Absinthe is back! The famous 19th century drink of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Van Gogh, Alistair Crowley, Toulouse Lautrec, and others famous for decadence is once again available in its true form. The green fairy (Fee verte) as it is known is anise-flavored, derived from herbs, and very high-proof. Aside from alcohol, its most active ingredient is wormwood, derived from artemisia absinthium, known as “grande wormwood.” Allegedly, absinthe drove its drinkers crazy. For example, Van Gogh is supposed to have cut off his ear in absinthe-induced delirium.
It appears, however, that the real culprits were: way too much alcohol and dangerous home-brew. The active ingrediuent, thujone, is linked to ligth euphoria, unusual clarity of mind, and actual, measured improvement in brain function. That said, any 81.5% alcohol drink is probably not going to make any one smarter!
Oddly enough, absinthe was originally used in the mid-1800’s by the French Army in north Africa to purify water and prevent disease. Soldiers brought it back and it became the most popular aperitif in France. The pre-dinner glass of absinthe became known as the “L’Heure Verte”.
Absinthe bars are now proliferating thorughout Europe. In Paris, feel free to imbibe at:
1. The Hotel Royal Fromentin (11 rue Fromentin, 75009 Paris, tel. 01-42-81-02-33
2. Cantada II, 13 rue Moret 75011 Paris, tel, 33 (0) 1 48-05-96-89. Cantada is the 21st century version of 19th century decadence, perhaps: black leather, tattoos, goth/punk ambience. Anthony Bourdain’s absinthe experience occurred here.
Absinthe is usually drunk diluted with water and sweetened with sugar. A cube of sugar is placed on a perforated spoon rested on top of a glass of absinthe. Chilled water is slowly poured from a spouted water decanter over the sugar until it is dissolved.
You can buy absinthe, decanters, and the slotted spoons in Paris at a number of places, but I found the Verte d’Absinthe, located in the Marais at 11 rue d’Ormesson 75004 Paris, tel. 01-42-71-69-73. It’s open Tuesday- Saturday 12h to 19 h (7 pm). They offer free tastings. Explore their website, including their on-line catalog at:
You can explore the world of absinthe at: The Musee de l’Absinthe at 44 rue Alphone Calle, 95430 Auvers-sur-Oise, tel. 01-30-36-83-26, about 15 minutes outside of Paris. It’s open on weekends and holidays. Take the train directly from the Gare du Nord to the town.
Finally, there are all kinds of absinthe out there. Explore: Blanche Traditionelle, Brut d’Alambic Essai 5, and Green Fairy. Maktub makes a couple of versions: one is the traditional 19th century version, heavy on the anise; the other is from the 1920’s and is lighter, brighter, and the version that Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and probably Gerald and Sara Murphy drank.
It is now legal to buy absinthe at the duty-free shops or even in the US itself.
Explore the world of absinthe at:
Taste history and enjoy the present, but absolutely do not drive!