Absinthe: Everything You Need To Know

Absinthe: Everything You Need To Know

Luke Sholl
Luke Sholl
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Absinthe is a fascinating beverage in many ways. From the unique ingredients to the controversial history, there's a lot to learn about this spirit, and we’re excited to teach you about it!

If you were to ask the average person about the craziest thing they ever drank, there's a good chance absinthe would come up. For whatever reason, it's garnered a reputation as the "bad boy" of the world of spirits and alcohol in general. But why is that, exactly? Does it really do something strange that other booze doesn't? Or, is it just like any other spirit, besides the appearance and marketing?

It's, well, a bit more complicated than either of those answers, but we're happy to explain.



So, what are we even talking about, anyway? Simply put, absinthe is a highly alcoholic anise-flavoured spirit. If you've never heard of that before, or think you have no idea what it would taste like, you might be surprised with yourself.

Have you had black jelly beans before? Well, guess what? You know what anise tastes like! How about real black licorice? No, there's no anise in licorice, but the uniquely sweet and aromatic flavours are remarkably similar.

Besides anise, absinthe is also derived mainly from the leaves and flowers of the grand wormwood plant. The wormwood plant is also responsible for the name itself and is scientifically known as Artemisia absinthium.

The Latin "absinthium" comes from the Greek word "apsínthion", which, in turn, literally translates to "wormwood". It's known by other names besides absinthe, though. If you dig through some literature from the time it came on the scene (more on that later), you'll notice that it's referred to as "la fée verte", which is French for "The Green Fairy".

This is in reference to the spirit's green colour; but, as we'll discuss further on, it isn't always that way.



Before we get any further into the specifics, we should take some time to appreciate the history. We know certain forms have existed for a long time, with wormwood-derived alcohol being traced back to the ancient Greeks. Funnily enough, in that time, it was referred to as "absinthites oinos". This wasn't quite the spirit we know today.

"Modern" absinthe only first appeared in the late 18th century, courtesy of the Henriod sisters of Couvet, Switzerland. Even then, rather than a spirit to be leisurely consumed, it was sold as an elixir. Nowadays, we can not imagine marketing an alcoholic beverage to have magical properties.

Either way, the formula was appealing enough for one Major Dubied to buy it from the Henriods in 1797 and establish the first absinthe distillery in Couvet that same year. This company would eventually become Pernod Fils, one of the most popular absinthe brands of the 1800s.

It kept a steady presence in the first half of the 19th century, becoming more popular in the 1840s as French troops used it to prevent malaria. Enjoying it much more than medicine, the soldiers kept it around as they went home. Soon enough, it started popping up at bistros, bars, cafés, and cabarets across the country.

While it's associated with high society today, it was found in the glasses of fat cats and starving artists alike. The price dropped even lower than it was by the 1880s, and it became an even bigger phenomenon from there.



As with anything that gets too popular, though, a movement began to form against it. Smear campaigns from the temperance movement and wine industry alike painted absinthe drinkers as the worst of the worst.

Critics claimed that it would drive you insane and drive you to crime. Then, in 1905, a Swiss farmer named Jean Lanfray killed his family, then tried to kill himself, after drinking absinthe. He had drunk far more wine and brandy, only having two glasses of absinthe, but the association was already made.

Related article

5 Myths About Absinthe

Public outrage peaked after the murder, with over 80,000 people signing a petition to ban the Green Fairy. By 1908, absinthe prohibition was made Swiss law, and countries including the Netherlands, France, and the US followed suit over the next few years. These bans would not get lifted until much later on, with the US only lifting its ban as recently as 2007.

But is it actually dangerous? Besides what we've just discussed, we're sure you've heard that absinthe can also make you hallucinate. However, despite what many may tell you, there's no evidence (Layton, 2007) that absinthe causes any sort of hallucination. In fact, there's no evidence suggesting it causes any further intoxication past the “regular” effects of alcohol. That whole rumour is more of a misconception about one of the ingredients, namely wormwood.



Today, we're a lot more familiar with the effects of wormwood than the ancient Greeks and not-so-ancient Europeans. As we brought up earlier, no matter how many green fairies that expat at the bar says he's seeing, wormwood has no hallucinogenic effects, and there's nothing else in absinthe that would cause those effects.

Furthermore, the alcohol in absinthe will hurt you far sooner than the wormwood. In fact, the only reported wormwood toxicity case (Weisbord et al., 1997) came from a guy who took a 10ml shot of concentrated wormwood oil thinking it was absinthe.



Let's turn away from wormwood for now, though. It's one of the main ingredients of absinthe, but it's about time we discuss how the drink is actually made. Besides grand wormwood, green anise and sweet fennel are the two main herbs used in the drink’s production.

First, the three main ingredients are combined with high-proof alcohol, which is derived from white grapes, in a copper still. The ingredients soak overnight, giving the alcohol their flavour and aroma in a process known as maceration. From here, the distillers have two choices, both of which they make regularly.

The first choice is to reduce the current distillate until it hits 60% alcohol, which will produce what's called "Blanche", or white absinthe. Yes, that's right, not all absinthe has to be green. However, the green colouring is an iconic aspect of the drink, and there's a special way absinthe-makers obtain it. This, of course, is their second choice.

After the first maceration, the distillers hold off on reduction and instead throw it in another still with hyssop, petite wormwood, melissa, and other herbs (depending on the distiller) for a second maceration. As the chlorophyll from these other ingredients transfers to the absinthe, the beloved green colour eventually appears. From there, they dilute it with water to hit a target alcohol level of 62%. Then, voilà! Absinthe is born.



Now that you know what it is, where it came from, and how it's made, we can probably guess the next question on your mind: "How should I drink it?". There are many ways, but the correct method to enjoy absinthe is the so-called "Absinthe Drip". Here's how to do it!


  1. Pour one part absinthe into a chilled glass. A parfait glass will work nicely and give it that classy touch, but a wine glass (or any glass for that matter) will work as well.
  2. Place a slotted spoon over the top of the glass, and place a sugar cube on the spoon, over the slots.
  3. Slowly drip 3–5 parts cold spring water over the cube, into the absinthe. The absinthe will turn slightly opaque.
  4. Stir and serve the glass on a doily or saucer.
  5. Enjoy!

Note: On occasion, absinthe drinkers like to douse the sugar cube in absinthe and ignite it to caramelize the sugar, before extinguishing it with the cold spring water. Go ahead and give that a go if you wish; it definitely adds a bit of fun and flair to the absinthe ritual.



You've got more than a few options here, but we wanted to narrow it down to the best. Here are a few excellent cocktails that use absinthe in fascinating ways.


This cocktail comes courtesy of none other than Ernest Hemingway himself. No, it's not just named after his book; he actually created and named it for a book of celebrity cocktail recipes! His instructions were simple: "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". Definitely stick to one at a time, though.


While absinthe isn't the main ingredient, it plays a major role in this cocktail. First, mix rye, a crushed sugar cube, two dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters, and ice together in a mixing glass. Then, grab a chilled Old Fashioned glass, pour some absinthe in, coat the inside, and pour out the extra. Strain the other ingredients into the Old Fashioned glass. Then, squeeze a lemon slice over the drink, rub the peel on the rim, and serve.


This cocktail will work nicely as a punch for your next party. In a large bowl, combine equal parts absinthe, lime juice, and simple syrup. Next, add 5 parts cold water and thinly sliced cucumber. We find the coolest way to do so is to cut the cucumber in two, lengthwise, and to then remove the soft seedy part with a teaspoon. Then, use a mandoline slicer or potato peeler to create long, paper-thin strips.


Breakfast! The perfect time to break out the absinthe, right? Actually, right! Here, a shot of absinthe is paired with an egg white, cream, and an almond-flavoured syrup called Orgeat. If you head to New Orleans, you might see some people enjoying this in the morning instead of coffee.


This is a rather uncommon combo. The cocktail consists of Benedictine liqueur, dry vermouth, and absinthe. Given the amount of flavours in each ingredient, this drink is the equivalent of a whole ballroom dancing in sync.

How To Make Absinthe With A DIY Absinthe Kit

Now sure, you could head to the store and grab some absinthe for yourself, but did you know you could distil your own at home? Using a mix of herbs and spices, along with some vodka, you can have a litre of your special batch ready in as little as five days! We invite you to check out our step-by-step guide if you're interested. And remember, not all absinthe is green, so don't expect yours to come out that way. Actually, absinthe made at home will often come out brownish, which is completely fine. It'll taste the same, and it'll definitely feel the same.
Luke Sholl
Luke Sholl
Luke Sholl has been writing about cannabis, the wellness potential of cannabinoids, and the positive influence of nature for over a decade. Working with several cannabinoid-centric publications, he publishes a variety of digital content, supported by strong technical knowledge and thorough research.
  • Julia Layton. (31-03-2021). Does Absinthe Really Cause Hallucinations? | HowStuffWorks - https://science.howstuffworks.com
  • Steven D. Weisbord, Jeremy B. Soule, & and Paul L. Kimmel. (18-09-1997). Poison on Line — Acute Renal Failure Caused by Oil of Wormwood Purchased through the Internet - https://www.nejm.org
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