Dive Into an Absinthe Cocktail on National Absinthe Day
March 5 is National Absinthe Day, making it the perfect time to dive into the rich history of the mysterious spirit. The intoxicating liquid was a favorite of artists and creative people, as it was believed to have hallucinogenic qualities, which was one reason behind its ban in the early 1900s. However, in 2007, the ban on the green spirit was lifted, and it quickly worked its way back onto liquor shelves everywhere.
A Little Bit of History
It is believed that absinthe was invented in 1792, originally created to be a cure-all medicine. After a tweak to its recipe, the drink became more palatable and swiftly became a staple across Europe. Absinthe was the victim of its own popularity, which resulted in its ban from the early 1900s to as late as 2007. Due to its wide consumption and powerful alcohol content, it was blamed for the many misdeeds of people, and earned its own term, “absinthism.” One was said to have absinthism if they had sleeplessness, hallucinations, tremors or addiction. All of the symptoms were the same as if someone abused any alcohol, and the hallucination aspect was simply not true. Despite the ill reputation forced onto the green spirit by the wine industry and prohibitionists, it was the drink of choice for the working class. It also inspired artists, like Van Gogh and Lautrec, and writers, such as Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway and Rimbaud also indulged themselves in absinthe.
Eventually, due to the wine industry losing market share to absinthe and the spread of misinformation, it was banned in many countries in the early 1900s until as recent as 2007.
How it's Made
Absinthe is derived from the Artemisia Absinthium plant as well as fennel, anise, melissa and hyssop. The Green Lady receives its iconic green color from the chlorophyll released from the herbs and the wormwood used during distillation. The recipe varies from country to country and the individual manufacturer, as such, you’ll find many brands in liquor stores. Depending on the brand, absinthe can range from 45% to over 70% alcohol by volume. This potent, green spirit was believed to be hallucinogenic. However, when people believed they were hallucinating, in reality, they were severely intoxicated due to it’s potent strength.
Contrary to popular belief, Absinthe has never had hallucinogenic properties. The science used to encourage the downfall of the green fairy reported that the spirit caused hallucinations via a dangerous dose of thujone (an oil found in the plants used to create absinthe) through very questionable studies, and these findings were published in a popular publication causing widespread belief of misinformation. Today, we know the levels of thujone are well below dangerous levels. It is thought that these hallucinations were caused by its extreme alcohol content, or by the knock-off, cheap brands that used dangerous chemicals to obtain the iconic green color of absinthe, which was expensive to obtain naturally.
To celebrate the rich history of absinthe on National Absinthe Day, find a local liquor lounge with a bottle of the green fairy on its shelf. There are many delicious prohibition-era cocktails that rely on absinthe as the centerpiece of the drink, such as the Corpse Reviver, Sazerac and Atty. Our bartender at the Old Chicago Inn is well-versed in the history of these drinks and can offer a deeper dive into the mystery behind absinthe over a cocktail.