Right around the time absinthe was first reaching its peak popularity, the much larger wine industry was flagging and had begun to have serious problems. Thanks to American prohibition, the anti-alcohol sentiment was on the rise, and the vintners took full advantage of the opportunity to turn this much-maligned spirit into a 'demon,' so wine could be the healthy alternative. Unfortunately, this clever bit of marketing led to many persistent and problematic myths about Absinthe and even caused it to be banned in many places. However, we're here to set the record straight with the ten biggest myths about Absinthe.
10. All Absinthe Is Green
If you're familiar with the film Moulin Rouge or other pop culture images of Absinthe, then it's easy to assume it all looks like Chartreuse or melon liqueur. The iconic almost neon green color is deeply associated with this particular type of alcohol. However, it might surprise you to learn that the color doesn't define the product. Some absinthe is yellowish or closer to clear. Of course, there's plenty of bright green Absinthe out there as well, but that color can be a sign that it's all flavoring and coloring agents instead of good quality aromatics. One of the easiest ways to tell is when you pour cold water in to dilute it for drinking, it should turn almost milky. Otherwise, you're probably dealing with low-quality Absinthe that has more color than substance.
9. US Absinthe Isn't "Real"
There is a persistent and unfortunate myth that Absinthe made or sold in the USA isn't 'the same' or is 'fake.' While this could be true in the case of the low-quality Absinthe we talked about in our first myth, it's not usually the case. People tend to assume that because they don't hallucinate or have other experiences related to these myths, it means the Absinthe is to blame. In reality, it's mostly a misunderstanding, and the alcohol is both real and safe.
8. Absinthe Is From The Czech Republic
Tourists in the 1990s were willing to pay a premium for any green alcohol labeled Absinthe. As a result, the Czech Republic ended up doing a surprisingly good trade in Absinthe. However, the drink was invented by a French doctor named Pierre Ordinaire, living in Couvet, Switzerland.
7. Absinthe Is Only Made In Europe
Absinthe is not a mystery import. The recipe is not a great secret, and Absinthe is made in many places worldwide, some of which are in Europe. The green alcohol that is a secret recipe is called Chartreuse, but it is easy to confuse the two because of their botanical complexities and similar color. As Taste France explains, "Chartreuse is produced from a secret recipe passed down by Carthusian Monks. Green Chartreuse is produced from a sugar beet-based spirit, whereas Yellow Chartreuse is produced using a grape-based spirit. These spirits are distilled in copper pots, macerated with their unique recipe of botanicals, and aged in charred French oak. Only two guardians, Dom Benoit and Frère Jean-Jacques are permitted to enter the ‘herb room’ where the botanicals dry."
6. Absinthe Makes You Crazy
Crazy is a derogatory umbrella term that has been used to describe everything from serial killers to stress, but most of them have one thing in common. Being 'crazy' is a psychological phenomenon. Absinthe makes you drunk. Being genuinely mentally unstable results from chemicals in your brain that have nothing to do with what you drink. Much of this myth comes from the case of the Lanfray Murders in 1905. Jean Lanfray, who worked at a vineyard, got very drunk on wine, beer, Cognac, brandy, and crème de menthe, then murdered his children and pregnant wife. Because he'd also had two cups of Absinthe, it made a convenient and sensational scapegoat, so the media ran with it. Absinthe didn't make Jean Lanfray a drunk or a killer. He did that himself.
5. Absinthe Makes You Have Seizures
Absinthism is a fictional 'disease' where people who drink Absinthe have seizures. The belief in this problem was so strong that it contributed to the ban on Absinthe for many years. However, modern science and medicine have entirely debunked the theory. The National Library of Medicine has the following to say on the subject, "The only consistent conclusion that can be drawn from those 19th-century studies about absinthism is that wormwood oil but not Absinthe is a potent agent to cause seizures. Neither can it be concluded that the beverage itself was epileptogenic nor that the so-called absinthism can exactly be distinguished as a distinct syndrome from chronic alcoholism... Based on the currently available evidence, thujone concentrations of both pre-ban and modern absinthes may not have been able to cause detrimental health effects other than those encountered in common alcoholism." In short, alcoholism can cause seizures, and concentrated wormwood oil, much more than you find in Absinthe, might cause seizures, but otherwise, it's complete fiction.
4. Absinthe Is Illegal
Absinthe has been illegal in the past. However, most countries that permit the sale of alcohol now allow the sale of Absinthe because the historical reasons for banning it didn't stand the test of time. If someone offers you a drink of 'illegal' Absinthe, they are either trying to sucker you into paying more, or they've put something inside it that isn't part of the original recipe.
3. You Need A Flaming Sugar Cube
Flaming sugar cubes are just a trend and not even an old one. By the mid-1990s, bars were serving Absinthe this way because it looked cool, but the truth is that it ruins the flavor. You should serve the sugar on a slotted absinthe spoon by pouring cold, pure water over it a drop at a time to “louche” it or turn it milky. The sugar helps cover the bitterness of wormwood, but lighting it on fire does nothing.
2. Absinthe Makes You See A Green Fairy
The Green Fairy or La Fée Verte is just a romanticized nickname for a drink. The Bohemian culture was filled with beautiful stories, but the green fairy isn't some creature that comes out of a bottle. If you drink enough to see tiny green people, you are dealing with alcohol poisoning and nothing more.
1. Absinthe Makes You Hallucinate
Neither modern nor classic Absinthe has enough wormwood to make you hallucinate. In fact, you'd be so drunk that alcohol poisoning would make you see things long before you ever got a sufficient amount of wormwood to see something. That myth traces back to a pseudo-scientist named Dr. Magnan with an anti-absinthe agenda. After giving them pure, concentrated wormwood oil, Magnan killed a few mice and once watched a dog bark at a wall for half an hour. The hallucination rumors all spring from those very badly conducted 'experiments.'
Absinthe is a fascinating and delightful drink with a long history. The myths behind this unusual alcohol are made up. Whether it was the wine industry, the sensationalist media, Bohemian artists, or Czech bartenders, a lot of what you think you know about Absinthe is meant to draw attention or demonize this rich and compelling drink. Connoisseurs looking for something classic and unique to add to their liquor cabinets need to search no further. Those who have never tried it out of misplaced fears are missing out. Have you met the green fairy?
Written by Lily Wordsmith
Read more posts by Lily Wordsmith