Accused of being a poison that caused mental problems, true absinthe was banned in most countries in the world by 1920.
However- since 1998, when the European Community legalised its production once more, ‘The Green Fairy’ has seen somewhat of a revival. In fact, some examples of modern day absintheur’s include Johnny Depp, Marilyn Manson and (most unexpectedly) Eminem.
Well this Neo-Victorian Gentleman thought he’d do some very hands-on research.
It turns out there’s a lot of different absinthes out there, my nearest corner shop sells some. It also turns out that the ingredient that really got absinthe in the dog house is called Thujone; it’s the one that people are talking about when they say it makes you ‘trip’ and it comes from the wormwood in the drink. This is important because some ‘absinthe’s’ only have artificial flavourings, not the herbs that make this drink so potent.
So my quest for the real McCoy took me to a German website called alandia.com. The European limit for thujone is 35 mg a bottle, which is actually about the same as an average bottle before prohibition. So, skipping the weaker brands in the name of research, I went straight to the full thujone content and picked a French one called ‘Absinthe d’ Libertine’ along with a traditional absinthe spoon for preparation. It didn’t come cheap either, a 70cl bottle (including p&p) setting me back about 50 pounds. The spending of this greatly perplexed my closest associates.
A well prepared absinthe isn’t for everyone, but for me it tastes heavenly. Liquorice sweet with a slightly bitter after taste; if its cold you almost forget its nearly triple the strength of a rum or vodka!
And did I start to hallucinate? Well to put it bluntly, no, not really. But absinthe definitely isn’t like getting drunk normally. The best description I’ve read is that is causes ‘euphoria without drunkenness’, or, as I like to put it, drunkenness with a bit of cocaine. I feel relaxed but strongly in control of my inhibitions, more alert almost. The world is brighter, colours seem more intense. It’s truly enjoyable.
And did I go insane? Well not any more than usual, though this is obviously not a conclusive experiment. Some recent research argues that it was impurities in the distillation that led to the hallucinations, convulsions and trips to the madhouse that plague the drinks history. Although, even just for the 68% content, this drink is certainly not for children or health fanatics.
‘La Fee Verte‘ never really hit the UK in the same way it hit France. Nonetheless, Oscar Wilde once famously said it was the one of the most poetic things in existence, asking what the difference is between an absinthe and a sunset. Hopefully, I’ll live to see a true Absinthe Café open near home one day, one similar to those that now exist all over Europe. I’ll keep my eyes open, as I’ve recently found an Italian bar, Barkollo, that will prepare one correctly.