“Let me be mad, mad with absinthe, the wildest, most luxurious madness in the world.” Thus proclaimed Marie Corelli in her 1886 classic. And what a sensation this mysterious green spirit caused in the heart of the Bohemian revolution, from the cafes of Paris to the art studios of van Gogh.
From its whimsical association as the “green fairy” – a muse to the likes of Oscar Wilde and Edgar Degas – to its demonization by society’s conservatives, absinthe has ridden a roller coaster of fame and infamy. Pour yourself a glass, dear reader, and join us as we waltz through its captivating history.
Absinthe finds its roots in the Artemisia Absinthium plant, also known as Grand Wormwood. With ties to ancient Egypt, this herb was a remedy for ailments like malaria. Fast forward to the late 18th century, when Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, supposedly, crafted the first absinthe in Switzerland. By 1805, the elixir found a commercial home at Maison Pernod Fils in France, the precursor to today’s Pernod Ricard.
The Enigmatic Elixir
Dubbed the “holy trinity”, absinthe blends wormwood, green anise, and sweet fennel, creating a licorice-like taste reminiscent of sambuca or ouzo. The distillation process often turns the spirit a rich green, though variations exist, like the rose or hibiscus-tinted absinthes.
A Green Craze
The 1840s saw French troops in Algeria drinking absinthe as a malaria deterrent. By the 1860s, it was the toast of French cafes during “the green hour.” Its fame traveled as far as New Orleans, inspiring cocktails like the Sazerac.
The Golden Age and the Downfall
The Gilded Age witnessed absinthe’s magnetic pull on the bourgeoisie and bohemians alike. Painters, writers, and dreamers celebrated the spirit, attributing lucid intoxications and even hallucinations to it. Yet, as its popularity grew, so did its critics. Dr. Valentin Magnan claimed it caused a unique madness called absinthism.
But was it the green fairy or societal prejudice at work? An infamous 1905 incident involving Jean Lanfray, who murdered his family after consuming a cocktail of alcohol including absinthe, became the rallying cry against the drink. One by one, nations banned it.
FAQ: Is Absinthe Myth or Madness?
What is Absinthe traditionally known for?
Absinthe, often referred to as “the green fairy,” has historically been celebrated for its supposed psychoactive properties. Many of its drinkers from the artistic and bohemian communities claimed it inspired visions, creativity, and a unique form of intoxication.
Is there any scientific basis for the hallucinatory claims?
Contrary to popular belief, modern research indicates that absinthe isn’t any more hallucinogenic than other alcoholic drinks. Its fabled hallucinogenic properties were attributed to thujone, a compound found in wormwood oil. However, the amount of thujone present in absinthe is minimal and not enough to induce the effects claimed by its historical enthusiasts.
Why did some people experience hallucinations after drinking Absinthe?
It’s possible that other factors contributed to these experiences. For instance, the ritual of drinking absinthe, combined with the environment and the power of suggestion, might have played a role. Additionally, some lower-quality absinthes from the past could have contained harmful additives or been improperly prepared, leading to adverse effects.
Is Absinthe safe for consumption today?
Yes, if you’re purchasing absinthe from a reputable distiller, it should be as safe as consuming any other alcoholic beverage. Always ensure you are buying from a trusted source and consume in moderation.
How do I properly enjoy Absinthe without overindulging?
To appreciate the unique flavors and aroma of absinthe, it’s best to enjoy it traditionally. You can pour a small amount over a sugar cube and dilute it with cold water to taste. Remember, absinthe is a strong spirit, so always drink responsibly and be aware of your limits.
Are there any countries where Absinthe is still illegal?
While absinthe was banned in many countries in the early 20th century, most of these bans have since been lifted. However, regulations regarding thujone content may vary by country. If you’re unsure, check your country’s regulations before purchasing or consuming.
What should I look out for when purchasing Absinthe?
When buying absinthe, check for indications of authenticity, such as the country of origin, brand reputation, and any certifications. Avoid absinthes with artificial coloring or those that seem too cheap, as they might be of lower quality.
Can I mix Absinthe in cocktails?
Absolutely! While absinthe is traditionally consumed using the drip method with water and sugar, it’s also a popular ingredient in various cocktails, such as the Sazerac. Remember, because of its distinct flavor, a little can go a long way in mixed drinks.
Is there a difference in effect between green and clear Absinthe?
The color of absinthe does not determine its potency or effects. The difference in color arises from the herbs used during the distillation process. Both green (verte) and clear (Blanche or la bleue) absinthes can be of high quality and offer distinct taste profiles.
Debunking the Myth
So, was absinthe a hallucinatory potion? Modern studies suggest not. The psychoactive compound thujone, present in wormwood, exists in such tiny amounts in absinthe that one would succumb to alcohol poisoning before hallucinating. Instead, the dangers likely came from unscrupulous producers adding toxic chemicals to mimic its characteristics.