The history of absinthe and five examples to try

Spirit news

Thu 4 Mar 2021

Absinthe, perhaps more than any other drink on the planet, is surrounded in mystique and intrigue. Long rumoured to have hallucinogenic properties, La Fée Verte (the Green Fairy), as it is often known, became the spirit of choice for bohemian writers and artists in Paris in the late 1800s.

They believed that absinthe’s magical powers would boost their creativity, but alas, this romantic notion doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, and drinking absinthe will not generally help channel your inner Wilde or Baudelaire.

Absinthe soon became the scapegoat for various forms of bacchanalian excess, leading it to be banned in numerous countries, including the US, with one critic describing it thus: “It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant; it disorganises and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country.” Powerful stuff indeed…

It was the 1990s when absinthe’s fortunes started to turn, with bartenders keen to tap into its daring image, as well as show off the drink’s punchy notes of anise, pepper and herbs, and its striking green appearance. It plays a starring role in the Corpse Reviver No.2 cocktail, and also turns up in Death In The Afternoon, a potent mix of absinthe and Champagne supposedly invented by none other than Hemingway himself.

Despite the drink's French connections, Switzerland is actually where absinthe originates, and an excellent bottling to try is Swiss Premium Absinthe from Distillerie Studer, winner of a gold medal. Try mixing one part absinthe with four parts ice-cold water, and let the drink become cloudy. Purists can go a step further and place an art-deco-styled absinthe spoon over the glass, rest a sugar cube on it, then carefully add a little water to dissolve the sugar and sweeten the drink.

The following five absinthes are all exceptional examples which shone at the 2020 IWSC.

Swiss Premium Absintheiwsc-top-absinthe-1.png
Distillerie Studer

The herbal and spicy notes are in perfect balance with the alcohol and the viscosity. It is a great example of a fine composition of herbs and spices. Clean and focussed. 55%

Absinthe Bleueiwsc-top-absinthe-2.png

The wormwood and aniseed are very well balanced with some nuanced citrus and other herbal notes. Fine and elegant with a very cool caraway and aniseed. 55%

Absinthe Verteiwsc-top-absinthe-3.png

Light and delicate floral notes that are balanced well with white pepper and caraway. This more modern interpretation would suit as well in cocktails as it does on its own. 65%

Wan R Absintheiwsc-top-absinthe-4.png

Very dry and crisp. It opens up with water and it shows a restrained, well focused and perfectly balanced body and a nice cooling long finish. 72%

Parisienne Absinthe Supérieureiwsc-top-absinthe-5.png
La Fée

Very pronounced and fiery start. It is a bit more tamed with water. Clean, lifted, and herbal. 68%