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Absinthe: A Visit from the Green Fairy

“Absinthe cures everything.”

Ernest Hemingway

Before I start, I should warn you that I’ve had a bit of the green fairy and it’s gone to my head. Actually, mostly to my legs which are all tingly. To be perfectly clear, I’ve gotten into the absinthe and I’m feeling a bit funny.

In case you’re not familiar, absinthe is an anise-flavoured spirit derived from botanicals, including the flowers and leaves of Artemisia absinthium (a.k.a. “grand wormwood”), together with green anise, sweet fennel, and other medicinal and culinary herbs. Originating in Switzerland in the eighteenth century, it was apparently quite popular with the parisian artists and writers of the 19th and 20th century, before being banned in 1915 due to the reportedly psychoactive properties imparted by the wormwood, specifically the chemical compound thujone. Sadly I suspect the absinthe I am drinking is entirely lacking in psychoactive properties. Or is it?

Photo by EPH Photography

Earlier today I decided that if Emrys and I were going to drink absinthe we’d need a meal to go with it. But what does one pair with absinthe? I thought some sort of seafood with fresh herbs might be tasty with absinthe’s anise and herbal flavours. Emrys suggested mussels in a white wine and fennel sauce with some crusty bread on the side; which all sounded quite acceptable to me.

It’s Saturday morning and we’re off to the liquor store to pick up a bottle of absinthe. There are 3 absinthes available at the Park Royal BC Liquor Store and one, the Okanagan Springs Taboo, is sold out. Not really knowing the brands, I opt for the $40 bottle of Hill’s Absinthe rather than the $50 bottle of Green Tree Absinth. Damn, this stuff better be good! Next we head to the market at Lonsdale Quay to pick up some mussels, fresh sourdough buns, fennel, tomatoes, peppers, shallots and herbs.

Back at the house, we start with a little tasting and photography session. I prepare our absinthe using the French method, which involves placing a sugar cube on top of a slotted spoon and placing the spoon on a glass filled with a measure of absinthe. I then pour ice water over the sugar cube to slowly and evenly distribute the water into the absinthe. In theory, as the water dilutes the spirit, those components with poor water solubility (mainly those from anise, fennel, and star anise) should come out of the solution and cloud the drink. The resulting milky opalescence is called the louche. At least that’s how it’s supposed to go.

Unfortunately our Hill’s Absinthe does not produce any louche. Rather we end up with a drink which is slightly minty, slightly anise-y, and not entirely unlike Crest mouthwash. While it’s not exactly delicious, I find it pretty easy to drink. (It’s a gift of mine). Emrys tries a tiny sip straight up, which is a mistake; that shit burns. It seems there is a reason you dilute it with 3 parts ice cold water. A quick search of the internet reveals that we have indeed purchased some of the worst absinthe available, reviewed at 1 out of 5 stars by the Wormwood Society.

Swamp Thing

Realizing we have a whole bottle of low quality absinthe to get through, I scour the internet for absinthe cocktail recipes that will work well with our dinner. We decide to try a Swamp Thing because, well, I do likes me some rum. The Swamp Thing is made of: 1 oz of light rum, 1/2 oz of absinthe, 1/4 oz of lime juice, 1/4 oz of simple syrup and some sliced cucumber to muddle and garnish.

Our photo shoot complete, it’s time to get cooking and put something in our stomaches before this goes any further. Emrys sets about sautéing some garlic in butter, adding in fennel, peppers, shallots, chorizo, fresh herbs, tomatoes, white wine and finally the mussels. Before long we are setting the table and dishing up our mussels with a piece of warm sourdough.

Taking a sip of my Swamp Thing, I find it very cucumber-y, liquory, herbal and sweet; it reminds me of a potent, old fashioned style cocktail. It’s a bit strange at first sip but after taking a bite of the mussels and fennel, it tastes much better. Hell, everything is better after taking a bite of those delicious mussels.

So that’s that. I tried some absinthe; some shitty absinthe but some absinthe nonetheless. I didn’t hallucinate or anything, although I did get a wee bit tipsy. I am kind of proud that we managed to find a cocktail that made our low quality absinthe moderately appealing and I think we did a pretty good job of pairing it with dinner. Not quite sure what I’ll do with the rest of the bottle but if you’re interested you’re welcome to come by and try some? Seriously, someone needs to drink that shit up.

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