Absinthe is an anise-flavored spirit made from a specific type of wormwood (Artemesia absinthium), fennel, anise and other herbs. It is fairly strong, with an alcohol concentration anywhere between 45 and 75%. It can be either green or colorless, but turns a milky white color when mixed with water.
Although wormwood in alcohol has its roots in ancient Egypt and ancient Greece, absinthe as we know it was first created in Switzerland in 1792 as a cure-all. In 1797, it was marketed as a spirit, with the first production centers being in France and Switzerland. The drink quickly gained popularity in France after it was given to soldiers as a malaria treatment in the 1840s. Absinthe was eventually exported around the globe and enjoyed immense success throughout the 19th century. In the early 1900s, absinthe was vilified by the temperance movement and was subsequently banned in the United States in 1912. The French followed suit in 1914, thrusting a similar anise-flavored spirit, called pastis, into the hole left by absinthe. Pastis is still one of the most popular spirits in France today. Production of absinthe resumed in France in 2000 and it eventually made its way onto American shelves in 2007.
But wasn’t absinthe banned because it was a dangerous drug? The answer to that is an emphatic no. Although there are many well known works of art depicting the maliciousness of the “Green Fairy,” (a common nickname for absinthe), these works were generally inspired by propaganda generated by prohibitionists. A chemical found in the wormwood plant, called thujone, was incorrectly blamed to give absinthe strong hallucinogenic properties. Modern tests have proven that thujone (and absinthe) does not cause hallucinations. Furthermore, because of the high alcohol content of absinthe, a person would die from ingesting too much alcohol far before he or she would feel any negative effects from the thujone (which include muscle spasms and convulsions).
The most common preparation of absinthe consists of placing a shot of absinthe in a glass, placing a sugar cube on top of special slotted spoon, which in turn goes on top of the glass of absinthe. Cold water is then dripped on top of the sugar cube until it dissolves. The formerly clear or green absinthe then takes on a milky white or light green color.
Before water is added:
And, a few moments later: