The Green Fairy

Posted on November 30, 2005 by Aun

During our adolescence, there are certain things that we all aspire to experience once we’re “old enough.” Some are quite commonplace, like driving or having sex. Some are more particular to our own personalities, like (for me for instance) getting a suit made on Saville Row, skydiving, dining under the stars at Lasserre with my wife, authoring my own comic book, and drinking absinthe.

I forget when I first read about absinthe. I may have first heard of it through an early teenage fascination with impressionist and post-impressionists painters, many of whom both depicted absinthe consumption and were themselves avid fans of the stuff. I heard the rumours that when consumed in large amounts, absinthe could induce hallucinations and visions, and that this was a great source of creativity and inspiration for some of the early 20th Century’s most celebrated writers, people like Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde and Rimbaud. The fact that it was a banned substance, illegal in almost all of the Western world, made it even more exciting and exotic. I remember watching Francis Ford Coppola’s version of ‘Dracula’, staring open-mouthed as Gary Oldman’s Dracula seduced Wynona Ryder’s Mina Harker over glasses of the Green Fairy.

Absinthe, for the uninitiated, is an extremely strong distilled anise-flavored liquor made from extracts of wormwood. According to popular histories, absinthe was invented by a French doctor, Dr Pierre Ordinaire, in 1789. It was said that he discovered the plant wormwood (Artemisia Absinthium) while in exile in Switzerland. He mixed wormwood and other herbs with alcohol to create a 136 proof (68% alcohol) elixir, which he employed in his treatment of the sick. As with so many other medical remedies (like Coca-Cola for example), absinthe was soon commercialized and by the early to mid 1800s was being sold by the bottle as a popular liquor.

During the early 20th Century, many countries, including the USA and France, where the bulk of it was being produced, outlawed this potent drink. Absinthe was a curious drink, with slightly (at the time) inexplicable properties. Visions, as mentioned earlier, were a reported side-effect. It was also known to have “miraculous restorative powers.” Essentially, what was really happening was that people were getting high from it. The principle active ingredient in absinthe is thujone, which comes from wormwood. Thujone is chemically similar to THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which many of you might recognize as the principle active ingredient and psychoactive chemical in marijuana. Which means that people taking absinthe were simply getting stoned and drunk at the same time.

My first taste of absinthe came in 1997. At the time, absinthe was illegal (and I believe still is) in the United States and across most of Europe. Only Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic hadn’t banned it. And despite having visited, worked and/or studied in Europe many times prior to 1997, I had never visited any of these three countries. But in the Fall of 1997, I had quite my job and decided to spend a month with a friend from university slumming around different parts of Europe. In particular, I had planned to visit my closest friend from my first few years in primary school, whom I had just recently reconnected with after having lost touch for over a decade, and who was living in and working as a journalist in Prague.

It was great seeing her, and despite having not seen each other or spoken in 12 years, we were amazingly similar. We spent a fantastic week together, touring the sights and the many, many bars that were fast becoming a haunt for young expatriates who had heard of a scene akin that of Paris in the 1920s. And it was during this heady week that I tried absinthe, real absinthe, for the first time. It was powerful and delicious and also quite fun. I like the fact that absinthe requires specific accessories. To drink it properly, you set a specially-designed, perforated “absinthe spoon” over a glass, in which a bit of the gorgeously clear green liquid is poured. On the spoon, you place a sugar cube. Over this you pour cold water. The water dissolves the sugar into the drink, and as the water reacts with the liquid, it takes on a milky complexion. The water and sugar is used to offset the liquor’s strong, bitter taste, making it a delightfully refreshing, albeit still strong drink.

Here in Singapore, we can’t get the real stuff. I once carried a small bottle into the country though. My wife S, myself, my brother and 2 friends helped drink most of that bottle on one night, with rather memorable results. Especially for one friend in particular, who was gulping down Absinthe martinis—an ice-cold vodka, absinthe, and sugar syrup concoction I had come up with that night. Suffice it to say she passed out in the parking lot at the end of the evening, but not before attempting to French kiss my wife.

One gourmet store here brings in something called Absente, an absinthe like liquor that claims to be “Absinthe refined” and that’s legal all over the world. Instead of using wormwood, Absente’s manufacturers use a botanical cousin called Southern-Wormwood, which I am going to assume does not contain thujone. Absente is also a tad weaker, at 55% alcohol as opposed to the normal 68%. That said, it looks the same and has an almost identical taste and flavour. Which suits me fine, at least until I can get my hands on another bottle of the real thing.

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his bouncing baby boy!

What Others Are Saying

  1. Anonymous November 30, 2005 at 5:37 pm

    Hey i saw the show abt this on Discovery Channel’s “A Thirsty Travelller”. The preparation of the drink’s facinating! Had been wanting to find out more abt it but words failed me when i try to spell the word out.Thanks for sharing!~!~

    damien

  2. 2-minute Noodle Cook November 30, 2005 at 10:03 pm

    Hi CH, this is interesting reading. I just wonder whether the licorice tasting champagne jelly I made with aniseed, fennel seed and aniseed myrtle gives the same effect using standard culinary amounts of about one tablespoon spices to 1 litre.

  3. cara December 1, 2005 at 5:22 am

    let’s just say that absinthe and allergy medication should never be mixed :)

  4. Frederico December 1, 2005 at 9:53 am

    What an exciting anecdote…
    Sounds so adventurous and all..

  5. Anonymous December 1, 2005 at 5:24 pm

    Hi, which gourmet store here brings in Absente? I’d like to get my hands on some.

    Thanks,
    Brenda

  6. Colin December 1, 2005 at 10:34 pm

    I bought some Absente while I was in France, but have yet to enjoy it through the proper absinthe “ritual” with the sugar cube and slotted spoon.

    There is also something called Absente “Extreme”, which is rather high-proof (140 proof), and meant to be added via a dropper to fortify or refresh your drink.

    It contains a limited amount of thujone, certainly nowhere near the levels contained in real absinthe though.

  7. w. December 2, 2005 at 7:24 pm

    Which is the gourmet store that sells it?

  8. Santos December 2, 2005 at 11:56 pm

    i thought you might like to know this useless factoid: in the ukranian language, chernobyl translates to ‘wormwood’.

  9. Chubby Hubby December 3, 2005 at 1:12 am

    Damien: Most welcome.

    2-Minute: huh?

    Cara: Oh, this is one story you must share!

    Frederico: Not that adventurous. In my youth, I had a thing for trying as many varieties of booze as I could get my hands on.

    Brenda and W: I got the absente at Culina quite a while back.

    Colin: Cool. I’ll have to look out for that.

    Santos: Great factoid! That’s truly bizarre.

  10. Monkey Gland December 3, 2005 at 7:26 am

    When you next get hold of some you must make Monkey Glands!

    2 oz Gin
    1 tsp Absinthe
    1/2 oz Orange juice
    1 tsp Grenadine

  11. Vivilicious December 3, 2005 at 8:29 am

    Oooohh, I barely remember a New Year’s in NYC a few years back, when I smuggled 2 bottles of absinthe into the US from Europe. Not special spoon, but we made do just fine, yikes! I’ll see if i can score you a bottle next time I come to Singapore ;-)

  12. slurp! December 3, 2005 at 5:47 pm

    oooohh my god, that sounds potently interesting. gonna grab one myself from kiwi-land soon :)

  13. Pille December 5, 2005 at 9:36 pm

    Very entertaining reading:) Drinking absinthe is not on my list, but I will now consider including it. Once I’m a bit older, that is…

  14. the typesetter December 7, 2005 at 8:26 pm

    I learned a lot from this post. Most intriguing.

  15. Carlito December 8, 2005 at 12:01 pm

    I don’t know what the laws are regarding other countries/states but in the UK 70% vol absinthe used to be illegal – but I think it is now allowed. In 2000 http://www.laboheme.cz/ sold 70% absinthe (mailed to the EU). It’s strong stuff. Don’t know if this helps non-EU people. It’s not cheap.

    Anyway if you do get hold of some – mix 1/3 absinthe with 2/3 water in a whiskey tumbler. Place a sugar cube over the tumbler in a sieve-spoon and pour over neat absinthe. Set light to the absinthe/sugar on the spoon. Drink when it has all melted into the tumbler. I’d imagine this only works for high alcohol vol% absinthe (>50%). Very. very strong, but it tastes good.

  16. thirsty December 15, 2005 at 5:46 pm

    Nobody makes imbibing absinthe more sexy than Johnny Depp in that Jack the Ripper movie “From Hell”

  17. umami January 2, 2006 at 5:42 pm

    Hi chubby hubby, I came across this post by a Malaysian blogger on the subject. The spoon is way cool.

    http://svicideking.blogdrive.com/archive/115.html

  18. Anonymous January 29, 2006 at 6:47 am

    Hey Chubby,
    My husband just returned from France with a bottle of Absente. I was sooo hoping for Absenthe, but am pleased with his thoughtfullness. Do you recall a different experience with Absenthe (because of the Thujone) as to compared with Absente? Let me know what you think. We are going to give it a try soon. We are sooo excited.

  19. Anonymous February 3, 2006 at 6:11 pm

    there are two versions of Absente, the “safe” US version made with southern wormwood, and the French version made with “real” wormwood. The French version is legitimate.

  20. Anonymous February 3, 2006 at 6:12 pm

    there are two versions of Absente, the “safe” US version made with southern wormwood, and the French version made with “real” wormwood. The French version is legitimate.

  21. Anonymous March 13, 2006 at 7:28 pm

    FYI: Interesting that Cara said not to mix allergy medication with Absinthe…I inadvertently did so last night and today sucks! Something like full-on food poisoning. Sleeping pills contain only diphenhydramine, exactly the same stuff in benadryl…doh! Can’t be sure the diphenhydramine/absinthe mix is the reason, but I’ll avoid it at all costs in the future.

  22. Nod August 21, 2006 at 5:41 pm

    i m sure its illegal in singapore

    dont let the CNB read this!

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