Mixology 101: Absinthe

Updated: 6 Aug 2012

Bon Voyage to Emerald City. By Jay Chooi

The fairytale magnet

Stuff Kylie. The green fairy, devil or witch each has their own Absinthe story. You might have had two shots in a bar overseas that drove you to act awkwardly towards strange foreign men. Or you may have staggered into a local bar to review the drink, but were floored before you can say ‘acrid’. Perhaps you’ve never even had it to begin with, but have read how it fixes up a hallucinogenic thrill that scathes like moonshine. Find your own; the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is not just to love it and be loved in return, but that glamorous stories are irrelevant to a good encounter with this liquor.

Tu es folle!
Thanks to modern quality control, it doesn’t make you hallucinate, it’s not more addictive than any other kinds of alcohol, and it will not drive you to hack off your ear. Thujone, the active ingredient in wormwood, merely increases the alcohol’s toxicity, which means you get hammered faster. Believed to be harmful, it was banned in 1915 France as a large amount of Frenchmen at the time allegedly suffered from Absinthisme – a ‘mental illness’ thought to be caused by Absinthe that induces hallucinations, convulsions, and mental deterioration. Truly, it is a ghastly form of alcoholism. Now back on the menu, it flies off Parisian shelves as quickly as before. These side effects are also understood to be from adulterants of old distillation methods to make cheap Absinthe.

Bohemia, poetry, and the arts
Absinthe’s flippant charms sit nicely with those who lived freely on the edge of normalcy – especially if you owned a razor and were a painter plagued by disorder, heartbreak and mood-stabilisers. Fans include Mata Hari (yes, the accused spy), Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Allen Poe, Pablo Picasso, Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemmingway and Johnny Depp. Ernest Dawson’s take, ‘I understand that Absinthe makes the tart grow fonder,’ more or less highlights the liquor’s frivolous bond with Bohemians. Marilyn Manson took it one step further and now owns Absinthe label Mansinthe, produced in Switzerland.

Holy trinity
The science to this caustic potion lies in the potent mix of alcohol and the holy trinity – aniseed, fennel and the most crucial wormwood, which spawned its psychedelic reputation. The traditional way to serve is to place a sugar cube on a metal slotted spoon over a glass filled with a shot of Absinthe, and then pour ice-cold water through to dilute and sweeten the drink. The popular Bohemian method is similarly made when you light the sugar cube (drenched in Absinthe) on fire and drop it in the shot, then dose it with ice-cold water prior to serving. Over time, the menthol aftertaste of the liquor has stirred up a number of fascinating cocktails.

Renaissance
After nearly 70 years of prohibition in many countries, it is steadily regaining popularity. KL currently has two versions; the clear La Bleue, and the green hued Verte. Long gone are the days of disgraceful smuggling of green tinted bottles from Europe. We now have it in a number of bars and clubs plain or used in cocktails, albeit with a tapered alcohol content.

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