Absinthe has been a spirit both beloved and shrouded with controversy since it became popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although the beverage was adored by some of the era’s greatest artistic luminaries (and drunks) such as Vincent van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and Oscar Wilde, teetotalers of the time thought it was just a little too awesome for the public to handle. It was banned for consumption in the United States in 1912 by those wet blankets in the Department of Agriculture. However, in 2007 the Tax and Trade Bureau decided to allow absinthe to be available for legal sale again, although the Drug Enforcement Administration still lists absinthe under “drugs and chemicals of concern.” But if your only concern is getting tight on a classy and very potent (45-75 percent ABV) spirit, here are a few of the best ways to fly with the “green fairy.”
Traditional or French Method
The most common way of preparing absinthe is the French Method. Place a specially slotted spoon, available at most specialty liquor stores, on a glass filled with a shot of absinthe. Place a sugar cube on the spoon. Ice-cold water is then slowly poured onto the sugar cube, which drips down into the absinthe. Make sure the water is slowly and evenly displaced into the absinthe, typically one part absinthe and three to five parts water. During this process the non-water-soluble ingredients of absinthe (fennel and anise, primarily) will come out of the solution and cloud the drink, turning it milky white. This process allows the flavors to “bloom” and creates aromas and flavors in the drink normally overpowered by the anise. This is one of the simpler methods of preparing absinthe and is recommended for first-timers.
The Bohemian Method is my favorite because of its use of fire. Fire and intense alcohol go together like Hall and Oates. Similar to the French Method, start with a shot of absinthe in a glass with a sugar cube (this time soaked in absinthe) on a slotted spoon above it. Set the alcohol-absorbed cube ablaze and drop it below to ignite the glass of absinthe. Use a shot glass full of ice-cold water to douse the flames. This will typically produce a much stronger drink than the French Method.
Flaming the Green Fairy
This preparation is for those who like the incendiary aspect of the Bohemian Method, but don’t want to be three sheets to the wind after a couple of drinks. It is nearly identical, except you let the flame burn out instead of dousing it with another shot of absinthe. This will burn out a large amount of the alcohol, but not all. After the flame extinguishes itself, add desired amount of water to the drink.
Death in the Afternoon
Named after a Hemingway nonfiction book about bullfighting, this cocktail was said to be one of Papa’s favorite cocktails. His personal instructions included in a 1935 celebrity cocktail cookbook titled So Red the Nose: “Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.” Three to five, no less, no more. Hemingway invented the drink aboard the HMS Danae after spending several hours trying to re-float a fishing boat that had become stuck during a gale. Champagne has often been considered a cure for seasickness, so it has been suggested that this is why he chose to mix the drink this way during the storm.
The Mortal Stain
If you don’t dig the taste of absinthe, but love the clear-headed drunk often associated with the spirit, the Mortal Stain is a cocktail that takes a lot of the bite out of the potent alcohol. It is mixed martini style in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Add one oz. absinthe, one oz. apple schnapps, one oz. berry liqueur (preferably black raspberry) and one oz. pomegranate juice. Shake well, then let stand for two minutes before shaking again. Serve in a martini glass.
The Absinthe Minded Martini
Be careful with this bad boy. After a night of mixing these at my house, with the party winding down, a friend of mine relieved herself on my record player and then tried to flush the stereo with the volume knob. Maybe she just didn’t like Iggy Pop. Either way this drink is brutally potent and not for the faint of heart. Combine two oz. of absinthe with three oz. of gin in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Pour 1/2 oz. of dry vermouth into a chilled cocktail glass. Swirl the vermouth around and then pour out before shaking. Pour the absinthe and gin into the glass. Float an ounce of Grand Mariner on top of the drink and garnish with an orange peel if you feel like being fancy.
For those of you who like energy drinks mixed with your booze (I’ve heard it’s great for your heart!) this drink is delicious and will give you the vigor of 20 ponies! Using a hurricane glass, stir one oz. of absinthe with one oz. water and a sugar cube. Add ice, one oz. of Fernet-Branca and fill the rest of the glass with Red Bull or Thunder Muscle or whatever. If you don’t have Fernet-Branca, use amaretto.
Van Gogh’s Ear
Probably the most famous drinker of absinthe through its history, Vincent van Gogh was said to have been an avid chaser of the green fairy. Most scholars believe he was addicted to the drink, though some of his personal letters state an abhorrence to the drink and those who drank it often. The drink did show up in some of his most famous works, however. In 1887 van Gogh painted Still Life with Absinthe. In 1888 he cut off his left earlobe. Today we have the tasty drink called Van Gogh’s Ear. Fill a Collins glass with ice and dribble two oz. of absinthe slowly into the glass. Add a slice of lemon and pour grapefruit juice into the glass. Swirl in an oz. of grenadine. Stay away from sharp objects.
By: James Laber