the green fairy: absinthe

the green fairy: absinthe
2011-09-10_15-40-11_823-2

By Hairee Lee

Or "la fée verte" in French, absinthe's cultural influence is as dramatic as those who were influenced by it. Van Gogh, Toulous-Lautrec, Manet, Picasso, Degas all have paintings inspired by absinthe and absinthe drinkers. Oscar Wilde and Rimbaud, just to name two of my favorite dead writers who were into the drink, were devotees.

Wilde said of absinthe: “After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.” Such a drama queen, but I love him anyway.

But much of Absinthe's notariety as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug seems to be exaggeration and confusion. That is, exaggerated from it's association with famous artists and writers who lauded it, and confusion from the psychoactive properties of its high alcohol content, rather than the presence of the hallucinatory agent, thujone. Absinthe's psychoactive properties, apart from those of alcohol, is exaggerated as shown by research done at Rutgers. ((Researchers at Rutgers University tested attention performance with low and high doses of thujone in alcohol. The researchers administered 0.28 mg/kg in alcohol, 0.028 mg/kg in alcohol and just alcohol to their subjects. The high dose had a short term negative effect on attention performance. The lower dose showed no noticeable effect.))

The chemical, thujone, is blamed or touted, depending on your perspective, for absinthe's alleged harmful effects. But with absolutely no convincing scientific evidence of thujone's purported hullucinatory effects, manufacturing of absinthe continues in Europe in a dozen countries, most notably in France, Switzerland, Spain, and the . And so does the shipping of absinthe from Europe to the North America.

The mythic status of absinthe derives largely, it seems, from the national ban and its romanticization by poets and artists. Its effect on social order is far less impactful than, say, gin in England during the 18th century as illustrated in Hogarth's "Gin Lane" above.

Over the weekend, we got ours in the mail from the Czech Republic. In spite of our research and dismay at the seeming myth of absinthe's effects, we still had to see for ourselves. That's how strong is the romance surrounding the drink after nearly a century of being banned in the US. Or likely because it's been banned. But let's leave the drug laws and prohibitions that do the opposite of its purpose for another discussion.

After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.” - Oscar Wilde

We didn't have absinthe glasses, which are usually short stemmed with a 9 to 10 ounces volume capacity bowl and a wide mouth to balance the absinthe spoon. So we used wine glasses instead. Our order came with a complementary absinthe spoon and a bag of sugar shaped like playing card shapes: hearts, clubs, spade, and diamond.

So the million dollar question: HOW WAS IT?

Well, it has the effect of a strong drink. The 140 proof (or 70% abv) alcohol probably had something to do with it.

It looked nice.

The fuss...well, it's just that: fuss. Ado. Hoopla. Whatever you want to call it, I'm afraid I have to say it's not all that it's hyped up to be.

At $22 per serving (we calculated it based on 2 ounces per serving and total bottle volume and total cost) I'm not sure it was entirely worth it. But it was certainly fun to make, tasted better than I expected (if you like black licorice or anise you'll like the taste of absinthe and I love black licorice) and the tipsy feeling I got was pleasant. As usual.

I would try it again, however. Perhaps I'll take Oscar Wilde's "advice" and have a second one next time.

I don't know if I want to risk the third and see the world as it really is, whatever that means.