Brief Absinthe History

How Absinthe is Made

Absinthe is a high-alcohol distilled spirit (usually between 45% - 74% abv) produced by macerating wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), green anise (Pimpinella anisum), sweet fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce) and other plants in grain or wine alcohol. These three plants are often known as the ‘holy trinity’, as all must be present before the product can be considered absinthe. However it is usual for absinthe to contain many more plants, and other common ingredients are coriander, hyssop, gentian, genepi, angelica and star anise. The two main varieties of absinthe are verte (green) and blanche (clear), although one or two red absinthes do exist.

All absinthe is clear when it comes from the still, the green colour typically associated with absinthe is derived from an additional step whereby a sack containing a mixture of plants is added to the distillate to enable additional flavouring materials to leech out into the absinthe, and in the process, a green colour is obtained. The herbs used to colour absinthe include, hyssop, mint, lemon balm, roman wormwood (Artemisia pontica) and veronica. An absinthe verte will usually have an ‘earthier’ flavour due to the additional colouring step; absinthe blanche can range in taste from the very simple, if just the holy trinity of plants are used, to a quite complex flavour if the plants usually used for colouring are instead added to the initial maceration. As can be imagined, the sheer variety of ingredients makes for some very different styles of absinthe.

Absinthe was historically produced in Eastern France and the Val-de-Travers region of Switzerland and this is where most absinthe is made today, however since the absinthe revival which started in 2000, absinthe is being made in many other countries including the Czech Republic, Spain, Germany and the USA.

To lear more about the science behind Absinthe, how it is made, and its effect on the brain, please visit our Absinthe Blog.

How to Drink Absinthe

The first thing to say is that as most absinthe ranges from 45% to 70% ABV (90-140 proof), absinthe should not be consumed neat or undiluted!

Absinthe was originally taken as an aperitif, and it is intended to be diluted with water and enjoyed as a long drink. Although absinthe is certainly high in alcohol, if diluted with the recommended amount of water, the finished drink is no stronger than a glass of wine. Adding water to absinthe makes it go cloudy, the so-called louche, which happens when the essential oils that were dissolved in the alcohol separate out of solution. As well as producing the milky colour beloved of absinthe drinkers, adding water releases the flavours and scent of the plants used in its production. The amount of water that you use will be a matter of taste, but we recommend between 3 and 5 measures of water for whatever measure of absinthe you use, 25ml or an ounce of absinthe per glass is usual. Add the water slowly, using an absinthe fountain or pouring from a carafe or jug, and watch as the line of the louche moves slowly up the glass until all of the clear spirit has gone, the absinthe will then be ready to drink.

Have you ever wondered about the proof of your absinthe drink? Our handy absinthe-water diluting table will give you a simple estimate of the alcohol content of your absinthe drinks.

Brief History of Absinthe

The history of absinthe began in Switzerland, where Dr. Ordinaire treated his patients with a green elixir of his own production, which he produced according to the recipe of an old, experienced herbalist. Absinthe was not well-known until 1805, when the Frenchman Henri-Louis Pernod began to mass produce it in his factory. During the 19th century, absinthe became a symbol in France that influenced the work of most artists. In 1830, French soldiers brought enough absinthe with them to Algeria as a medicament for malaria. However, absinthe is suited for completely different, non-medical purposes, and it had thus become the most popular drink of the troops. When the army later returned victoriously to France, the toasts made in the celebrations throughout France, and in particular Paris, were again made with absinthe. Drinking absinthe thus became a fad that very rapidly spread to the entire territory. In Paris at that time, every social group (soldiers, the bourgeoisie, and artists - in particular painters) had its favourite place to drink: the artists Degas and Monet had absinthe for the first time in Avenue de Clichy, and after the war (1870), they drank at the Dead Rat Café in the Pigalle district in Paris.

Hemingway Smuggled Bottles of Absinthe

Hemingway tasted absinthe for the first time during his visit to Spain in 1920. He immediately fell in mad love with La Fée Verte ("The Green Fairy"), a common name for absinthe. Hemingway continued in his habit of drinking absinthe in Paris, where absinthe was illegal at that time. He did not even let go of the green muse when returning back to the US. He smuggled bottles of absinthe from Spain and Cuba so that he could use it as an inspiration for his writing. Absinthe gradually ceased to be the beverage of the richer middle strata and art circles, and even the poorest began to consume it. In particular manual labourers met every night in pubs and drank absinthe to forget about the misery of everyday life. It is at this time of the massive proliferation of this alcoholic beverage that opposition to absinthe, which was becoming a symbol of alcoholism and the disintegration of society, began to emerge in the ruling circles. The paintings of Monet and Degas with absinthe motifs seemed too vulgar to the cream of society. At the beginning of the new century, the National League Against Alcoholism, which aims to enact a ban on absinthe, was established on the grounds that " absinthe causes dementia, crime, epilepsy and tuberculosis, and makes men into savage animals and women into subjects of abuse". The ban on absinthe was difficult to push through, as there were many factories producing absinthe throughout France, and also the state received considerable revenue from its sale. Although absinthe was eventually banned in 1915, the wine industry lobby was the reason for the ban rather than medical reasons. What makes this evident is the fact that there was a large army contract for the supply of wine right after the ban on the sale of absinthe came into effect.

Dark Absinthe Times - The League Against Absinthe

At the beginning of the 20th century, the National League Against Alcoholism was established in France. Its aim was to enact a ban on absinthe because of (among other things) the shocking case in which the Swiss manual labourer Jean Lonfray murdered his pregnant wife and two daughters after having allegedly consumed strong absinthe. The ban on absinthe was successfully pushed though in France in 1915, and it was also banned in Switzerland, Belgium, the US, France, Germany... The absinthe was never banned in England nor in the Czech Republic. Chronic absintheism manifested itself in convulsions, paralysis, memory degradation, insomnia, hallucinations, epileptic seizures, and overall degeneration. However, the same effects can be caused by alcohol itself. Today, absinthe no longer contains the toxins it once did and has again found many avid consumers, not only among artists.

High-quality Wormwood Absinthe From Absinthe Original

La Boheme UK Ltd. is one of the world's largest suppliers and distributors of high-quality wormwood absinthe. Because of its reputation and marketing strategy, the company was contacted by the representatives of Twentieth Century Fox and Czech absinthe was thus supplied for the movie Moulin Rouge with Nicole Kidman. This is only confirmed by the fact that La Boheme represents services and products of a very high quality. Moulin Rouge wasn't the only movie featuring absinthe of course, for all the absinthe-soaked movies, see our extensive absinthe movie list. After the successful and absinthe-sodden movies Moulin Rouge, From Hell, Eurotrip, and Van Helsing, it is evident that absinthe has settled permanently on the modern market for premium alcoholic beverages.

Absinthe Ritual From a Marketing Genius

Absinthe also undoubtedly owes its huge popularity to the ritual that accompanied it. Due to its high alcohol content and slightly bitter taste (absinthe means "undrinkable" in Greek), absinthe had to be diluted and sweetened before consumption. The ritual that formed as a result is like something created by a marketing genius:
First, the absinthe glass was filled with three parts absinthe, and a special slotted absinthe spoon was carefully placed on the upper edge of the glass. A lump of sugar was then placed on the spoon. After that, ice-cold water was dripped into the glass from a carafe until the sugar dissolved and the water to absinthe ratio was about two to five, corresponding to the desired taste. During this process, the emerald-coloured absinthe released a cocktail of fragrances and its green colour slowly changed, thus filling the consumer with a feeling of yearning expectation. After that, all that remained was to stir the absinthe with the spoon, slowly sip it, and let your mind be carried away by the green fairy.



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