to get our hands on some great absinthe.
But how does that fountain works?
Thanks,

Wouter Vullings.

Robert Hess 27 Jun 2008
7:03 am

Wouter,

When using an absinthe fountain, you fill it up with ice and water, allowing the ice to chill the water really well before proceeding.

You then
1. put the absinthe in your glass
2. place the glass under one of the spigots
3. put your absinthe spoon on top of the glass
4. put your sugar cube on the spoon, trying to make sure it is well centered under the spigot.
5. slowly open the spigot so the icewater drips slowly on the sugar cube
6. allow the sugar cube to dissolve, and the glass to fill to the right level
7. turn off the spigot
8. use the spoon to stir the absinthe to mix the sugar well.
9. enjoy

Hope that helps…
-Robert

StillLife 28 Jan 2009
11:21 am

A great absinthe at an affordable price is Mansinthe. I think many people are turned off by the name but it is one of my personal favorites.

Oscar Malek 19 May 2009
5:13 pm

This was a really good episode Robert! I’m really glad you confirmed that burning the sugar on the spoon is not the traditional way and that dripping through cold water to create a cloudiness from the non soluble oils is a mark of higher quality absinthes! Thanks for clearing up some of the myths as I trully believe that when drunk properly Absinthe can be an amazing drink!

Chris Milligan 17 Sep 2009
10:18 am

I was speaking with a waiter I work with who is from France (nationalized in the U.S. for 20 plus years)  who mentioned the carmelization of the sugar as well.  I wonder if this was a practice that was developed somewhere, then popularized by the Czech company you mentioned.

C

Trevor 20 Oct 2009
9:39 pm

Don’t know if it’s what contributed to the thinking that you’re supposed ignite your drink, but you can see Johnny Depp flame his Absinthe in the 2001 movie From Hell.

Any updates on a good brand of authentic, legal Absinthe, available in American liquor stores?

Robert Hess 21 Oct 2009
6:51 am

We try to ignore Johnny Depp’s antics in From Hell, especially since the “flame ritual” didn’t existing until the 1990’s, thus making it’s depiction in the movie historically inaccurate.

I’ve heard that there are currently about 75 different brands of Absinthe being sold in the US (not all available in all markets). Looking at DrinkUpNY.com, I see 18 listed. There, the ones that I personally recommend are (of those that I’ve tasted, and in order of their listing on the site):

La Clandestine, Duplais, Emile Pernot, Nouvelle-Orleans, Kubler, Lucid (if only as an introduction), Marteau, Pacifique.

With Nouvelle-Orleans, Marteau, and Pacifique being my hands down favorites.

Trevor 21 Oct 2009
8:34 am

Thank you Robert.  I’ve been wanting to get a bottle of this stuff for the past decade.  I ordered a bottle several years ago, but it didn’t make it through customs, so I sort of gave up on it for a while. 

I was a little leery of the new stuff hitting the shelves because of the lack of thujone, which is what I believed made the Absinthe unique.  Now I know better, thanks to you.

Robert Hess 21 Oct 2009
8:51 am

If I’ve helped one person to realize that thujone is not an important or useful ingredient in Absinthe, then I feel I’ve done my job :->

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