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Absinthe FAQ


Read answers to Frequently Asked Questions about absinthe.

Q/A
What is absinthe?

It is a strong spirit distilled with grand wormwood, green anise and sweet fennel. Other herbs and spices such as coriander, angelica root, star anise, dittany and licorice are added in small portions to enhance its flavor and aromatic profile. Roman wormwood, hyssop, and lemon balm are commonly used to produce absinthe's natural green color.

Q/A
What does absinthe taste like?

Authentic absinthe will always have a predominate flavor of anise. Most people think of black licorice on their first taste. The anise flavor and aroma comes from anise camphor (anethole) compounds in anise and fennel, which are used in the production of authentic absinthe. Star anise also contains anetholes and if often used in small amounts when making absinthe.

Q/A
Where does it come from?

It originated as an elixir in the canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland in the late 18th century. However, it is better known for its popularity in late 19th and early 20th century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers whose romantic associations with the drink still linger in popular culture. Owing in part to its association with bohemian culture, the consumption of absinthe was opposed by social conservatives and prohibitionists. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Amedeo Modigliani, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Aleister Crowley, and Alfred Jarry were all known absinthe drinkers, including the American writer Ernest Hemingway.

Q/A
How is absinthe made?

Authentic absinthe is made by macerating (steeping) grand wormwood, anise and fennel and other herbs in a neutral spirit between 80 to 85% ethanol for a short period of time, usually less than 24 hours. The high percent ethanol helps to extract the essential oils from the macerating herbs. After maceration, the ethanol is reduced to 45 - 50% using distilled or RO water. The entire mixture (with herbs) are then distilled using steam or indirect heating, typically in a copper alembic pot still. More on this later.

Q/A
Why are some bottles labeled Absenta or Absinth?

In some cases, it is a language difference.

Absinthe is the spelling used by the Swiss and French, who were the first to produce and distribute absinthe.

Absenta is the spelling that is associated with absinthe produced in Spain.

Absinth is the spelling that is associated with absinthe produced in Germany.

Some products produced in the Czech Republic as Absinthe or Absinth contain artificial colorings and flavors, but should not be considered authentic absinthe.

Q/A
How is absinthe served?

Traditionally, using the French method, absinthe is prepared by slowly pouring cold water over a cube of sugar resting on a slotted spoon placed over a glass containing a small portion of absinthe. The cold water dissolves the sugar, this solution trickles into the glass causing the absinthe to louch.

It is also being served in world-class cocktails at chic restaurants and clubs around the world.

Winston's new absinthe book will show you how award-winning and top bartenders mix up amazing absinthe cocktails.

Q/A
What color is absinthe?

A verte (green) absinthe will be pale or emerald green. A blanche (clear) absinthe will be colorless.

Q/A
Will green absinthe lose its color?

Yes, authentic verte (green) absinthe will lose its color if exposed to direct light. It is usually sold in brown or dark bottles to protect it from exposure while being stored. If left in direct light, fading will be noticeable within the first 72 hours. Cheap absinthe made with arifical coloring is not as susceptible to fading.

Q/A

What is la Bleue absinthe?

La Bleue was the name used to describe absinthe that was produced by Swiss clandestine home distillers "bootleggers" during its prohibition period. La Bleue is clear, which helped the bootleggers hide it from the authorities. It is said that the name comes from how the beautiful Swiss blue skies reflects within the clear absinthe. La Bleue is known for it superior quality.

Q/A
Why is absinthe now being sold in the United States?

As of October 2007, the TTB a bureau under the Department of the Treasury has updated policy regarding the use of the term "absinthe" on labels of distilled spirits products and in related advertising material, and only if the product is "thujone-free" pursuant to the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) regulations.

Based on the updated policy, it is considered "thujone-free" if it contains 10 ppm or less thujone.

Q/A
Is Swiss absinthe legal?

On June 14, 2004 the Swiss Parliament lifted the 96 year old ban on absinthe.

Q/A
What is thujone?

Thujone is a monoterpenoid ketone consisting of two isomers, alpha and beta, that exist in varying ratios in different plants.  Plants such as cedar leaf, sage, tansy, thyme, rosemary and wormwood (an ingredient found in certain flavored distilled spirits such as absinthe) are known to contain thujone. It is beleived that Thujone is used in several modern products including Absorbine Jr.®, Vicks Vaporub, Gammel Dansk, and many more.

Q/A
Is drinking absinthe containing thujone harmful?

Modern commercially produced absinthe has been shown to contain safe levels of thujone.

The United States and the European Union regulate thujone levels of absinthe.

United States - 10 ppm or less.
European Union (EU) - 10mg/l or less.
Germany - 30mg/l or less for specific products.
Q/A
What is wormwood?

It is a Mediterranean perennial herb or shrubby plant (Artemisia absinthium) of the family Asteraceae (aster family). We know it as the bitter herb used to make Absinthe and is the source for the chemical compound thujone. Read more about wormwood.

Q/A
What is an absinthe spoon?

It is a slotted spoon used to dissolve a sugar cube in a glass with a single serving (dose) of absinthe, usually to sweeten the drink and mask its mild bitterness. The spoon has a notch on the handle where it sits on the rim of the glass.

Q/A
Can I buy absinthe in the United States?

If you are 21 years of age or older, it can be purchased in the United States.

Q/A
Can I buy absinthe online?

There are many international online stores that offer absinthe.

Q/A
Is it safe to buy it online?

It is safe to buy it online from recognized vendors and distributors.

Q/A
Can absinthe be shipped (mailed) into the United States?

It is a "prohibited" item and is subject to being seized by the United States Customs.

Q/A
Does the Buyers Guide sell absinthe?

No.

Q/A
What does absinthe do to you?

Drinkers experience a double action intoxication. This intoxication combines the effects of strong alcohol and a secondary stimulant effect said to be a "clear-headed" feeling of inebriation.

It can have an effect that has been described as a "clarity" or "heightened state of mind".

Chemist and absinthe expert, T.A. Breaux describes it as a push-me, pull-you effect of the various herbs, some have a heightening effect while others have a lowering effect. Mr. Breaux also describes the effect as "lucid" which is the name that he gave to the first authentic absinthe approved for sale in the US since its ban in 1912.

Q/A
Can I buy vintage absinthe?

Sometimes referred to as "pre-ban" absinthe, is very rare. It was produced before 1915. The best example of a pre-ban absinthe is Pernod Fils. A full bottle of pre-ban Pernod Fils in good condition can bring several thousand dollars, if not more.

The Pernod Fils company opened an absinthe plant in Tarragona Spain in 1918. The Pernod Fils produced in Tarragona is consider a "post-ban vintage" absinthe. The availability of "post-ban vintage" Pernod Fils is very limited, expect to pay about one thousand dollars for a full bottle in good condition.

We recommend that you use extreme caution when purchasing vintage absinthe. We have heard of people lured into sending money with the hopes of acquiring vintage Pernod. In most cases, they receive nothing in return, or an original or fake bottle with a substitute or fake alcohol. The seller assumes the buyer will not know the difference.

There are a number of reputable and well-respected dealers of vintage brands. For more information - please contact David Nathan-Maister at "finestandrarest.com". David is a world-renowned expert and historian.

Q/A
Is "pre-ban" Pernod Fils the same as "post-ban" Pernod Fils?

Pre-ban Pernod Fils produced in Pontarlier France is different from post-ban Pernod Fils produced in Tarragona Spain. The recipe, manufacturing processes, and ingredients were similar, however, variations in water and ingredients produced subtle differences in the final products.

Most Absintheurs "connisours" agree that "pre-ban" Pernod Fils produced in Pontarlier France is the standard by which all other absinthe is judged.

Q/A
What is Winston's favorite absinthe available in the USA?

Good question! Since I get invited to parties where people want to try absinthe for the first time, I generally like to bring a verte (green) and blanche (clear) absinthe as examples of the two most common styles. Since I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have access to liquor stores that carriy a wide selection of absinthe. Unfortunately, some of the brands are not authentic premium absinthe, even though they are priced similiarly. So I try to stick with brands that I know and are good examples of those common styles. Below are the brands that I typically select:

Verte: Lucid Absinthe Superieure

Blanche: La Clandestine Absinthe or Kubler Absinthe

I would also like to mention St. George Absinthe Verte made locally by Distiller Lance Winters. It is made using brandy and is a good example of an artisinal spirit. More on this later.

Q/A
What is the best absinthe?

I find that personal taste plays an important role, everyone is different, so this is a question that you have to answer for yourself. I recommend that you try a variety to enhance your knowledge before deciding on your favorite.

Nevertheless, the best is always the one you are sharing with good friends!

Q/A

Is absinthe legal?

It is legal in many countries. The United States and the European Union allows the sale of authentic absinthe that complies with regulatory requirements.

Q/A
Why was absinthe ban?

By the early 1900s, the consumption of hard liquor was at an all time high which was taking its toll on a society that was unaware of the ill-effects of alcoholism. A temperance movement to abolish drunkenness was in full force. Absinthe's popularity due to its low cost and high-alcohol content made it the target for alcohol reform. Its critics said that it makes you crazy and criminal, provokes epilepsy and tuberculosis, 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. And if that wasn't bad enough, in 1905, a Swiss farmer named "Lanfray" killed his wife, two children and his father after a day of drinking. In the highly publicized trail, dubbed the "Absinthe Murder," it was reported that he had been drinking absinthe all day, when in fact, the farmer had also consumed wine, brandy and schnopps. Within weeks after the trial, petitions were signed calling for the ban of absinthe in Switzerland. A referendum was eventually approved in 1908 and it was banned in Switzerland in 1910. Absinthe was banned in the United States in 1912 and France in 1914.

Q/A

What is the absinthe louche?

This is when absinthe turns to a cloudy opalescent white when water is added to the mixture. The louche is important because it means that the essential oils suspended in the high proof alcohol are coming out of solution opening up the absinthe releasing its flavors and aromatics. Authentic absinthe should produce a nice louche.

Q/A
Can I make quality absinthe at home?

Producing a quality product requires distillation and experience. If you are fortunate enough to live where home distillation is legal, you can learn to produce a quality product.

Owning and operating a distiller, without a license, in many countries, including the United States is illegal.

Q/A
Can I make absinthe by only steeping common wormwood, anise and fennel in vodka?

No. This is not how an authentic absinthe is produced. It is also dangerous to consume concoctions made in this manner.

Q/A
Can I make quality absinthe by adding wormwood, anise and fennel extracts (flavouring essences) to grain alcohol?

Many modern absinthes are produced using a cold mix process. This inexpensive method of production does not involve distillation and is regarded as inferior. The cold mix process involves the blending of extracts and artificial colouring in commercial alcohol.

Q/A
Where is absinthe made?

Until recently, quality absinthe was primarily produced in France, Switzerland and Spain. It is now being produced in many countries around the world, including the United States.

Q/A
What are the EU "European Union" thujone regulations?

They are guidelines established by the EU to regulate the thujone levels found in alcoholic beverages produced in member states.

10 mg/kg in alcoholic beverages with more than 25% ABV (Alcohol by Volume).
35 mg/kg in alcohol labeled as bitters.
Q/A
What is in absinthe?

The three key ingredients often described as the "holy-trinity" are: grande wormwood, anise and fennel.

Below is a list of other common herbs used in the making of absinthe:

Roman wormood, coriander, angelica, star anise, hyssop, lemon balm, elecampane, and dittany.

Read more about the herbs for making absinthe.

Q/A
What is an absinthe glass?

It is glass with a reservoir or dose line to indicate the proper amount or dose to pour.

Q/A
Why does absinthe numb my tongue?

Abisnthe is made with herbs that contain the compound anethole camphor (anise, fennel and star anise), which is responsible for the numbing sensation. Camphor is highly volatile and readily absorbs through soft tissue such as in the mouth and numbs nerve endings.

Q/A
Why do some absinthe louche and others do not?

Premium authentic absinthe will louche. Absinthe low in anetholes will not louche. Anetholes are found in the essentail oils of anise, fennel and star anise.

Q/A
What is an example of an absinthe recipe?

(Absinthe Ordinaire)

Large dry and clean wormwood - 2.5 kg
Dry Hysope flower - 500 g
Melisse citronnee dry - 500 g
Crushed Green Anis - 2 kg
Alcohol 85% - 16 litres

Examples of absinthe recipes can be found here.

Q/A
How do I store absinthe?

The requirements for mid to long-term storage are:

1. Cool and steady temperature 13 - 18 degrees Celsius (55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit).

2. Protection from direct sunlight and vibration.

3. Bottles with a cork may be stored on their sides and rotated to insure that the cork remains moist.

4. Bottles with screw on caps may be stored upright. Caps may be checked to insure that they are snug. We suggest storing screw on cap botttles upright because screw on caps are famous for leaking. We want you to consume your absinthe rather than loose it due to a leaky cap.

Q/A
Where can I learn more?

You can learn more and help support the Buyers Guide by purchasing Winston's new absinthe book titled "A Taste for Absinthe".

Winston's book was released as an eBook (July 18, 2012) and is available on the iBookstore, Kindle, Nook and others.

Click on your favorite eBook seller below for ording information.

Thanks for your help and for supporting the Guide!

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