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Absinthe prior to 1875

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Hello everyone!


I have a question of a historical nature and I was hoping I could get a few answers...


Prior to the invention of sugar cubes (1841) and then the industrialized process of making them easy to acquire (+/- 1870), how was sugar mixed in?


I know that the sugar cones and sugar nips were used to cut a chunk off for various uses, but was that how it was done? Or, per the medicinal past of Absinthe, was a sugar syrup used?


Now, after the process was brought to the UK and France in the mid-1870s, sugar cubes and the spoons were an obvious marriage, but were there spoons for such before? Was the use of lump sugar prevalent?


Thank you in advance, and I am so glad I found this site!

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Hi Beorn!

One of our historians will probably give you more information than you thought possible...soon. Before that, let me encourage you to go HERE so that you can properly introduce yourself. We like the opportunity to welcome our newest members. Thanks! :cheers:

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Thank you, done and done!


I look forward to getting set straight by the esteemed scholars of this site. I appreciate the assistance in advance!

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The recipe for extrait d'absinthe Suisse of 1817 as delivered by Viray calls for the following serving method:


Drink 10-20g of the drink diluted in a half a glass of sugared water.

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Description of absinthe preparation from 1855 (no mention of sugar*):


Absinthe is a liqueur flavoured with the essential oil of wormwood (absinthium). It is slightly bitter, and if taken in moderation is an excellent tonic. A small glass of absinthe is mixed with a tumbler of water, and this mixing is to the beginner a somewhat difficult operation. A few drops of absinthe falling into water change colour, and only mix with it gradually — like eau de Cologne under the same circumstances. As it would be difficult to let the absinthe fall drop by drop into the water, the Parisians have ingeniously adopted the only possible alternative — that of letting the water fall drop by drop into the absinthe. We have seen at least half a dozen different inventions for conveying a slender and continuous stream of water into a glass supposed to contain absinthe. Bottles with patent necks to pour the water out of — saucers of glass, with a patent hole in the middle to place on the top of the tumbler, and pour the water through — small reservoirs, also intended to be fixed into the top of the tumbler, and from the porous bottoms of which the water falls in showers : all these have been tried, but in order to mix the absinthe thoroughly with the water, it is sufficient to pour the former into the tumbler, and to drop the latter upon it in as slender a stream as possible, and from as great an altitude as can be conveniently attained. Some authorities recommend placing the little glass of absinthe inside the tumbler, and pouring the water into it drop by drop, until it has all run out of the little glass into the big one, taking with it the whole of the spirit. We mention both methods without giving the preference to either.


How to Mix Drinks (1862):


Absinthe. (Use small bar glass.)

-1 wine-glass of absinthe.

-Pour water, drop by drop, until the glass is full.

Never use a spoon.



*I'm not saying sugar was not used at this time, it is just not mentioned here.

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Early medicinal recipe, 1705:

Aqua Absinthii, or, Wormwood-Water


Take of strong Proof Spirit sixteen gallons,

Aniseeds bruised one pound, eight ounces, three drachms, grains twelve;

Wormwood common, leaves and seeds stript and dry, three pound, six drachms, grains twenty-four;


Distill them into fine Goods, S.A.* and dulsifie with white Sugar eight pound.

* "Secundum Artem" according to art, meaning the apothecary art.


Prior to sugar cubes sugar lumps were broken off the cones or loaves. I'd presume this was done by the establishment, not the customer. Absinthe spoons were a later invention that became popular in the late 1800s.


Before that, just like with long iced-tea spoons now, people would use a regular long spoon for a long drink. It was also common to use anisette or "sirop gomme", basically simple syrup with some gum arabic in it to provide texture and substance.

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I'm not sure what "dulsifie" means, but it sounds like this recipe is a liquer???
Early medicinal recipe, 1705:

Dulcet. Dulce de leche. La dolce vita. Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce. From the Latin, dulcis, meaning "sweet."

[edit: dang, neph beat me to it.]


This is one of the early ancestors of absinthe and no doubt one very similar to the "patent medicine" Dr. Ordinaire was allegedly peddling.


It goes on to say:

[Addition] Cinnamon, Cubebs, ana.* six ounces, two scruples, grains eight;

sweet Foenil-seeds, Aniseeds, ana. twelve ounces, three drachms, grains six;

Wormwood dry one pound,

white Sugar, three pounds, twelve ounces.


There's also another version:


Composition the lesser.


Take of strong Proof Spirit three gallons,

Aniseeds bruised four ounces, seven drachms,

Wormwood common, leaves and seeds stript and dry, ten ounces and a half;


Distill them into fine Goods, and dulsifie with white Sugar one pound and a half.


[Addition] Cinamon, Cubebs. ana.* one ounce, one drachm, grains forty five,

sweet Foenil seeds, Aniseeds, ana. two ounces, three drachms, grains thirty,

Cloves, Caraway seeds, Nutmegs, ana. seven drachms, grains thirty,

Wormwood dry three ounces, white sugar twelve ounces.


This Water stops Vomiting, and provokes a good Appetite; it consumes and expels Wind, and strengthens the Stomach; wonderfully fortifying such as are of a cold and moist Nature, and Constitution; it diverts Melancholy, and prevents many of those Vapours, which otherwise would ascend to the Head for its disturbance; it easeth Gripes, and destroys Worms. The Dose is the same as with Aniseed-Water.

* ana="each"


Note that it distinguishes between "Wormwood common" and "Wormwood dry" in both instances.


[edit 2: found the clip image]


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So, much like today, most use sugar, but not all.


I tell you folks, this is more information by far than I was able to uncover by myself.


Thank you all very much! :yahoo:

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