Absinthe has been loved, loathed, banned, mourned and, now, reborn. The anise-flavored, high-alcohol (100- to 146-proof) spirit has resumed its popularity, with a dozen countries currently producing 200 brands.
Originating in the 1700s, absinthe became the drink of choice in the next century, particularly among Parisian artists and writers. Distilled from anise, fennel and Artemisia absinthium (wormwood) with other herbs and ingredients, absinthe has a natural green color. To drink it in the traditional manner, pour one part absinthe in a glass, put a sugar cube on a slotted spoon, place the spoon over the glass and drip four parts ice-cold water over the spoon.
Few Parisian absinthe drinkers bothered to add water and, eventually, temperance leaders began to blame absinthe for blindness, madness and such legends as the drunk who stripped naked and died doing the polka in the middle of Paris.
By the early 20th century, such drunken behaviors led to bans of absinthe in one country after another. But the decades have exonerated the spirit. The people who overindulged most likely would have had the same problem with vodka, brandy or any other spirit.
Beginning in the late 20th century, absinthe once again became legal.
In 2007, Lucid arrived from France, the first absinthe imported into the United States since 1912. The same year, St. George Absinthe Verte was produced in California, the first absinthe made in this country since 1912. A year later, Vieux Carré became the first absinthe made in the eastern United States, also since 1912.
Vieux Carré is an excellent example of absinthe — a complex bouquet of anise, fennel and other herbs with a crisp lemony snap, a rich taste of anise’s luscious licorice flavors enhanced with fennel and balanced with the other herbs and flowers used to make it. A remarkable absinthe.
For the fan, there are now absinthes from many countries, among them Green Fairy (Czech Republic); La Clandestine (Switzerland); Mata Hari (Austria); and Pernod, Mythe and Le Tourment (France). Prices begin at $50.
And for the truly dedicated fan, Rambler’s Lounge at Casa Marina Resort in Key West, Fla., serves Lucid, the French absinthe, in the traditional manner, along with Hemingway’s favorite, Death in the Afternoon, absinthe and Champagne.
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