For years, American drinkers were tantalized by tales of the supposed hallucinogenic effects of the banned spirit absinthe. But while the alcohol packs a potent punch (the proof ranges from 110 to 145), it’s actually not mind altering and the so-called “green fairy” can once again be purchased legally in America.
Drinkers now have a large selection of both foreign and domestic absinthes to choose from, including the historic Pernod Absinthe ($65) with fennel and hyssop on the nose and mint and anise on the palate; the California St. George Absinthe Verte ($75) with aromas of mint, green pepper and fennel and a bittersweet bite; and the artisanal Vieux Pontarlier Absinthe ($65) with hyssop, anise and dark chocolate on the nose and a savory finish.
The production of absinthe is much like that of gin. High-proof neutral spirit is infused with a blend of botanicals, including wormwood, and redistilled in a copper pot still. Traditionally, the liquor is infused a second time before bottling to intensify the flavor and create the signature green color. Many producers skip this final step and use dyes instead.
There are basically two ways to drink absinthe. The traditional preparation is to slowly drip water over a sugar cube and into the spirit, which becomes cloudy. You can also use small quantities of absinthe (a few dashes, a rinse or one quarter of an ounce) to add a floral, bittersweet quality to just about any cocktail. Try my Green Deacon recipe. Now that absinthe is legal you can finally have a real Sazerac and a Corpse Reviver #2. We’ll take that over hallucinations any day.
How to Make an Absinthe Drip
- 1.5 oz Absinthe
- 4.5-6 oz Ice-cold filtered water
- 1 Sugar cube
- Glass: Absinthe
Pour absinthe into a glass. Place a slotted absinthe spoon over the rim of the glass and set a sugar cube on top of the spoon. (An excellent selection of traditional absinthe glassware, spoons and fountains is available at www.lamaisondabsinthe.com.)
The sugar is optional. For an unsweetened version, omit the spoon and sugar cube. Using an absinthe fountain or water carafe, slowly pour or drip ice-cold water over the sugar cube into the glass. When the mixture is completely cloudy, the drip should be ready. Stir, taste for strength and sweetness and adjust with more water or sugar if necessary.
Adapted from the Bartender’s Guide: How to Mix Drinks: A Bon Vivant’s Companion by Jerry Thomas.
Jim Meehan runs PDT in New York City. Last summer, at the Tales of the Cocktail conference, he was named the American Bartender of the Year and PDT was named World’s Best Cocktail Bar. He is also one of Liquor.com’s advisors.