On March 5, National Absinthe Day invites us to revel in the allure of the famed “green fairy.” Originating in 18th-century Switzerland, absinthe gained prominence in early 20th-century France, particularly among artists and writers. Today, the drink exudes a captivating mystique, firmly embedded in bohemian culture, making it an enchanting choice for celebration.

Absinthe is a highly alcoholic spirit known for its distinct green color and anise flavor. It typically has a high alcohol content, usually ranging from 45% to 74% ABV (alcohol by volume). The drink is renowned for its historical association with bohemian and artistic movements.

AbsintheThe key ingredients in absinthe include

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium): This herb gives absinthe its name and is a crucial component. Wormwood contains thujone, a compound that was historically believed to have psychoactive effects, although modern research suggests that the amounts present in absinthe are not sufficient to cause hallucinations.

Anise: Imparts a licorice-like flavor to the drink and contributes to the characteristic taste of absinthe.

Fennel: Adds a slightly sweet and herbal flavor to the spirit.

Absinthe is often associated with a unique preparation process known as “louching.” Traditionally, absinthe is poured into a glass, a specially designed slotted spoon is placed over the glass, a sugar cube is positioned on the spoon, and ice water is slowly dripped onto the sugar cube using an absinthe fountain or carafe. This process causes the absinthe to turn cloudy or milky as essential oils are released from the botanicals.

Absinthe History

The history of absinthe is rich and colorful, dating back to the 18th century. Here is a brief overview of its historical development:

Origins in Switzerland (18th Century)

The roots of absinthe can be traced back to the late 18th century in Switzerland. It is believed that Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor living in Switzerland, created an herbal elixir with wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) as a key ingredient. This concoction was initially used for medicinal purposes.

Popularization in France (19th Century)

Absinthe gained popularity in the early 19th century, particularly in France. French soldiers stationed in Switzerland during the Algerian War are said to have acquired a taste for absinthe and brought it back to France upon their return. By the mid-19th century, the drink became widely popular in French society.

Bohemian Culture and Artistic Movement

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, absinthe became closely associated with the bohemian lifestyle, especially among artists, writers, and intellectuals. Figures like Vincent van Gogh, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, and Oscar Wilde were known to be enthusiasts of the green spirit. Absinthe was often depicted as an inspiration for creativity and a symbol of rebellion.

Controversy and Prohibition

Absinthe’s popularity also brought controversy. Concerns about its high alcohol content and the presence of thujone, a compound found in wormwood, led to a moral and political backlash. Allegations of absinthe causing hallucinations and madness fueled the prohibition movement. In the early 20th century, several countries, including the United States and much of Europe, banned the production and sale of absinthe.

Modern Resurgence

The ban on absinthe began to lift in the latter half of the 20th century. Research showed that the levels of thujone in absinthe were not as high as previously thought, and the spirit regained legal status in many places. In the 1990s, there was a resurgence of interest in absinthe, leading to its revival in the market.

Today, absinthe is produced and enjoyed worldwide with a renewed appreciation for its historical significance and distinctive flavor. It has become a symbol of both the bohemian culture of the past and the revival of artisanal spirits in the present. Visit Diffords Guide for the 20 best Absinthe cocktails.