Absinthe. An herbal spirit born in Switzerland and made famous in France by artists and authors. The word absinthe alone conjures up many stories and myths of la fée verte, or the Green Fairy. It is shrouded in fables and propaganda from the 19th and early 20th centuries, when, for most of the world, it started disappearing. For those that loved absinthe, these days would be dark. Most of the world had banned the spirit by 1920.
Many believed the green elixir to be mind-altering or to have psychotropic effects. Keep in mind that in these days, distillation was not exactly as fine a science as it is today. There are many reasons as to why people had trippy reactions to hooch back then, but absinthe is unequivocally the favorite of the bunch. There is a chemical in absinthe, thujone, that is derived from the plant Artemisia absinthium and is believed to cause hallucinations or, at the very least, a relaxed state of being even more than just alcohol can.
Ever had a nice big Thanksgiving dinner and become really relaxed? Is it the tryptophan from the turkey? Maybe a little, but here’s a more likely explanation—it is the sage in the stuffing. Sage is from the same family of plants as Artemisia absinthium, and has almost 100 times more thujone in it than its cousin does. This causes the relaxed feelings that we get when we partake in the ritual that is absinthe. (Everything in moderation though, folks!)
There are many old world drinks that contain this herbal elixir—from the Sazerac to the Last Word and the Absinthe Frappe, a favorite of mine in the summer months. The most popular way to consume it to this day is in its most classical style: the fountain and cold water drip. It just happens to be the easiest as well. (Have you noticed yet how the best drinks often have the fewest ingredients?) Absinthe, sugar, cold water, and a slotted spoon—that’s all it takes. Here is a recipe with crushed ice, but if you like them blended, add a touch more sugar to the blender:
1.5 oz. absinthe (I prefer Kübler; it’s Swiss and gorgeous in
texture and balance)
.5 oz. simple syrup or a heaping teaspoon of superfine sugar
.5 oz. anisette liqueur such as Sambuca or Raki (optional)
Combine all of these in a set of shaker tins with ice and shake hard. Strain into an old-fashioned glass over crushed ice. Top with soda water and garnish with a bouquet of mint.
From the frontlines…
Speaking of absinthe, I took a trip of my own recently. In July, I attended Tales of the Cocktail: 20,000-plus bartenders, spirit pros, and enthusiasts in New Orleans for five days. It’s a bartender’s World’s Fair. My third year in attendance, this was my first as a Cocktail Apprentice. Imagine every type of spirit and liqueur that one can imagine and have access to through tasting rooms, educational seminars, soirées, and gigantic industry parties. Now imagine providing the beverage logistics to all of it and that’s what I (and 79 other top bartenders from all over the world) did for a week in New Orleans this summer.
Within 15 minutes of working with each other, we transformed into a perfectly synched and well-oiled machine, making batches of drinks in ginormous buckets, hauling ice from one hotel to another, pouring 2,500 samples in 90 minutes—the list goes on and on. To have a sneak peek at the festival, check out donnellygroup.ca/15035/ sorrynotsorry. I, for one, can’t wait to do it all again next year.
Nick Crutchfield is the bar manager at Commonwealth Restaurant & Skybar.