When I was but a lass, freshly ID’d and able to finally hit the local tavern, there was a rumour around that Absinthe was THE drink if you wanted to get drunk fast, and as a bonus, if you could get the proper stuff, it causes hallucinations. OMG terribly exciting. I could feel jolts of electricity down my spine as I tremulously ordered (with much nudging from my friends) a round of Absinthe.
And oh, the DRAMA of it all! Green liquid, a sugar cube on a special spoon, and all of it on fire! We could only afford one each, before our pockets resolutely returned us to ordering jugs of Sangria. The bitter licorice taste lingered on though, and we were rollickingly tipsy.
Ah, the folly of youth. ‘Tis all a lie!
At the core of the myth is that Absinthe contains essential oil from the Wormwood plant, which is psychoactive and hallucinogenic. It’s true that Wormwood does contain thujole, which is a GABA antagonist (it blocks the effect of the neurotransmitter GABA), but it’s more likely to cause seizures than hallucinations. Also the amount of thujole in Absinthe is very low because of the way the spirit is made, and nowadays there are rules about what percentage of thujole is allowed. People have studied old bottles of the stuff too, and it wasn’t found to be super-thujolated. It was very popular with poets and artists; they said the green fairy helped them be more creative.
More creative, or more deadly? One tale tells of a man who killed his family in 1906 and claimed Absinthe drove him crazy. He was actually excessively drunk from a number of drinks, and was found guilty. After this and the subsequent public outcry, Absinthe was prohibited in Switzerland. France and the USA followed suit. Nonetheless, it’s the remarkably high alcohol content in Absinthe that makes it a dangerous drink, you’d definitely die from alcohol poisoning before dying from Wormwood poisoning.
The scariest story by far is the one in Eurotrip where a guy makes out with his sister after an Absinthe bender. “Dude, you kissed your sister!” That’s way worse then killing your family!
So by all means, if you like Absinthe (I’m not a fan) then drink it, but any mind-alterations are probably just your imagination. You’re supposed to mix it with water to let the flavours come out. Has anyone actually done this? Apparently it makes the clear green liquid go cloudy, because the essential oils are not soluble in water. Now that’s science.
“Absinthe makth the tart grow fonder”
That’s a Classical Quote from someone, so fully justified in a comment box :p I’ve never tried absinthe myself, and I’m not sure I would like it, given that I’m not a great fan of liquorice.
Sangria, however, is Awesome. Almost lived off it when I went to Barcelona it tasted so good.
What i love about teh Green fairy is all the pomp and ceremony of it. Pouring it through sugar cubes and setting them on fire and whatnot. Every single ceremony I have found was about diluting the taste, which many found horrible. There was also a great study by a “Absinthe hobbiest” who was trying to test its effects compared to other drugs (including alcohol and cocaine). Ahh to be a scientist back in the day…
While I have no experience with absinthe, I have a particular fondness of Ouzo – a liquoricey spirit from Greece (and similar to a number of other spirits, Pernot, Turkish Raki). I can confirm that adding water (or lemonade) causes oils to precipitate out and make the usually clear spirit white and cloudy. I imagine Absinthe would take part in a similar reaction, though I doubt it would be as impressive in a green liquid (Ouzo is clear).
Also, as for ‘diluting’ the Absinthe, with a lot of spirits it is adding water that releases a lot of the flavour. I found I got a lot better taste from Scotch and Ouzo when I added only a tiny amount of water.
Heh, you could do a whole blog on the science of diluting spirits. I’m curious to hear more – I have really only wikied it briefly and experienced the flavours rather than fully understanding the science 😛
January 20th, 2010 at 8:50 am
Nice idea there Dylan, I can picture the post now! I read similar things, that the water helps bring out or balance the flavours… now to find out how that works. Some experimentin’ may be required. Pity me!
Not too long ago i went on a tour of a schnapps factory in Vienna where they sold some tasty Absinthe that gave you that warm feeling on the way down. They claimed that the reason Absinthe caused hallucinations and blindness and what not was because it used to contain methanol (nothing to do with the wormwood).
I love both Eurotrip and The Simpsons. This entry gets an A+.