The History of Absinthe

When one mentions the word “absinthe,” the response is often accompanied by raised brows and concerned eyes. You hear things like, “Isn’t that illegal?” “I’ve heard it causes hallucinations,” or “Doesn’t it make people violent?”

First, it isn’t illegal, at least not in the US. Not anymore. Secondly, although absinthe does contain the chemical compound thujone, only trace amounts are present – not nearly enough to cause hallucinations. And lastly, excessive amounts of any alcohol can make someone violent. Absinthe is no different.

With that being said, the spirit with a long and turbulent history, is one drink that’s meant to be enjoyed — in moderation.

What is absinthe

Absinthe, although frequently mistaken for a liqueur, is a highly alcoholic, distilled, anise-flavored spirit. Its name comes from the plant “Artemisia absinthium” (commonly referred to as “wormwood”) from which absinthe derives much of its flavour. Traditionally, the spirit is green from the inclusion of green anise, and this is where the nickname, “la fée verte” or “The Green Fairy” comes from.

The History of absinthe

Close of the 18th century, absinthe was a tonic in Switzerland, gaining steady popularity as an alcoholic drink in late 19th- and early 20th-century France, fancied especially among writers and artists. Ernest Hemmingway, Pablo Picasso, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Vincent Van Gogh, and many other famous artists were all known absinthe drinkers, and they were partially responsible for its rise in subculture popularity.

Fast forward to March 5th (International Absinthe Day), 2007, when the ban was lifted, and the first batch of absinthe was sold in the US. This was largely due to a plethora of studies showing that the psychoactive properties in absinthe were largely exaggerated; many made up solely to vilify the drink and those who drank it. Absinthe was declared no more harmful than any other spirit. It is important to note, however, that it does typically have a much higher ABV, which is likely what caused the “incidents” of the past.

How to enjoy absinthe

  1. Pour a measure of absinthe straight into your glass
  2. Place your absinthe spoon on top of the glass
  3. Place a sugar cube on top of the spoon
  4. Very slowly, drip cold water over the sugar cube, allowing the the water to dissolve the sugar into the glass – this will cause a cloudy effect, known as the “louche”
  5. Continue dripping the water until the sugar is completely dissolved, stir and enjoy!

5 Celebrity Absinthe Drinkers

johnny depp drinking The History of Absinthe

Most of us know not to mess with absinthe. This anise-flavoured spirit has turned many men into mice and it's therefore no wonder that some refer to it as the "Green Fairy".