When it comes to free-associating the term ‘barely legal’, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who imagine Miley Cyrus’s eighteen birthday party and those who think about absinthe.
Long the realm of bohemian pre-rock rock stars—men like Baudelaire, Poe and van Gogh and Oscar Wilde (to whom absinthe’s traditional sobriquet, ‘the Green Fairy’ may have had particular significance), absinthe is booze with benefits. A distillate which contains, among other herbs, a reputedly psychoactive drug called artemisia absinthium, a.k.a wormwood, the flavor is similar to ouzo, raki, Sambuca and Pernod—the latter of which is often used as an absinthe stand-in. Essentially, wormwood adds only a slight, background hum, and absinthe, like these other liquors, draws it’s licorice taste from anise.
Anise, which has no psychoactive qualities, may nonetheless result in a similar Oscar Wilde punch line.
At any rate, the hallucinatory effects of the stuff are much exaggerated, and probably have as much to do with absinthe’s legendary kick, up to 74% pure hooch, which plays special havoc on the neurons. Remember Otis, Mayberry’s town drunk, and his pink elephant sightings? Nobody suggested that he was nipping anything but moonshine.
Absinthe With Malice
Still, i its inimical buzz-killing, soberer-than-thou sanctimoniousness, the United States Government saw fit to ban absinthe in 1912, and ever since, those of us in search of an alcoholic beverage with ‘just a little bit more’ have had to settle for Ny-Quil. Until 2007 that is, when somebody somewhere slipped in legislation to bring partially-loaded absinthe (less than 10 parts-per-million of wormwood’s active ingredient thujone) back to realm of liquor-store purchasable.
That means you can stop reading about it and start slamming it; albeit, at these thujone levels, without much real chance of seeing elephants, writing classics, or slicing off your ear.
If you bring a bottle home, it behooves you to sample it correctly. Traditionally, absinthe is ritual-laden, often taken as an aperitif during a special early-evening ‘green hour’ in which glasses are lined up with a shot of absinthe at the bottom and a sugar cube suspended over the top. Pricey, perforated absinthe strainers—a Parisian invention—are fun, but not necessary. A toothpick-poked cube serves as well; the absinthe version of the McDonald coffee-stirrer coke spoon. The point is to slowly pour ice water over the cube so that the absinthe is both sweetened (it’s bitter) and diluted (remember, it’s also mega-potent). There are many variations on the theme, some calling for absinthe to be poured over the cube, some requiring ‘brouilleur’ devices to automatically drip the water, some for the whole concoction to be lit on fire with a match and others to play Hanna Montana CDs throughout.
Any wonder that absinthe is nicknamed ‘madness in a bottle’?
You’ll note that like it’s cousins ouzo and raki, when mixed with water absinthe turns into a viscous, milky-white fluid somewhat reminiscent of… well, be grateful that the Oscar Wilde humor was dispensed with earlier. The Mr. Science transformation is the result of the ‘louche effect’, related to essential oils in the herbal maceration (which can also be blamed for absinthe’s weird green color); a micro-emulsion that is similar to what happens when you make mayonnaise from scratch.
However you tipple it, use grown-up caution in both the consumption and your behavior afterward. Remember, when taken in great quantities, absinthe is reported to so alter one’s consciousness that Miley Cyrus does in fact appear attractive, particularly in her pilfered cell phone photos.
Absinthe marketers, vying for American demographics, are therefore urged to pass out complimentary ear plugs as the deal-sealer.