Absinthe originated in the canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. It achieved great popularity as an alcoholic drink in late 19th- and early 20th-century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers. Due in part to its association with bohemian culture, absinthe was opposed by social conservatives and prohibitionists. Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, and Aleister Crowley were all notorious "bad men" of that day who were (or were thought to be) devotees of the Green Fairy. Absinthe was portrayed as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug. The chemical thujone, present in small quantities, was blamed for its alleged harmful effects. By 1915, absinthe had been banned in the United States and in most European countries except the United Kingdom, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although absinthe was vilified, no evidence has shown it to be any more dangerous than ordinary liquor. Its psychoactive properties, apart from those of alcohol, had been much exaggerated.
A revival of absinthe began in the 1990s, when countries in the European Union began to reauthorize its manufacture and sale. As of February 2008, nearly 200 brands of absinthe were being produced in a dozen countries, most notably in France, Switzerland, Spain, and the Czech Republic. Commercial distillation of absinthe in the United States resumed in 2007.
Etymology, spelling, pronunciation
The French word absinthe can refer either to the alcoholic beverage or, less commonly, to the actual wormwood plant (grande absinthe being Artemisia absinthium, and petite absinthe being Artemisia pontica). The Latin name artemisia comes from Artemis, the ancient Greek goddess of forests and hills. Absinthe is derived from the Latin absinthium, which in turn is a stylization of the Greek αψίνθιον (apsínthion), for wormwood.
The use of absinthe as a drink is attested in Lucretius' De Rerum Natura (I 936-950), where Lucretius indicates that absinthe is given as medicine to children in a cup with honey on the brim to make it drinkable (as a metaphor to his presenting complex ideas in poetic form).
Some claim that the word means "undrinkable" in Greek, but it may instead be linked to the Persian root spand or aspand, or the variant esfand, which meant Peganum harmala, also called Syrian Rue though it is not an actual variety of rue, another famously bitter herb.
That Artemisia absinthium was commonly burned as a protective offering may suggest that its origins lie in the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root *spend, meaning "to perform a ritual" or "make an offering." Whether the word was a borrowing from Persian into Greek, or from a common ancestor of both, is unclear.
Variant spellings of absinthe are absinth, absynthe, and absenta. In English it is pronounced /ˈæbsɪnθ/(listen ); in French, [apsɛ̃t].
Absinth (without the final e) is a spelling variant that is used by central European distillers. It is the usual name for absinthe produced in the Czech Republic and in Germany, and has become associated with Bohemian style absinthes.
Preparing absinthe the traditional way. Note, no burning.
Traditionally, absinthe is poured into a glass over which a specially designed slotted spoon is placed. A sugar cube is then deposited in the bowl of the spoon. Ice-cold water is poured or dripped over the sugar until the drink is diluted to a ratio between 3:1 and 5:1. During this process, the components that are not soluble in water, mainly those from anise, fennel, and star anise, come out of solution and cloud the drink. The resulting milky opalescence is called the louche (Fr. "opaque" or "shady", IPA [luʃ]). The addition of water is important, causing the herbs to "blossom" and bringing out many of the flavors originally overpowered by the anise.
Originally a waiter would serve a dose of absinthe, ice water in a carafe, and sugar separately, and the drinker would prepare it to their preference. With increased popularity, the absinthe fountain, a large jar of ice water on a base with spigots, came into use. It allowed a number of drinks to be prepared at once, and with a hands-free drip, patrons were able to socialize while louching a glass.
Although many bars served absinthe in standard glasses, a number of glasses were specifically made for absinthe. These had a dose line, bulge, or bubble in the lower portion denoting how much absinthe should be poured in. One "dose" of absinthe is around 1 ounce (30 mL), and most glasses used this as the standard, with some drinkers using as much as 1½ ounces (45 mL).
In addition to being drunk with water poured over sugar, absinthe was a common cocktail ingredient in both the United Kingdom and the United States, and continues to be a popular ingredient today. One of the most famous of these is Ernest Hemingway’s "Death in the Afternoon" cocktail, a concoction he contributed to a 1935 collection of celebrity recipes. His directions are as follows: "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."
Anise, one of the three main herbs used in production of absinthe
Grande wormwood, one of the three main herbs used in production of absinthe
Fennel, one of the three main herbs used in production of absinthe
Currently, most countries have no legal definition of absinthe, although spirits such as Scotch whisky, brandy, and gin generally have such a definition. Manufacturers can label a product “absinthe” or “absinth” without regard to any legal definition or minimum standard.
Producers use one of two processes to make absinthe: either distillation or cold mixing. In the few countries which have a legal definition of absinthe, distillation is the sole permitted process. An online description of the distillation process (in French) is available.
The three main herbs used to produce absinthe are grande wormwood, green anise, and florence fennel, which are often called "the holy trinity." Many other herbs may be used as well, such as petite wormwood (Artemisia pontica or Roman wormwood), hyssop, melissa, star anise, angelica, sweet flag, dittany, coriander, veronica, juniper, and nutmeg.
The simple maceration of wormwood in alcohol (as called for in absinthe kits) without distillation produces an extremely bitter drink because of the presence of the water-soluble absinthin, one of the most bitter substances known to man. Authentic recipes call for distillation after a primary maceration and before the optional secondary coloring maceration. The distillation of absinthe first produces a colorless distillate that leaves the alembic at around 72 percent ABV (144 proof).
The distillate can be bottled clear, to produce a Blanche or la Bleue absinthe, or it can be colored using artificial or natural coloring. Traditional absinthes take their green color from chlorophyll, which is present in some of the herbal ingredients during the secondary maceration. This is done by steeping petite wormwood, hyssop, and melissa (among other herbs) in the liquid. Chlorophyll from these herbs is extracted giving the drink its famous green color. This process also provides the herbal complexity that is typical of high quality absinthe. This type of absinthe is known as a verte. After the coloring process, the resulting product is reduced with water to the desired percentage of alcohol. Historically, most absinthes contain between 60 and 75 percent alcohol by volume (120 to 150 proof). It is said to improve materially with storage, and many pre-ban distilleries aged their absinthe in neutral barrels before bottling.
Some modern absinthes are produced using the cold mix system. The beverage is manufactured by mixing flavoring essences, and artificial coloring in high-proof alcohol, and is similar to a flavored vodka or "absinthe schnapps". Some modern Franco-Suisse absinthes are bottled at up to 82% alcohol and some modern bohemian-style absinths contain up to 89.9%.
Absinthe can also be naturally colored red using hibiscus flowers. This is called a rouge or rose absinthe. As of now, only one historical rouge brand has been discovered.
[Note: Absinthe kits should not be confused with hausgemacht absinthe.]
Numerous recipes for homemade “absinthe” are available on the Internet. Many of these require mixing a kit that contains store-bought herbs or wormwood extract with high-proof liquor such as vodka or Everclear. However, it is not possible to make authentic absinthe without distillation.
Besides being unpleasant to drink and not authentic absinthe, these homemade concoctions contain uncontrolled amounts of thujone and may be poisonous — especially if they contain wormwood extract. Many such recipes call for the use of a large amount of wormwood extract (essence of wormwood) with the intent of increasing alleged psychoactive effects. Consuming essence of wormwood is very dangerous. It can cause kidney failure and death from excessive thujone, which in large quantities is a convulsive neurotoxin. Thujone is also a powerful heart stimulant; it is present in authentic absinthe only in extremely small amounts.
Most alcoholic beverages have regulations governing their classification and labeling. Modern absinthe is not governed in this way and classification is difficult and, by nature, inaccurate. Historically, there were five grades of absinthe: ordinaire, demi-fine, fine, supérieure and Suisse (which does not denote origin), in order of increasing alcoholic strength and quality. A supérieure and Suisse would always be naturally colored and distilled. Ordinaire and demi-fine could be artificially colored and made from oil extracts. These terms are no longer used as an industry standard, but some brands today still use the Suisse designation on their labels. Many contemporary absinthe critics use two classifications to denote quality: distilled and mixed. Within these two process-based classifications there are substantial variations in quality due to variations in the raw materials used, and they should not be viewed as complete measures of quality.
Blanche, or la Bleue
Blanche absinthe (also referred to as la Bleue in Switzerland) is bottled directly following distillation and is unaltered. It is a clear liquid which contains the distilled oils of the herbs used in its production. The name la Bleue was originally a term used for bootleg Swiss absinthe, but has become a popular term for Swiss absinthe in general.
Verte (“green” in French) absinthe begins as a blanche. The blanche is altered by the “coloring step,” in which a new mixture of herbs is put into the clear distillate. This process greatly alters the color and flavor, imparting a peridot green hue and an intense flavor. Vertes are the type of absinthe that was most commonly drunk in the 19th century; they are what most people think of as absinthe.
Artificially colored green absinthe is also called “verte,” but it lacks the herbal characteristics that are imparted by the coloring step.
Absenta ("absinthe" in Spanish) is a regional variation and typically differs slightly from its French cousin. Absentas typically are sweeter in flavor due to their use of Alicante anise, and contain a characteristic citrus flavor.
Hausgemacht (German for home-made, often abbreviated as HG) is a type of absinthe that is home-distilled by hobbyists. It is often called clandestine absinthe. It should not be confused with the Clandestine brand, nor should it be confused with absinthe kits.
Produced mainly in small quantities for personal use and not for sale, hausgemacht absinthe enables experienced distillers to personally select the herbs and to fine-tune each batch. Clandestine production increased after absinthe was banned, when small producers went underground, most notably in Switzerland.
Although the Swiss had produced both vertes and blanches before the ban, clear absinthe (also known as la Bleue) became more popular after the ban because it is easier to hide. Although the ban has been lifted, many clandestine distillers have not made themselves legal. Authorities believe that high taxes on alcohol and the mystique of being underground have given them a reason not to. Those hausgemacht distillers who have become legal often place the word clandestine on their labels.
Bohemian-style absinth (also called Czech-style absinthe, anise-free absinthe, or just "absinth" (without the "e")) is best described as a wormwood bitters. It is produced mainly in the Czech Republic, from which it gets its designations as "Bohemian" or "Czech," although not all absinthe from the Czech Republic is Bohemian-style. It contains little or none of the anise, fennel, and other herbs that are found in traditional absinthe.
Typical Bohemian-style absinth has two similarities with its traditional counterpart, in that it contains wormwood and has a high alcohol content.
Absinthe that is artificially colored or clear is relatively stable and can be bottled in a clear container. If naturally colored absinthe is exposed to light, the chlorophyll breaks down, changing the color from emerald green to yellow green to brown. Pre-ban and vintage absinthes are often of a distinct amber color as a result of this process. Though this color is considered a mark of maturity in vintage absinthes, it is regarded as undesirable in contemporary absinthe. Due to this fragility, naturally colored absinthe is typically bottled in dark UV resistant wine bottles.
Absinthe should be stored in a cool, room temperature, dry place away from light and heat. They should also be kept out of the refrigerator and freezer as anethole can crystallize inside the bottle, creating a 'scum' in the bottle which may or may not dissolve back into solution as the bottle warms. Properly stored absinthes not only maintain their quality, but may improve in aroma, flavor, and complexity with aging.
The precise origin of absinthe is unclear. The medical use of wormwood dates back to ancient Egypt and is mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus, circa 1550 BC. Wormwood extracts and wine-soaked wormwood leaves were used as remedies by the ancient Greeks. Moreover, there is evidence of the existence of a wormwood-flavored wine, absinthites oinos, in ancient Greece.
The first clear evidence of absinthe in the modern sense of a distilled spirit containing green anise and fennel, however, dates to the 18th century. According to legend, absinthe began as an all-purpose patent remedy created by Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor living in Couvet, Switzerland, around 1792 (the exact date varies by account). Ordinaire’s recipe was passed on to the Henriod sisters of Couvet, who sold absinthe as a medicinal elixir. By other accounts, the Henriod sisters may have been making the elixir before Ordinaire’s arrival. In either case, a certain Major Dubied acquired the formula from the sisters and in 1797, with his son Marcellin and son-in-law Henry-Louis Pernod, opened the first absinthe distillery, Dubied Père et Fils, in Couvet. In 1805 they built a second distillery in Pontarlier, France, under the new company name Maison Pernod Fils. Pernod Fils remained one of the most popular brand of absinthe up until the ban of the drink in France in 1915.
Rapid growth of French consumption
Absinthe’s popularity grew steadily through the 1840s, when absinthe was given to French troops as a malaria treatment. When the troops returned home, they brought their taste for absinthe with them. It became so popular in bars, bistros, cafés, and cabarets that, by the 1860s, the hour of 5 p.m. was called l’heure verte (“the green hour”). Absinthe was favored by all social classes, from the wealthy bourgeoisie to poor artists and ordinary working-class people.
By the 1880s, mass production had caused the price of absinthe to drop sharply. This, combined with a wine shortage in France during the 1880s and 1890s, caused absinthe to become France’s drink of choice. By 1910, the French were drinking 36 million litres of absinthe per year, which contrasts against their consumption of almost 5000 million litres of wine.
Outside of France, absinthe has been consumed in several other places including most notably Catalonia in Spain, as well as New Orleans and the Czech Republic.
Absinthe was never banned in Spain, and its production and consumption has never ceased. During the early 20th century it gained a temporary spike in popularity corresponding with the French influenced Art Nouveau and Modernism aesthetic movements.
New Orleans also has a historical connection to absinthe consumption. The city has a prominent landmark called the Old Absinthe House, located on Bourbon Street. Originally called the Absinthe Room, it was opened in 1874 by a Catalan bartender named Cayetano Ferrer. The building was frequented by many famous people, including Franklin Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and Aleister Crowley. 
Absinthe has been consumed in the Czech Republic (then part of Austria-Hungary) since at least 1888, notably by Czech artists, some of whom had an affinity for Paris, frequenting Prague’s famous Cafe Slavia. Its wider appeal in Bohemia itself is uncertain, though it was sold in and around Prague. There is evidence that at least one local liquor distillery in Bohemia was making absinthe at the turn of the 20th century.
The banning of absinthe
Albert Maignan’s “Green Muse” (1895): A poet succumbs to the Green Fairy.
Spurred by the temperance movement and the winemakers’ associations, absinthe was publicly associated with violent crimes and social disorder.
A critic said that:
- Absinthe makes you crazy and criminal, provokes epilepsy and tuberculosis, and has killed thousands of French people. It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant, it disorganizes and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country.
Edgar Degas’ 1876 painting L’Absinthe, which can be seen at the Musée d’Orsay, epitomized the popular view of absinthe addicts as sodden and benumbed. Although Émile Zola mentioned absinthe only once by name, he described its evil effects in his novel L’Assommoir :
- Boche had known a joiner who had stripped himself stark naked in the rue Saint-Martin and died doing the polka — he was an absinthe-drinker.
In 1905, it was reported that Jean Lanfray murdered his family and tried to kill himself after drinking absinthe. The fact that Lanfray was an alcoholic who had consumed much more than his two glasses of absinthe in the morning, was overlooked; the murders were blamed solely on absinthe.Lanfray’s murders were the last straw, and a petition to ban absinthe in Switzerland was subsequently signed by more than 82,000 people. The prohibition of absinthe was then written into the Swiss constitution in 1907.
In 1906, Belgium and Brazil banned the sale and distribution of absinthe, although they were not the first. Absinthe had been banned as early as 1898 in the colony of the Congo Free State.. The Netherlands banned absinthe in 1909; the United States banned it in 1912, and France in 1915.
The prohibition of absinthe in France led to increased popularity of pastis (and of ouzo, to a lesser extent), which are anise-flavored spirits that do not contain wormwood. The Pernod distillery moved its absinthe production to Catalonia, Spain, where absinthe was still legal, but slow sales in the 1960s eventually caused them to shut it down.
In Switzerland, the ban drove absinthe underground. Clandestine (illegal) home distillers produced absinthe after the ban, focusing on la Bleue, which was easier to conceal from the authorities.
Many countries never banned absinthe, notably Britain, where absinthe had not been as popular as in continental Europe.
Modern absinthe. Left Vertes, right blanches, with a prepared glass in front of each.
In the 1990s an importer, BBH Spirits, realized that there was no UK law prohibiting the sale of absinthe, as it had never been banned there. They began to import Hill’s Absinth from the Czech Republic, which encouraged a modern resurgence in absinthe’s popularity. Absinthe had also never been banned in Spain or Portugal, where it continued to be made. These absinthes — Czech, Spanish, and Portuguese brands — date mostly from the 1990s, are generally of Bohemian-style, and are considered by many absinthe connoisseurs to be of inferior quality. 
La Fée Absinthe, released in 2000, was the first absinthe distilled and bottled in France since the 1915 ban, initially for export from France, but now one of roughly fifty French-produced absinthes available in France. France had never repealed its 1915 ban on absinthe, but in 1988 a law was passed stating that only beverages that do not comply with European Union regulations with respect to thujone content, or are labeled absinthe explicitly, fall under the old ban. This has resulted in the re-emergence of French absinthes, which now must be labeled as spiritueux aux plantes d'absinthe, absinthes distillées or equivalent. These labels are sometimes confused with those that carry the descriptors liqueur à base de plantes d’absinthe or liqueur aux extraits d’absinthe ('wormwood-based liqueur' or 'liqueur with wormwood extract'), which are sweetened anise liqueurs that while marketed as absinthe, do not fit the traditional definition of absinthe. Absinthes marketed openly in other countries must be relabeled to meet these guidelines to be sold legally in France. As the 1915 law regulates only the sale of absinthe in France but not its production, many manufacturers also produce variants destined for export which are plainly labeled absinthe.
Absinthe has never been illegal to import or manufacture in Australia. Importation requires a permit under the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulation 1956 due to a restriction on importing any product containing oil of wormwood. In 2000 there was an amendment by Foods Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) as part of a new consolidation of the Food Code across Australia and New Zealand. This made all wormwood species prohibited herbs for food purposes under Food Standard 1.4.4. Prohibited and Restricted Plants and Fungi, however it was found to be inconsistent with other parts of the pre-existing Food Code. The proposed amendment was withdrawn in 2002 during the transition between the two Codes, thereby continuing to allow absinthe manufacture and importation through the existing permit-based system. These events were erroneously reported by the media as Australia having reclassified it from a prohibited product to a restricted product. There is now an Australian-produced brand of absinthe called Moulin Rooz.
Collection of absinthe spoons. These specialized spoons are used to hold the sugar cube over which ice-cold water is poured to dilute the absinthe. Note the slot on the handle that allows the spoon to rest securely on the rim of the glass.
In the Netherlands, restrictions on the manufacture and sale of Absinthe were successfully challenged by the Amsterdam wine seller Menno Boorsma in July 2004, making absinthe legal once again.
Belgium, as part of an effort to simplify its laws, removed its absinthe law on 1 January 2005, citing (as did the Dutch judge) European food regulations as sufficient to render the law unnecessary (and indeed, in conflict with the spirit of the Single European Market).
In Switzerland, the constitutional ban on absinthe was repealed in 2000 during an overhaul of the national constitution, although the prohibition was written into ordinary law instead. Later that law was repealed, so from 1 March 2005, absinthe was again legal in its country of origin. Absinthe is now not only sold but is once again distilled in its Val-de-Travers birthplace, with Kübler and La Clandestine Absinthe among the first new brands to reemerge.
In 2007, two brands of absinthe (Lucid and Kübler) began to be sold in the United States. In December, 2007, St. George Absinthe Verte, produced by St. George Spirits of Alameda, California, became the first brand of American-made absinthe to be legally produced in the United States since the enactment of the ban. In 2008 the first Bohemian absinthe became available in the United States as Mata Hari absinthe.
The legacy of absinthe as a mysterious, addictive, and mind-altering drink continues to this day. Absinthe has been seen or featured in fine art, movies, video, music and literature. The modern absinthe revival has had an effect on its portrayal. It is often shown as an unnaturally glowing green liquid which is set on fire before drinking, even though traditionally neither is true. In addition, it is most commonly known in the media for over-the-top hallucinations.
Numerous artists and writers living in France in the late 19th- and early 20th-century were noted absinthe drinkers who featured absinthe in their work. These included Vincent van Gogh, Édouard Manet, Amedeo Modigliani, Arthur Rimbaud, Guy de Maupassant, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Paul Verlaine. Later artists and writers drew from this cultural well, including Pablo Picasso, August Strindberg, Oscar Wilde, and Ernest Hemingway. Aleister Crowley was also known to be a habitual absinthe drinker. Emile Cohl, an early pioneer in the art of animation, presented the effects of the drink in 1919 with the short film, hasher's delirium.
The aura of illicitness and mystery surrounding absinthe has played into modern literature, movies, and television shows. Such depictions vary in their authenticity, often applying dramatic license to depict the drink as anything from an aphrodisiac to a poison. The Danish rapper L.O.C. wrote a song titled 'Absinthe' about his experiences with absinthe for his first album (Dominologi).
 Effects of absinthe
Absinthe has long been believed to be hallucinogenic. This belief got a contemporary boost in the 1970s when a scientific paper mistakenly reported thujone was related to THC, the active chemical in cannabis. Martin Paul Smith incorrectly argued that absinthe had narcotic effects due to the fermentation process in early 2008.
Ten years after his 19th century experiments with wormwood oil, the French Dr. Magnan studied 250 cases of alcoholism and claimed that those who drank absinthe were worse off than those drinking ordinary alcohol, and that they experienced rapid-onset hallucinations.
Such accounts by absinthe opponents were embraced by its most famous users, many of whom were bohemian artists or writers. In one of the best known accounts of absinthe drinking, Oscar Wilde described the feeling of having tulips on his legs after leaving a bar. Two famous painters who helped popularize the notion that absinthe had powerful psychoactive properties were Toulouse Lautrec and Vincent van Gogh (who suffered from mental instability throughout his life).
Today it is known that absinthe does not cause hallucinations, especially ones similar to those described in 19th century studies. Thujone, the supposed active chemical in absinthe, is a GABA antagonist and, while it can produce muscle spasms in large doses, there is no evidence that it causes hallucinations. It has been speculated that reports of hallucinogenic effects of absinthe may have been due to poisonous chemicals being added to cheaper versions of the drink in the 19th century, to give it a more vivid color.
However, the debate over whether absinthe produces effects on the human mind additional to those of alcohol has not been conclusively resolved. The effects of absinthe have been described by some artists as mind opening. The most commonly reported experience is a 'clear-headed' feeling of inebriation — a form of 'lucid drunkenness'. Some modern specialists, such as chemist, historian and absinthe distiller Ted Breaux, claim that alleged secondary effects of absinthe may be caused by the fact that some of the herbal compounds in the drink act as stimulants, while others act as sedatives, creating an overall lucid effect of awakening.
Long term effects of low absinthe consumption in humans remain unknown, although it is known that the herbs contained in absinthe have both painkilling and antiparasitic properties.
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