Absinthe Q&A

Here are common questions and answers about one of history’s most notorious and misunderstood drinks.

What is absinthe?

Absinthe is in fact the French word for wormwood and derives from the Latin name, Artemisia Absinthium. It is commonly understood to mean a high proof liquor containing wormood. Absinthe is known affectionatley as the “Green Fairy” or “Fee Verte”

How is absinthe made?

Absinthe is made by mixing a cocktail of herbs and plants in alcohol and extracting their flavours and essential properties. Distillation is often used and produces an extract which is then mixed to create absinthe. Absinthe was originally a herbal elixir, a form of natural medicine, it later became popular as aperitif.

Does absinthe tatse of licorice?

It doesn’t have too. The licorice flavour comes from anise and this plant should be used sparingly in any absinthe recipe. There are many brands of absinthe which do not have an overpowering licorice flavour, but there are many that do, this guide on how to buy absinthe will include a “licorice index” to allow you to decide.

Is absinthe legal?

Yes. However certain countries restrict the amount of a natural element in wormwood called thujone. For example, in the United States if you wish to buy absinthe in a store then the absinthe must test “thujone free” to comply with Federal law. Absinthe was banned throughout most of Europe and America for decades - it was never banned in the United Kingdom, Czech Republic or Spain. The ban has been largely lifted but with certain restrictions, for example in the United States and France it may not be sold as absinthe, in France you may only buy absinthe described as spiritueux aux plantes d’absinthe.

Wait, so is absinthe legal in the USA or not?

A version of absinthe is legal:

Lt. Ben Bliven with the Wausau Police Department says, “In order for it to be legal, it can’t contain any thujone, and it can’t advertise any psychoactive or hallucinogenic properties.”

Robert Benedetto with the State Liquor Authority says “It’s the myth and legend right now that everyone’s focused on but they’re not really focused on what ultimately got it approved and it was the removal of the parts that they thought were the mind altering aspects of that product,”

Many American absinthe drinkers buy absinthe online. As long as it is not resold in a bar then it is legal to import.

What is the difference between absinth, extrait d’absinthe, absente?

Absinthe comes in many forms and varieties! Absinth is the German / Hapsburg spelling, in Italian the drink is known as Assenzio and in Spanish, Absenta. Extrait d’ Absinthe is the name of one recipe created in Switzerland and means extract of wormwood. Absente is a brand name of an anise flavoured drink which uses a non thujone bearing plant instead of grande wormwood.

What is the absinthe effect?

The absinthe effect is sometimes described as an hallucination. But in fact that is not a very helpful or accurate description. The effect on the absinthe drinker is neatly defined as follows: “clear-headedness; a clarity of not only vision, but thought. Perceptions seem to be sharpened. While you might not be hallucinating images that aren’t there, the images that are there seem to be somehow enhanced — more vibrant. It’s very much a hyper-aware altered state of inebriation.”

What causes the absinthe effect?

In 2000 researchers at the University of California published a study suggesting that alpha-thujone in wormwood affects a brain receptor (GABA) that controls excitation. It seems that alpha-thujone has an opposite effect to alcohol and may account for the effects described above. Some manufacturers, wary of American regulators, down play the euphoric effects of absinthe and/or suggest that it is due to a “speedball” cocktail of the other herbs and is not due to thujone!

What is the real absinthe ritual?

There is no such thing, there are many ways to prepare an absinthe. For example originally absinthe was mixed with wine, later it was mixed with water and later still a ritual evolved using an absinthe spoon, absinthe fountain was used. To fully enjoy the complex flavours of absinthe and to realise the effects, iced water should be added slowly at a rtio of 1 part absinthe to 4 parts water. As the water is added the liquid will begin to cloud (this is known as a louche) and this is the essential oils held in suspension in the alcohol being released.