France's Famous Liquor: All About Absinthe

Absinthe, also known as the green fairy, is an alcoholic cocktail drink mainly distilled from Grande wormwood Artemisia absinthium. Depending on your location of consumption, the flavor may vary as different regions around the world throw in their own blend of drink. Regardless of your locale, though, you can always expect the strong accompanying flavor of anise as you sip.

A French doctor named Dr. Pierre Ordinaire created the mysterious spirit in 1792, leading to a subsequent massive surge in popularity in France the following years, especially among well-known contemporaries such as Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, Van Gogh, and numerous others.

However, because of the high alcohol content and other accusations of strange behavior following consumption (like Van Gogh cutting off his ear), countries around the world banned absinthe from production and consumption. Fortunately for cocktail lovers worldwide, the famous drink has been reinvented in the 20th century and can be enjoyed most places.

The history of Absinthe is as rich as its taste. Let's learn all about this wonderful spirit!

Bottle and glass of green absinthe

A Brief History of Absinthe

Dr. Pierre Ordinaire originally created the remedy in Couvet, Switzerland before passing it on to the Henriod sisters (although some accounts show that the sisters may have been making the liquor beforehand), where it was sold as a medicinal elixir. As demand grew, they built a second distillery in Pontarlier, France, named Maison Pernod Fils.

From its release, Absinthe experienced widespread popularity and cultural acceptance among cocktail lovers. Connoisseurs and mixologists around the world began finding new ways to include absinthe in their habits, making it one the best-selling drinks made under the Maison Pernod Fils brand until it was banned in Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, the US and France in the early 1900s. In 1990, the manufacturers managed to recraft the spirit according to government guidelines and started selling it worldwide.

Composition of Absinthe

The basic ingredient is grand wormwood, as we mentioned earlier. Apart from this, many herbs, including fennel, anise, melissa and hyssop increase the richness and flavor of Absinthe in any drink. Beyond just their gustatory sensation, the included herbs in the original concoction help create the green color through inclusion of chlorophyll by means of steeping. As such, absinthe is popularly consumed as green in its home country of France, but is colorless in many other areas around the world.

Typically, absinthe is divided into the following ascending quality classifications: ordinaire, demi-fine, fine, and Suisse. The higher the alcohol content, the more highly regarded the absinthe. If you find yourself having to choose between distilled versus a mixed absinthe though, always choose the distilled if you’re going for quality.

How to Drink Absinthe

  • A wine glass, an absinthe spoon, sugar, and a carafe of iced water is needed to drink it as the 19th Century Parisians did. The absinthe spoon is specially made for this cocktail, as the trowel-like flat tool has a small slotted area that allows the water and dissolved sugar to pass freely into the glass of Absinthe below.
  • Just like coffee or tea, the amount of added sugar depends on your preference, but cubed sugar is still highly recommended.
  • Pour one ounce absinthe into the base of the cocktail glass.
  • Place the absinthe spoon across the rim of the wine glass and place a sugar cube on the top of it.
  • Pour some water (usually 3 to 5 times the amount of absinthe) onto the sugar and let it dissolve on its own.

As you pour over into absinthe below, the agitation creates a milky white mixture due to the different components that dissolve poorly in water. This effect, known as the louche, is part of the intriguing appeal of Absinthe worldwide.

Other variations of the drink, such as the Bohemian, involve using fire or other means to increase the strength of the drink.

Little Known Facts About Absinthe

  • The popular drink takes its name from an anise flavoring, Artemisia absinthium, which is its main adjunct flavor.
  • The traditional green absinthe cocktail is known as Verte Absinthe, but others such as Blanche (white), Absenta (Spanish variation), and Bohemian-style (essentially absinthe bitters) are popular around the planet.
  • The popular nickname "green fairy" is the English translation of La Fee Verte, which was its first popular nickname from the 1900s.
  • Although created in Switzerland, absinthe later became the traditional cocktail drink of France. 

What's next?

We've provided you with some information on one of the world's most storied, well known, and still intriguing spirits ever created. Should you find yourself in a bar abroad where you can responsibly drink, it's well worth safely tasting the mysterious Green Fairy. Absinthe is a wonderful drink that tells not only the story of its flavors, but of its country, and of the influential giants of history who have enjoyed it through time.


About the Author

Apoorva S. is a content creator from India with over three years of writing experience, focusing on travel, technical, health, and various other niches. She graduated with a B.Sc. in Mathematics from Integral University in 2019.