Exploring the Green Fairy: What Makes the Best Absinthe

by Kaia

Absinthe, often referred to as the “Green Fairy,” is a legendary and mysterious spirit with a complex and intriguing history. Known for its vibrant green color and the lore surrounding it, absinthe has captivated the imagination of artists, writers, and cocktail enthusiasts for generations. In this comprehensive guide, we will dive into the world of absinthe, exploring its origins, production, and what distinguishes the best absinthe from the rest.


The Enigmatic Origins of Absinthe

The origins of absinthe can be traced back to the late 18th century in Switzerland, with a French doctor named Pierre Ordinaire. It was believed that he created a medicinal elixir infused with various botanicals, including wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), fennel, and anise, which were used for their purported health benefits.


The transformation of absinthe from a medicinal tonic to a beloved spirit can be attributed to Henri-Louis Pernod, who opened the first absinthe distillery in Switzerland in 1797. Pernod’s creation, known as Pernod Fils, was an instant success, and it soon led to the widespread production and consumption of absinthe throughout Europe.


The Green Hour and Bohemian Culture

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, absinthe became synonymous with the bohemian lifestyle, particularly in France. The “Green Hour,” or l’heure verte, referred to the afternoon or early evening ritual of sipping absinthe in cafés, bistros, and salons. It was during this time that absinthe earned its reputation as the muse of artists and writers, including Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, and Ernest Hemingway.


The Myth of the Green Fairy

The lore and mystique surrounding absinthe are often connected to the notion of the “Green Fairy.” This mythical, seductive, and elusive figure was believed to appear to those who indulged in absinthe, inspiring creativity and hallucinatory visions. While the legend of the Green Fairy added to absinthe’s allure, it also contributed to its controversial reputation.

The Controversy and Banning of Absinthe

By the late 19th century, absinthe had come under scrutiny for its alleged harmful effects, including claims of addiction and madness. The most significant concern was the presence of thujone, a compound found in wormwood, which was believed to be responsible for the perceived hallucinogenic properties of absinthe.

In response to mounting concerns and political pressure, several countries, including Switzerland, the United States, and many European nations, banned or heavily regulated absinthe in the early 20th century. The absinthe ban remained in place for decades, and it wasn’t until the late 20th century that the spirit began to experience a revival.

The Absinthe Revival

The resurgence of absinthe began in the 1990s when Switzerland lifted its ban on the spirit, sparking interest and experimentation among distillers and consumers. The revival of absinthe was further accelerated by the European Union’s decision to allow the sale of properly labeled and regulated absinthe.

Modern absinthe distillers embraced traditional production methods and strived to create authentic absinthe, respecting the historical recipes and botanical combinations that defined the spirit. Today, the world of absinthe is diverse, with an array of brands and styles to explore.

The Essential Ingredients of Absinthe

Absinthe is a highly botanical spirit, known for its complex and intricate combination of ingredients. While the precise recipe and botanical composition can vary from one brand to another, several key ingredients are central to any authentic absinthe:

Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium): The most crucial ingredient in absinthe, wormwood contributes a distinct herbal and slightly bitter flavor. It is also the source of thujone, a compound that played a significant role in the historical controversy surrounding absinthe.

Anise: Anise imparts a sweet, licorice-like flavor and contributes to the louche, a milky cloudiness that occurs when water is added to absinthe.

Fennel: Fennel adds a mild sweetness and complements the other botanicals, helping to balance the overall flavor profile.

Other Herbs and Botanicals: Beyond the core ingredients, absinthe may include a wide range of botanicals, such as hyssop, coriander, angelica, and more. These ingredients contribute to the complexity and depth of flavor in absinthe.

The Absinthe Distillation Process

The distillation of absinthe is a meticulous and precise process that involves several stages:

Maceration: The selected botanicals, including wormwood, anise, and fennel, are macerated in a neutral alcohol to extract their flavors and essential oils.

Distillation: The macerated mixture is then distilled in a still to create what is known as the “absinthe base.” This base is a high-proof alcohol infused with the botanicals’ aromas and flavors.

Final Infusion: The absinthe base is infused with additional botanicals and herbs to achieve the desired flavor profile. These botanicals are carefully selected and added to the base mixture.

Dilution: The high-proof absinthe is then diluted with water to achieve the desired alcohol content, typically around 50-75% ABV (alcohol by volume).

Louche: One of the unique aspects of absinthe is the louche, which occurs when water is added to the spirit. As the water dilutes the absinthe, it causes the essential oils and botanical compounds to cloud, creating a milky, opalescent appearance.

Choosing the Best Absinthe

Selecting the best absinthe can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience, as it offers the opportunity to explore a wide range of styles and flavor profiles. When seeking the best absinthe, consider the following factors:

Authenticity: Look for absinthes that adhere to traditional production methods and utilize genuine botanicals, particularly wormwood.

Thujone Content: While thujone content is regulated in many countries, some absinthes may have higher thujone levels. Be aware of the thujone content if it is a concern for you.

Flavor Profile: Different absinthes can have varying flavor profiles, from anise-forward and sweet to more herbal and bitter. Choose an absinthe that aligns with your taste preferences.

Water Ratio: Experiment with the water-to-absinthe ratio when louche is a crucial aspect of your absinthe experience. The louche can be adjusted by varying the amount of water added.

Awards and Reviews: Research brands and read reviews to gain insights into the quality and craftsmanship of different absinthes.

Cocktail Versatility: Consider how you plan to enjoy your absinthe, whether sipped neat, with sugar and water, or in classic cocktails like the Sazerac or Absinthe Frappé.

Classic Absinthe Cocktails

Absinthe’s unique flavor profile makes it an essential ingredient in classic cocktails, some of which include:

Absinthe Frappé: A refreshing and cooling cocktail made with absinthe, anisette, and crushed ice.

Sazerac: A classic New Orleans cocktail consisting of absinthe, rye whiskey, sugar, and bitters.

Death in the Afternoon: A cocktail created by Ernest Hemingway, made with absinthe and Champagne.

The Green Beast: A modern absinthe cocktail with absinthe, simple syrup, lime juice, and water, served over ice.

Corpse Reviver No. 2: A classic cocktail that combines absinthe, gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, and a dash of orange bitters.


Absinthe, the enigmatic and once-controversial spirit, has experienced a renaissance in the modern age, recapturing the imaginations of artists, writers, and spirits enthusiasts. Its complex and intricate flavor profile, anchored by wormwood, anise, and fennel, distinguishes it as a unique and captivating spirit.



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