National Absinthe Day!
Did you know that March 5 is National Absinthe Day? Do your patriotic duty and open up a bottle of this wonderfully unique, celebrated, and once illegal spirit.
Created in 1792 by Pierre Ordinaire (a French doctor who fled to Switzerland in the wake of the French Revolution), he combined local herbs, including wormwood, anise, and fennel with alcohol. He then prescribed and sold the 136 proof mixture as a medicinal tonic, which soon took on the nickname the la Fee Verte (the Green Faerie). Unlike a Liqueur, Absinthe is not bottled with sugar – and is thus classified as a Spirit. Traditionally, absinthe is poured into a glass over which a specially designed Gothic-looking slotted spoon is placed. A sugar cube is then placed on the spoon, and ice-cold water is dripped over the sugar until the drink is diluted to between a 3:1 to 5:1 ratio.
Absinthe’s popularity grew steadily until the 1840s, when absinthe was given to French troops as a malaria treatment. When the troops returned home, they brought their taste for absinthe with them, and it became popular at bars and bistros – similar to the rise in popularity of pizza in America after US troops returned from Italy after WW2. Demand creates a need for more supply!
By the 1860’s, absinthe had become so popular, that many cafés and cabarets had their own “happy hour” at 5 p.m., called l’heure verte (‘the green hour’). Still, it remained expensive and was favored mainly by the bourgeoisie and eccentric Bohemian artists. By the 1880s the price had dropped significantly, perhaps due to increasing supplies, and absinthe soon became regarded as THE drink of France. By 1910 the French were consuming 36 million litres of absinthe per year! Parisian cops must have had their work cut out for them.
Absinthe became famous for its popularity in late 19th- and early 20th-century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers whose romantic associations with the drink still linger in popular culture. Absinthe was portrayed as a dangerously addictive, psychoactive drug; with the chemical thujone seen as the chief culprit. The infamous Lanfray murders of 1906 provoked a petition to the Swiss government, which lead to its prohibition in Switzerland, and in 1915, it was prohibited in a number of other European countries and the United States. Fortunately, for the artist and romantic in all of us, Absinthe is now legal in the US and other parts of the world, and perhaps your inner Green Fairy is begging to be let out.
Mix it traditionally with water and sugar, or with Champagne as did Hemingway (his “Death in the Afternoon” recipe is below). You won’t forget the bitter, yet inviting kiss of licorice and tart herbs. Let Wally’s help you celebrate l’heure verte with a number of our choice selections!
We love the Osbello from Spain ($49.99), Vieux Pontarlier from France ($74.99), and the Leopold Bros. from Colorado ($79.99). And, you’ll need a traditional spoon. You’ll find the ritual of utilizing it to be most compelling.
“The first stage is like ordinary drinking, the second when you begin to see monstrous and cruel things, but if you can persevere you will enter in upon the third stage where you see things that you want to see, wonderful curious things.” — Oscar Wilde
- 1 1/2 ounces absinthe
- 4 ounces Brut champagne
- Instructions: Pour absinthe into a champagne flute and add iced brut champagne until it clouds up — at least 4 ounces.