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Absinthe makes the mouth grow warmer
- Created: Friday, 12 February 2010 16:41
- Written by Tara Dooley, Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle
Absinthe is a drink that takes its time. It's nearly impossible to knock one back.
There's the delivery: A sugar cube is placed on a delicately serrated spoon suspended over a cocktail glass. Absinthe is poured over the sugar into the glass. Then ice water slowly drips over the sugar and into the glass, turning the clear or green spirit to a cloudy white.
Then there's the taste: the licorice sensation that warms the roof of the mouth and makes the lower lip tingle.
“It kind of inspires you to sit back and relax and think about slower times when you had the time to sit back without having to run to the next meeting,” said Brian Robinson, a member of the advisory board of the Wormwood Society, a volunteer organization dedicated to absinthe.
Once banned in the United States, absinthe returned to the market in
2007 and is now making its way into the regular drinking habits of
The revival of this particular belle époque bohemian spirit was spurred by curiosity accompanying its reintroduction to the American bar scene.
It's also a novelty item, said Karen Racine, owner of the Houston bar
Absinthe. The spirit comes with a mystique that associates it with
creativity, counterculture and craziness. Known to inspire
hallucinations of flying pigs, it was called the green fairy.
Absinthe has also benefited from the recent popularity of
pre-Prohibition-era cocktails, many of which include absinthe. Think of
the Sazerac, the rye-whiskey-and-absinthe-based cocktail that some
consider America's first contribution to cocktail history.
These days, absinthe is found in restaurants such as San Antonio's
Pavil Restaurant and Bar, a French brasserie. There it is served in a
traditional drip at the dinner table as an aperitif, said Luciano
Ciorciari, Pavil's general manager. At the bar, it accompanies many a
Thursday-evening jazz performance.
“We feature it because we've had such great demand,” he said.
Though some absinthe purists frown on the practice as no more than cocktail showmanship, Racine will add a little flame to the traditional drip cocktail — carefully. “That's how people really like it,” she said.
At Houston's Anvil Bar & Refuge, the gateway absinthe cocktail is
called the Corpse Reviver #2, which also mixes in gin, lemon, Cointreau
and Lillet. Once that is mastered, the palate is ready for other
absinthe drinks, including the Sazerac or the drip.
Though there is no legal definition, absinthe is generally considered a
distilled, sugar-free liqueur predominantly flavored with anise and
wormwood herb, Robinson said. It has a high alcohol content, up to 140
The drink was popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s until banned in the United States in 1912.
The worry was that wormwood contained thujone, which was thought to be poison or to act as a hallucinogen.
Thujone is fairly common, Robinson said, and can, for example, be found in sage. If consumed in large quantities, it can be poisonous, he said, but it does not have hallucinogenic properties.
The rules that allowed for absinthe's re-entry into the market changed
over the decades, Robinson said. It wasn't until 2007 when companies
looked into expanding into the American marketplace that it made its
One of the first to arrive was Lucid, a French-made absinthe created by T.A. “Ted” Breaux for Viridian Spirits.
Breaux, who lived in New Orleans until Hurricane Katrina, was a student of absinthe, inspired by the drink and what he considers its misrepresentation throughout history. He examined pre-ban absinthe and created formulas based on the tradition.
“Lucid is distilled directly from whole herbs,” said Breaux, who now
lives in Birmingham, Ala., but distills in France. “It is completely
natural and handmade, exactly the way the best absinthes of the 1800s
Lucid goes for about $60 a 750-milliliter bottle. But Breaux also distills his own top-shelf brand made for his company, Jade Liqueurs. One of these absinthes, Nouvelle-Orléans, has been available in Texas for about a month, Breaux said. That bottle goes for about $110, he said.
The myths of absinthe have led to products that highlight it as a drug
or claim it will produce hallucinations. Robinson warns consumers to be
wary of these products. Many are not regulated and are likely not to
produce the desired feelings. Most may not really even be absinthe at
Of course, if one does see the room spinning or sees a green fairy
after drinking absinthe, chances are you drank too much, Robinson said.
You are drunk. Don't drive home.