After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world. –Oscar Wilde
Friend to addled French poets Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud, painter Vincent Van Gogh and gothic occultist Aleister Crowley, absinthe is a legend in its own right—an existential pondering over melting ice, a partner in psychotropic pursuits and one of the strongest alcoholic drinks ever made. Is it all its history claims? What is absinthe’s allure?
Originating in Switzerland, near the end of the 18th century, the French soon adopted this habit, making it their own. With stories like that of Jean Lafray, a Swiss man who reportedly butchered his entire family after several glasses of absinthe, the mystique and danger of the drink was half the attraction to the otherwise decadent. A reputation of lunacy accompanied the sought-after effects of a euphoric high and introspective glimpse unlike that of any other alcohol. Absinthomania was the name given to the “diseased” behavior of the hysterical uninhibited women who began to drink the reported poison in the 1860s, adding to the reputation of absinthe’s deranging effects on its unlucky victims, eventually leading to its ban throughout the U.S. and most of Europe by the early 20th century.
Credit thujone, the chemical in wormwood that is present in true absinthe for the unique mind-altering effects (There are lots of fakes without wormwood). Thujone is a terpene, and so is THC, the active compound in marijuana that creates the similar euphoric high. Thujone blocks GABA receptors (Gamma-Aminobutyric acid) in the brain, which causes neurons to fire fast and wildly—a little of that makes us feel a bit more carefree, but too much can cause convulsions and serious damage.
Once as high as 350 ppm, the now legal-again absinthe contains an average of 60 ppm of thujone and makes a lovely mixed drink, or sip it solo like Oscar Wilde and Ernest Dowson did. Absinthe is far too strong to drink straight, so the next best thing is what’s called the “drip.”
What You’ll Need
1 ½ ounces absinthe
1 sugar cube (only for the weak, the true absinthophile never drinks it with sugar!).
4 ½ to 6 ounces ice cold filtered water
What to Do
Pour absinthe into an absinthe glass. Place a slotted absinthe spoon over the rim of the glass and set a sugar cube in the bowl of the spoon. Slowly pour the water over the sugar cube and into the absinthe. When the mixture is cloudy, stir and step into the mysterious world of the absinthe-minded.
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