Happy Friday, everyone!
For this week’s liquor spotlight, we decided to delve into the very misunderstood world of absinthe, and clear out some of the rumors that have been haunting this poor little spirit for years.
So, absinthe haters: prepare to have your bubbles burst. And also, to those of you who drink absinthe thinking you are doing something nefarious: yeah…we are equal opportunity bubble bursters here, and we’ve got you covered too.
Alright, lets get down to some myth-busting, shall we?
First off, some Absinthe background.
Absinthe, contrary to popular belief, is not a liqueur but rather a traditional spirit made by distilling a neutral alcohol (usually grape-based) with various botanicals like anise and fennel (which give it is distinctive green color), and aged in wormwood barrels. Production of the product first took place in the late 18th century, but it became extremely popular in 19th and early 20th century Europe with artists and other bohemian types. It has a strong licorice (anise) flavor, and is commonly served with a lump of sugar. During its heyday in France, it was referred to as “The Green Fairy.”
And now, to the controversy.
As you have probably heard, Absinthe is commonly believed to be hallucinogenic, due to a psychoactive compound called Thujone, which is transferred to the liquor through the wormwood in which it is barreled.
All those writers and poets and painters in 19th Century France went on and on about their Absinthe trips, and as the Temperance Movement gained speed in the early 20th century, Absinthe was the first target. It was outlawed in both Europe and the United States, and getting the good stuff mean’t smuggling it in from other countries.
Until very recently, it was still completely outlawed in the United States, but in recent years, both Europe and the United States have removed sanctions against the product and have begun production–albeit under strict rules and regulations.
The amount of Thujone present in Absinthe sold in the United States is strictly regulated and kept extremely low in order to curb its hallucinogenic properties. The amount allowed in Europe is higher, and so Absinthe produced there is illegal in the United States.
Here is the Big But: if right now you are thinking “YES! I’m taking a trip to Europe and am going to go HAM on some of Real Absinthe!” Well, unfortunately we are here today to throw some cold water on your dreams…
As it turns out, recent studies have proven that the amount of Thujone needed to actually cause hallucinations is significantly higher than previously thought, and the amount present in Absinthe, no matter where it is produced, comes no where close to making the cut.
The truth is, the amount of Absinthe you would need to drink in order to actually trip on it is so high that the alcohol consumption would kill you long before you ever saw any green fairies buzzing around.
So, all those artists and poets in the 19th century? Well, they may very well have been totally full of shit about Absinthe. It is true that much of the Absinthe that was produced then had significantly higher Thujone contents than any produced in the last 100 years, but scientists are still not sure if it would have been enough. But lets be honest, those 19th century artists and poets were doing a lot more than absinthe, so they were undoubtedly tripping on SOMETHING.
So there, did we burst your bubbles?
The truth is, Absinthe is actually a very tasty liquor, and is perfect to use as an accent in a drink, or even as an aromatic element instead of bitters. We keep our Absinthe in a small, perfume-like spray bottle and spritz some on the top of drinks as a finishing touch. The scent is strong and very unique, and it adds an incredibly distinctive finish to drinks.
So there you have it: The Truth About Absinthe!