Those who know me are very aware of my penchant for the dramatic, the mysterious and the illicit. If it's got a story and a bit of history chances are that I'll be intrigued!
I've been enjoying the European absinthes illicitly for years and I simply adore their deeply satisfying herbaceous flavor that smells like a walk through a midwinter forest , piney , icy and filled with running sap and wintergreen that's been trampled under foot.
Fortunately for a bohemian sort of girl like me, the US ban on absinthe was lifted several years ago and there are several wonderful versions sold in the United States that I can legally enjoy, Lucid and Mata Hari being 2 of the brands that come first to my mind. I love the rituals surrounding the drinking of it, the flourish of spectacular goblets and the slotted silver absinthe spoons adorned with a lump of sugar. An absinthe fountain is the final bit of theatre, a gorgeous creation of crystal and sterling that drips chilled spring water into the glass, melting the sugar cube and causing the absinthe to change from a simple clear liquid to a luminous pearlescent elixir.
I cannot stress enough the importance of learning to serve absinthe properly because that's part of the real enjoyment! Last weekend, I was at a very expensive restaurant that was serving Lucid absinthe at the bar and although they had a fountain, the bartender used it improperly, serving my absinthe warm and without apology. He then went on to incorrectly answer the questions that his patrons were asking about it , leaving them confused and unable to enjoy the simple luxury of a perfectly prepared glass of absinthe. I know that perhaps it sounds silly, but the theatre surrounding this particular spirit is half of the fun of drinking it. I know that I sound terribly traditional and in this case I am. The correct accoutrements are very important and as a dear friend who knows me very well from the late seventies remarked "Would that be an opium pipe?". I should be ashamed to say yes, although it's been decades since I've had the pleasure. But I'm not!
The active ingredient in a proper absinthe is Artemisia Absinthium, more commonly known as Grande Wormwood. It lends an incredibly bright slightly bitter anise- like herbal flavor and is the supposedly psychoactive element that was the reason that absinthe gained such a notorious reputation in the first place seducing the hearts and minds of such luminaries as Oscar Wilde, Toulouse- Lautrec, Van Gogh and Aleister Crowley. Romantically referred to as "la fee' verte" or The Green Fairy, absinthe will be forever linked with an era of decadence that was passionate , provocative and slightly dangerous.
It is said that the buzz from a glass of absinthe starts out slow and by the second glass your senses are heightened yet you are still very aware of your surroundings. By the third glass supposedly you will meet your muse. I've never gotten as far as the third glass, but I definitely find the brightened awareness that a glass of absinthe brings to be very pleasurable. These days absinthe is mixed into many different cocktails, most notably the Sazerac, a fabulous blend of rye, absinthe, bitters, sugar and a caramelized lemon peel that originated in New Orleans.
I love it best taken by itself with that simple blend of sugar and water or stirred into a glass of champagne where it takes on a completely different and indefinably elegant twist. Before you experiment with any of these cocktails though ,you owe it to yourself to try a delicious absinthe just once prepared in the style of Van Gogh or Toulouse- Lautrec. Who knows what will happen when you get kissed by the La Fee' Verte , but you owe to yourself at least once to find out!
Now just catch the wind on wings of La Fee' Verte and fly over to Roxana Villas Illuminated Journal to read how the Mistress of Natural Perfumes uses Absinthe in her craft!