How Absinthe Is Made: A Guide To The Green Fairy

Informational

Two glasses of absinthe with absinthe spoon and sugar cubes

Ever wanted to taste a drink that has an extra punch? If yes, you should try absinthe then!

Absinthe is a distilled, highly alcoholic beverage that was very popular in the 19th century. It has an anise flavor and became famous for its stimulant effects attributed to thujone, a chemical substance found in wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), one of the main ingredients. 

How exactly is absinthe made? Read this article to find out!

What is Absinthe?

Absinthe word cloud

Absinthe, also known as the 'Green Fairy,' is a bitter, aniseed-flavored green liquor produced using anise, fennel, and wormwood. 

It was believed to be as intense as a Class A drug. It was assumed to be prohibited in the UK for nearly a century. It was indeed banned in most of Europe and North America.

The myths surrounding absinthe are some of the most appalling among other alcoholic beverages. 

Absinthe was also one of the few spirits explicitly banned by governments in the early 1900s, owing to its popularity when temperance movements were gaining traction in Europe and the United States.

It is an Acquired Taste

Absinthe's prominent bitter flavors of anise, fennel, and licorice are unfamiliar for many, if not downright distasteful. It's also extremely strong, typically containing 60–70% alcohol, and as such, you should always dilute it.

It is Old

Early forms of absinthe, essentially drinkable wormwood, are so old that they are mentioned in the Bible and ancient Egyptian and Syrian texts. 

Absinthe had been a more straightforward recipe back then, consisting of wine infused with wormwood. It was also used for various ailments such as jaundice, menstrual pain, anemia, and bad breath.

Over time, absinthe evolved from a medicinal to a recreational drink. The modern absinthe recipe first appeared in Swiss apothecaries in the late 1700s.

What is Absinthe Made of?

Wormwood plant leaves

Different producers employ different ingredients and manufacturing procedures, similar to how gin distillers use various botanical blends. The main botanicals employed in making absinthe are Grande wormwood, green anise, and Florence fennel, also regarded as the "holy trinity."

Popular additional ingredients include hyssop, petite wormwood, and Melissa. Other minor additions include star anise, cinnamon, lemon balm, mint, coriander, angelica, calamus, dittany, juniper, nutmeg, and veronica.

Most producers now use artificial coloring to achieve and/or stabilize the brilliant green color originally caused by the presence of chlorophyll from plants. In some instances, this process is omitted, resulting in "white" absinthe instead.

How is Absinthe Made?

Three glasses of green absinthe

Absinthe, like gin, is basically just a flavored liquor. It can be distilled or cold compounded, with distillation producing a higher quality spirit.

Distilled Absinthe

The similarities between absinthe and gin distillation are evident. The botanicals are macerated in alcohol before redistilling one or more times, often in a copper pot still. 

Naturally, this distillation produces a colorless distillate that typically leaves the still at somewhat more than 70% ABV. Several clear absinthes are bottled straight at this stage. In contrast, others can be colored simply by adding artificial or natural coloring.

In the case of French absinthe, it is commonly subjected to an additional maceration after distillation. Botanicals such as petite wormwood, hyssop, and Melissa are typically soaked in the distillate to unleash their flavors. 

Chlorophyll, which gives absinthe its trademark green hue, is also soaked together in this mixture.

A verte absinthe is a name given to this style of absinthe. Many absinthe connoisseurs believe that genuine chlorophyll is vital to create complex absinthe. Especially since it is considered to perform a similar function in aging absinthe as tannins do in wine.

Cold Compounded Absinthe

Many modern absinthes are made using cold compounding, which is the process of cold mixing flavoring oils and coloring agents with neutral alcohol. This is similar to what is generally referred to as “bathtub” gin.

Several exploitative producers take advantage of the absence of regulation regarding absinthe production by labeling cold compounded absinthes as distilled, claiming that the base spirit was generated through distillation as a justification.

As a result, choose your absinthe wisely and avoid absinthes with more than 70% ABV, as these are likely to be created using this method.

How to Make your Own Absinthe at Home

A bottle of absinthe with herbs inside

The fundamental ingredients for homemade absinthe are the holy trinity of wormwood, anise, fennel, and strong liquor like vodka. This procedure will yield a 95 proof absinthe.

Wormwood differentiates hallucinogenic absinthe from a non-hallucinogenic one. Make sure you use the "grand wormwood," also known as the Artemisia absinthium plant, which contains the compound thujone. Royal or petite wormwood are safer and milder substitutes.

The ingredients listed here will provide you with a more excellent taste and a more potent punch. They are, however, optional. Various plants can be used in absinthe recipes. The mixture of these is highly protected by absinthe producers.

After the distillation process, a minor adjustment in the amount used can drastically transform the taste into something totally undrinkable.

What You'll Need

Directions

  1. Pour the liquor into a medium-sized jar or container. Add wormwood, anise, fennel, star anise, Angelica root, marjoram, coriander, cardamom, and nutmeg.
  2. Shake it, then let it infuse for 2 weeks up to 2 months. Make sure to store it in a dark place at room temperature and give it a shake every day.
  3. After the infusion period, start the distillation process.
  4. Set aside the distillate.
  5. Pour around 300 ml of the distillate in a separate jar for pigmentation.
  6. Add in the petite or royal wormwood, hyssop, and Melissa to the 300 ml distillate.
  7. Let the distillate infuse for about 2 to 3 days.
  8. After the infusion period, strain it into the remaining clear distillate using multiple layers of cheesecloth or gauze.
  9. Store it in a dark place for the aging process. You can age it for 1 week up to 1 month.

The History of Absinthe and Why Was it Banned in the First Place

An old recipe of absinthe

Its Origins

Absinthe's earliest beginnings can be traced back to ancient Egypt. The medical use of wormwood is documented in the Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest known medical books.

Today's absinthe emerged during the French Revolution towards the end of the 1700s when large numbers of French loyalists sought refuge in other nearby countries like Switzerland and Alsace.

There are various versions of who invented and developed this alcoholic drink. However, it boils down to two groups of people. It was either Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a retired French physician who fled to Switzerland during the French revolution, or the Henriod sisters, natives of Switzerland.

Regardless of who invented absinthe, the town of Couvet in Switzerland's Val-de-Travers region is undeniably absinthe's birthplace. And it appears that Abram-Louis Perrenoud also launched commercial absinthe production for use as a beverage in this place in 1794.

Commercialization 

It is irrefutable that Major Daniel-Henri Dubied is the one who commercialized absinthe. His daughter, Emilie, married Abram-Louis Perrenoud’s son, Henri-Louis, in 1797. 

Major Dubied received the recipe from Abram-Louis (or perhaps the Henriod sisters) that same year. He hired his son-in-law, Henri-Louis, who had learned the craft of distilling from his father. They began producing their own absinthe in 1798, with Dubied's own sons, Marcelin and Constant, both participating in the business, which they called Dubied Père et Fils.

Henri-Louis Perrenoud changed his name to Pernod in 1805 and founded his own absinthe producing company, Pernod Fils. 

Sales of absinthe increased swiftly as French society appreciated the inclusion of this new item to the limited selection of bitter quinine tonic wines on café menus.

Rose to Fame

Absinthe's fame was boosted in the 1840s by French army doctors recommending it to soldiers to prevent fevers, malaria, and dysentery. 

Later in the 19th century, European vineyards were afflicted by phylloxera plagues, which brought the wine and brandy industries to plummet.

Absinthe, which was widely accessible, was an easy choice. Its popularity skyrocketed in Parisian cafes favored by Bohemian geniuses like Van Gogh, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Picasso.

Absinthism

France produced 36 million liters of absinthe per year at its peak. Absinthism is a syndrome believed to result from overconsumption of absinthe, which is marked by addiction, hyper-excitability, and hallucinations. 

In truth, unprincipled producers may have added cheap and usually toxic ingredients to their absinthe, which probably caused these unwanted effects.

The notion of absinthe having effects beyond alcohol was encouraged and driven in part by Dr. Valentin Magnan's faulty scientific research. 

He made lab animals drink pure wormwood oil extract and then cited the animals' violent convulsions to prove his claims. It is enough to say that this isn't reliable evidence.

Its Prohibition

Due to its negative reputation and the rising of the temperance movement, absinthe was banned in several countries. From 1898 to 1912, Absinthe was banned in Belgium, Switzerland, and the United States.

It continued to be legally produced and consumed in the Czech Republic and Spain. A small quantity was created illegally in Switzerland. Still, absinthe has been almost forgotten for many years until it was rediscovered by George Rowley.

Its Resurgence

When George returned to his home in Hertfordshire, he established a beverages distribution network from the ground up, which would eventually prove vital in establishing the first real absinthe market.

George discovered Hill’s Absinthe in early 1998. He found that the makers had been serving a private UK client and an absinthe, enthusiast named John Moore. George read John’s Idler magazine on discovering the drink while on the latter’s tour with his group in Prague.

Intending to commercialize the liquor, John set up a company in 1998 alongside people from the Idler Magazine, Gavin Pretor-Pinney, and Tom Hodgkinson, who agreed to manage public relations.

George would do the challenging task of setting a legal precedent for absinthe and handling logistics, design, and financing.

George observed a widespread belief in France that absinthe was illegal and that the problem had been pushed under the rug. It was discovered that absinthe had never been prohibited in the United Kingdom. In London, gin, not absinthe, was to blame for widespread drunkenness.

Release of Absinthe Document

George re-enlisted the assistance of Paul Passi in his battle with the document EU Council Directive 88/388/EEC. This led to the first lawful government-issued absinthe document from a European country since the absinthe bans of 1898-1932. 

This landmark document set the legal foundation for all future absinthe sales in Europe and America, even though the Czech Republic was not yet a European member state at the time. This document paved the way for the reintroduction of absinthe in general.

After receiving legal permission to import and sell Czech Absinth, George and John Moore traveled to the Hill's Liguere distillery to arrange a contract with the distiller, Radomil Hill. On November 9, 1998, the deal for the first lawful shipment of absinth(e) was signed since the early 1900s bans.

The Dramatic Serving Method with Sugar and Fire

John Moore and George Rowley were celebrating signing the contract in the back room of Café FX, above Prague's Wenceslas Square. That same night they experienced their first “sugar and burn” absinthe drip.

John and George knew right away that this dramatic serving style was the best approach to introduce absinthe to the UK. Even though this “modern” Czech way of serving absinthe is completely unauthentic, it was this procedure that piqued the British public's interest in absinthe.

Without this procedure, the absinthe craze could never have begun, and the Green Fairy might have gone unnoticed for another century.

Conclusion

Absinthe is a remarkable drink that can take your party to the next level. We hope you enjoyed learning about its history and how to make it. It has many ingredients, but the finished product is definitely worth it.

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