No beverage has been romanticized and demonized more than absinthe.

It conjures images of La Fée Verte sprinkling intoxicating inspiration upon artists from bawdy literary salons in 1920s Paris to Van Gogh slicing off his own ear in a hallucinatory stupor.

Let’s dispel untruths and enjoy this classic drink:

What is absinthe?

Most liqueurs have a high sugar, low alcohol content, whereas absinthe is a high-proof, bitter, herbal liqueur with a greenish tinge from its botanicals.

It has a black licorice flavor and a brew of aromatics such as fennel and anise, but its hallmark ingredient is wormwood.

What is Wormwood?

Artemisia absinthium, or “grand wormwood,” has been used medicinally since ancient times. It grows in dry soil and is macerated in various beverages such as vermouth, an aromatized wine.

Wormwood contains thujone, which led to its legal ban for over 100 years in the United States and other countries.

What is thujone?

This oily substance has a menthol fragrance and is used to improve mental clarity. Traces occur in common herbs such as cilantro and tarragon. In large quantities, it can be toxic. However, in large quantities, so can alcohol.

Therefore, as only small traces of thujone are found in absinthe, it is no longer scientifically considered to render the liqueur unsafe, and it does not cause hallucinations any more than general intoxication.

Where is it from?

Absinthe originated in Switzerland and was later popularized in France among early 20th century bohemians.

Due to misunderstandings about thujone, and conspiracy theories regarding the French wine industry putting the kibosh on absinthe because of its overwhelming popularity, it was made illegal in France, the United States and several other countries around 1915.

Spain never banned it and continued producing good products. Eastern Europe, however, began churning out lower-quality versions of the famed elixir during that period, and many didn’t even contain wormwood.

Is it legal now?

Yes! In 2008, the ban was lifted in the US, and it soon became available globally. There are several producers in this country, including in New Mexico.

How is it served?

Good absinthe should not be set on fire. Simply pour an ounce of absinthe into a rocks-sized glass. Place a slotted absinthe spoon across the glass’s rim with a sugar cube upon it. Slowly trickle cold water over the sugar cube so it dissolves into the glass.

The slightly greenish, clear liqueur will louche, or turn cloudy white, as water creates a chemical reaction with the naturally occurring oils in the herbal liqueur.

Absinthe Frappé:

1-ounce absinthe
1-ounce water
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
Mix all ingredients in a blender. Or stir water and sugar until dissolved in a cocktail shaker, add absinthe, shake vigorously.

Fun Twist: Use ¼ ounce flavored syrup instead of sugar.


*This article was originally published at By Natalie Bovis.