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Absinthe Style


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Absinthe, or the Green Fairy as it is sometimes known due to early branding, has quite the reputation due to its alleged hallucinogenic properties. The truth however is that such reports were exaggerated, and that the absinthe ban in the USA and much of Europe (not the UK) in the early 1900s was as much down to mis-information as any actual psychoactive properties the drink possessed (more on that later).

Since that ban was lifted in many of the prohibited countries, there has been a revival in absinthe sales across the European Union and beyond.

What is Absinthe?

Absinthe is an anise-flavoured spirit that is derived from botanicals and herbs. It is traditionally of high alcohol content (typically 45%-70%), although it is generally watered down prior to drinking. The name absinthe is thought to derive from the Latin name absinthium, which translates as wormwood (a type of plant from which absinthe is typically made). Wormwood was used as a medicinal agent as early as Ancient Egypt, while wormwood extracts and wine-soaked wormwood leaves were utilised by Ancient Greeks as rescue remedies.

In the Beginning

The absinthe story begins in Switzerland back in the late 18th century, although it only really came to prominence as a drink in the late 19th century among creative talents in France. Indeed, the likes of Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso were confirmed absinthe drinkers. In its drinking form, absinthe first was prescribed by a French doctor as a cure all in the late 18th century. French soldiers were asked to drink absinthe as a malaria preventative, and naturally when the troops returned home they brought the taste of absinthe back with them. Soon absinthe would be enjoyed in bars and cafes across France, to the extent that 5pm was not known as "happy hour" but instead as "the green hour".

An officer, Major Dubied, later took the spirit to the next level by opening his own absinthe distillery, which remained in place until the drink was banned in 1914; after it was suggested that absinthe prompted psychotic behaviour. Absinthe was never banned in the UK, although it would not really gain popularity until the 1990s when the leading brands produced in Europe began to be imported.

Unlike other spirits such as whisky and cognac, there are no legal standards by which absinthe must be produced, and so a bottle can be labelled as such without adhering to any quality standard (not that you need to worry: we only stock the finest absinthes at 31Dover). Absinthe is legitimately produced via one of two methods: distillation or cold mixing. Switzerland, the spiritual home of absinthe, only distils their product, but other countries use either of the processes. Generally speaking, distilled absinthe is thought to taste better than mixed; although this naturally varies from brand to brand. The liquor is subsequently bottle at 45-74% abv, although some bohemian or "underground" bottles can measure in at an eye-watering 82.3%. Whilst there is no defined standard for absinthe, each brand is routinely given a classification of ordinaire, demi-fine, fine and Suisse on an ascending scale of alcohol content and tastiness.

The Truth on Those Hallucinogenic Rumours

You may have heard a bit about absinthe and its apparent ability to cause hallucinations for any drinkers. This isn't strictly true. The drink does contain a number of herbal compounds; some which act as sedatives and some as stimulants – with a resultant "still unknown" impact on the human brain. Some drinkers describe the experience as mind opening, while some report a sense of lucid drunkenness, i.e. being drunk but without the foggy head or slowing reactions. For many, absinthe has no effect other than that you might expect from a spirit with a high alcohol content. Needless to say, it is a drink that can be enjoyed in moderation
just like any other.

Enjoy one part absinthe with three parts water and an ice cube for a slightly sweeter taste.