Absinthe the “Green Fairy” or Death in the Afternoon”

Ah! the Green Goddess! What is the fascination that makes her so adorable and
so terrible?  Aleister Crowley

Sometimes known as the ” Green Fairy”, “Green Witch” and the “Green Devil”. Absinthe is a making a comeback, but there is a great deal of misinformation on what it is and  what our little green fairy supposedly does. We will get into the hallucinations later. Absinthe is a high alcohol spirit; since it does not have added sugar it is not considered a liqueur. It can be colorless or can have the traditional green color, which is derived from the chlorophyll in the herbs used, Chlorophyll acts almost like tannins in a wine, creating a drying sensation at the side of the mouth. The green version is known as “la fee verte

Like gin, cold compounding can be used to make a lower quality Absinthe, by the addition of essences and color to pure alcohol. There are so called Absinthe coming from Eastern Europe that is made this way. I have had some that where totally undrinkable. Some call it assbinthe.

Redistilling with grand wormwood, anise and fennel and other botanicals produces a proper Absinthe. Grande wormwood gives a slight bitter taste, fennel contributes licorice and sweetness. Anise gives the distinctive and defining flavor. Distillation integrates the flavors, giving a more uniform flavor profile.

Absinthe has a reputation of being psychotropic because the thujone in grand wormwood. Studies have shown that there is just not enough of it create a psychotropic reaction. There is also an urban legend that Absinthe acts on the same area of the brain as THC does.  Once again an other study shows that it does not. Our little green girl is not as hazardous as her press makes out. By the way sage and rosemary also contain thujone.

Where did all the railing against Absinthe come from, and why our little green fairy was banned. In the mid eighteen hundreds Absinthe was cheap and was eating into the French wine market. The French wine industry to protect its profits, came out with a campaign, somewhat like prohibition to outlaw Absinthe.  It used the press to vilify the product any way it could. A quote from the period “ Absinthe makes you crazy and criminal, provokes epilepsy and tuberculosis, and has killed thousands of French people. It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant, it disorganizes and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country.”  Now, don’t you just  want to try a glass of whatever it is that can cause all that mayhem and destruction? The French wine industry used its political might with lawmakers to ban Absinthe altogether. Our little green girl just about disappeared.

Abinthe also had a reputation as being bohemian, and a drink of deranged poets and artists. The little fairy kept some strange company. Toulouse Lautrec was known to drink six bottles a day. Lautrec also invented the earthquake, three oz of cognac and three oz of Absinthe. If you drink that much of a high alcohol spirit, possibly you are going to get a little deranged. Lautrec and others where pointed out as examples of what Absinthe could do to the mind. Oscar Wilde had a quote “Absinthe has a wonderful colour, green. A glass of absinthe is as poetical as anything in the world. What difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset’ This was after drinking all day.  Hemingway was quoted in letter  “Got tight last night on absinthe and did knife tricks. Great success shooting the knife underhand into the piano. The woodworms are so bad and eat hell out of all the furniture that you can always claim the woodworms did it”


In 1912 Absinthe was banned in the US. France finally banned it in 1915. However in 1972 the law was changed in the US,banning products containing more than 10 milligrams of thujone. It just took awhile for everyone to figure out that most Absinthes have less than 10 milligrams of thujone. Once everyone found out through testing the thujone level in most Absinthes, and being below the limit it became legal. The green fairy made a comeback.

The traditional way of serving Absinthe is a wonderful ritual. A slotted spoon is placed over a glass, a sugar cube on the spoon and water dripped over the sugar cube. An effect called louching happens, the Absinthe turns cloudy. Some of the spoons are works of art in the own right and have become collector’s items.

Remarkably in British Columbia there is no upper limit on thujone levels

We have a highly recommend Absinthe made in British Columbia called Taboo. As a side note Canada has never had a ban on Absinthe.

Death in the Afternoon

I like Hemmingway’s recipe so I will quote him directly.

“ Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly. I heartily recommend drinking less than five of these, and you may also try pouring the absinthe on top instead; some brands of absinthe will float for a time on the Champagne, and this makes a nifty visual effect.”

Be careful with knives if you are having more than one.

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About Frank Haddad

Advanced Certificate in Wine and Spirits from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. Professional Spirits from WSET. Certified Specialist of Wine and Certified Specialist of Spirits from the Society of Wine Educators. French Wine Society. International Sommelier Guild,. and WSET Diploma Student. Certified Sake Professional Executive Director Modernize Wine Assoc of BC
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