Written by Christine Miksis
You’ve probably heard the stories about hallucinations of green fairies and the rumors behind why Van Gogh really sliced off his ear.
It wasn’t just plain artistic insanity—they used to blame it all on that green mystical elixir called absinthe, so much so that it was even outlawed until recent times.
I decided to get to the bottom of all the fuss, set the record straight about absinthe, and dream up an absinthe-inspired cocktail while in the process.
To really appreciate the flavor of this anise-flavored spirit, it helps to know that it’s made from distilling a macerated mix of wormwood, fennel, and green anise, although other ingredients can be added in different varieties as well.
After the distillation, a final round of herbs can be steeped into the batch, which lends it that distinctive green color; however, clear, amber and even blue versions exist as well.
The mid-to-late 1800s were absinthe’s heyday, when the price of wine skyrocketed due to a few bad crops of grapes and when the French Army along with creative geniuses like Vincent Van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec took a liking to its mystique.
They immortalized the spirit in words and visuals, and contributed to the lavish drinking myths and stories that surround absinthe to this day.
As a result of the building hysteria that a compound called thujone, present in wormwood, caused wild hallucinations, seizures, and even death, absinthe was banned in the U.S., France, and other European countries in the early 1900s.
Nowadays, science has proven thujone doesn’t make it past the distillation process and even if it did, the very small traces present are completely harmless. France lifted the ban in 1988 and the U.S. followed suite only three years ago this month in 2007.
In honor of the third anniversary of absinthe’s re-legality and the cometh of warm weather, I encourage you to recreate the absinthe strawberry cocktail I’ve dreamed up below. The flavor of the anise is rounded out nicely by the sweetness of strawberries and basil.
This absinthe strawberry cocktail only uses a small amount of the liquor, but to make use of the rest of your absinthe, you can also try drinking it the classic French way by method of louching.
Pour an ounce of absinthe into a glass, set a sugar cube on a slotted spoon and slowly drip three to five ounces of water over top the sugar.
As for recommended brands, there are a number of quality absinthes available nationwide. I used Un Émile Pernot in my cocktail, and St. George Absinthe Verte and Pernod Absinthe are also excellent options.
Whichever way you choose to sip your absinthe, let me know if you meet any green fairies along the way.
- 6 strawberries, hulled and quartered, plus 1 strawberry, halved, for garnish
- 1/4 cup basil leaves, plus more for garnish
- 2 tablespoons (1 fluid ounce) simple syrup
- 2 tablespoons (1 fluid ounce) lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons (1 fluid ounce) absinthe
- 2 tablespoons (1 fluid ounce) vodka
- 1/2 cup (4 fluid ounces) water or seltzer
- Fill 2 rocks glasses with ice cubes.
- Muddle the strawberries, basil, simple syrup, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker until the strawberries are pretty well smushed up.
- Add a handful of ice cubes to the shaker, then pour in the absinthe, vodka, and water or seltzer.
- Close the cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for 30-45 seconds.
- Strain into the rocks glasses and garnish with the additional basil and strawberry halves.
- Drink well and in moderation!
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