Skip to comments.The Green Fairy Returns (absinthe)
Posted on 09/09/2001 1:03:12 PM PDT by LarryLied
The bar is almost empty in the
afternoon. Its chrome-plated stools and greenish
marble countertop coolly reflect the lamplight. A
woman sits alone at one end of the bar and leans
against her own reflection in a mirrored wall.
Only a second glance reveals the secret diva of this
locality on the shelves behind the counter -- absinthe.
There it is, that legendary herbal spirit, displayed in
seemingly endless variations, including Absenta Deva,
Absenta Serpis, Staroplzenecky, Absinthe Ordinaire
and Absenta Tabu. Their various shades of green
shimmer alluringly, but the woman at the bar is not
inclined to try them. "That's an intoxicant," she says,
"I'd rather not touch that stuff."
The "green fairy," as the potent liquor is often called,
has an interesting history: Once hugely popular among
artists and the public alike in the 19th century, it was
later banned in most of Europe because of its side
effects. Only recently the potent mixture is making its
comeback. True absinthe-lovers even conduct a ritual
using special glasses and spoons when consuming the
Oil of vermouth and alcohol are usually the main
ingredients of the green liqueur. This basic mixture is
enhanced by aniseed, fennel, hyssop and lemon balm,
and the dosage of the various ingredients determines
the individual flavor of the spirit. Vermouth gives
absinthe its green color and its bitter taste. And it turns
it into a different drinking experience altogether: Oil of
vermouth contains thujone, a neurotoxin that, if taken
in an overdose, can cause delusions, convulsions and
lasting damage to the nervous system. Enjoyed in
small amounts, however, thujone has a stimulating
effect and intensifies one's perception.
The Patience bar in Frankfurt's Nordend district is a
true oasis for absinthe-lovers: Here, the menu is as
green as the drink and guests can choose between
various absinthe cocktails that bring the cult drink of
the 19th century sip by sip into the present age.
There is, for instance, "Absinthe Blanc," a mixture
consisting of absinthe, almond liqueur, cream and
chocolate flakes. "You mustn't drink too much of this,"
the bar owner, Patience Läsker, warns with a laugh --
not referring to the dangers of intoxication but to
consequences for the waistline. The most famous of the
cocktails is called Death in the Afternoon, which was
created by novelist Ernest Hemingway, who added
champagne to absinthe. At a price of DM18.50 ($8.60),
this mixture is also the most expensive item on the
Just as extraordinary as the drink is the way it is
consumed: During the absinthe ceremony, cold water
trickles through a sugar cube lying on a perforated
spoon before dropping into the absinthe. This results in
a characteristic clouding of the liquid, called louche. In
a modern variation of the old ritual, the sugar is set on
fire, before it, now caramelized, sweetens the absinthe.
The flame licking around the sugar conjures up images
of dark back rooms and secret chemist's concoctions,
of the Val-de-Travers in Switzerland, where the first
absinthe distillery was opened in 1797, and of
paintings by famous artists. For instance, Pablo
Picasso's absinthe drinker, who sits slumped next to a
shimmering absinthe glass and dreams of distant
Artists and writers like Oscar Wilde, Henri de
Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Allan Poe
and Edvard Munch also paid homage to the green
fairy, and said they believed that they owed her their
visions and inspiration.
But the strong side effects led to absinthe being banned
in one country after another -- 1910 in Switzerland,
1914 in France and 1923 in Germany. Absinthe
regained its legality only a few years ago, through the
European Union's Aroma Directive of 1998, which
permits the production of absinthe with a maximum
thujone content of 10 milligrams per liter, thus marking
the renaissance of the green fairy. Ironically, it is still
prohibited in Switzerland, the country where it
In Germany, bars offering absinthe have opened in
Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Munich and Frankfurt.
German absinthe merchant Sven Baumgärtner has
been selling the Czech Hills Absinthe in Germany
since January 2000. After a slow start, he says, demand
by specialist wholesalers and individual customers has
been growing steadily. "Absinthe has now become an
obligatory item in every good bar," Mr. Baumgärtner
The absinthe wave, which for now is not much more
than a ripple, will finally drag this mystical drink out of
the back room, when it washes into the supermarkets.
The shimmering green bottle has already been sighted
there, concealed between innocuous names like
Fernet-Branca and Punte Mes. But most people still
tend to miss the green luster of the secret diva.
Thomas Prisinzano, Graduate Student Department of Medicinal Chemistry Medical College of Virginia Campus, Virginia Commonwealth University writes:
Absinthe drinkers were reported to have experienced a double action intoxication . This intoxication combined the separate effects of alcohol and thujone. The alcohol produced a sedative effect in absinthe drinkers while the thujone is reported to have caused hallucinations (both visual and auditory) as well as excitation.
The only proven effect of thujone, however, is its toxicity to the brain. The toxicity of thujone in the brain is believed to result from its structural similarity to tetrahydrocannibinol, or THC , the active compound in marijuana.
Cannabis has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes and has great therapeutic potential.
Thujone and THC have similar shapes, and it is believed that they interact with the same biological receptor to produce their similar psychological effects. The similarities between the molecules include gem dimethyl groups and a similar carbon framework. It is also believed that the hydroxyl group of THC and the carbonyl of thujone may interact at the same site. Modeling studies show a good degree of overlap.
For a while it was hypothesized that thujone and tetrahydrocannabinol had the same site of action. This was believed to be true because of the similarities in their structures and effects. But in 1997, it was shown that neither thujone nor wormwood binds to the canabinoid receptor.
She looks none too cheerful.
PS Remember: Absinthe makes the mind go wander!
BTW, Betina's Elixirs is an American company, so if you want to order any, it clears cutoms easily.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.