Absinthe is an aromatic, dry and highly alcoholic herbal spirit. It contains anis (Liquorice flavour) and the notorious wormwood plant (Artemisa) as well as optional various other aromatic components, such as peppermint, cloves, cinnamon, (the juice of spinach, nettles and parsley are also sometimes used.) Historically it was widely regarded as a “very dangerous drink” and is still banned in many countries! Turn-of-the-century Absinthe was fiercely potent stuff… The constituent herbs are macerated for about 8-10 days in alcohol and then distilled, the result being an emerald coloured spirit.
Rumour has it that Vincent Van Gogh cut his ear off whilst under the influence of the early types of Absinthe.
Today absinthe has seen a revival with varieties coming from France, Spain, Switzerland and the Czecg Republic.
There are several different styles:
Blanche, or la Bleue Blanche absinthe (also referred to as la Bleue in Switzerland) is bottled directly following distillation and reduction, and is uncoloured (clear). The name la Bleue was originally a term used for bootleg Swiss absinthe, but has become a popular term for post-ban-style Swiss absinthe in general.
Verte (“green” in French) absinthe begins as a blanche. The blanche is altered by the “colouring step,” by which a new mixture of herbs is placed into the clear distillate. This confers a peridot green hue and an intense flavour. Vertes are the type of absinthe that was most commonly drunk in the 19th century. Artificially coloured green absinthe is also called “verte,” though it lacks the herbal characteristics.
Bohemian-style absinth (also called Czech-style absinthe, anise-free absinthe, or just “absinth” (without the “e”)) is best described as a wormwood bitters. It is produced mainly in the Czech Republic from which it gets its designations as “Bohemian” or “Czech,” although not all absinthe from the Czech Republic is Bohemian-style. It contains little or none of the anise, fennel, and other herbs that are found in traditional absinthe and bears very little resemblance to historically produced absinthes. Typical Bohemian-style absinth has only two similarities with its authentic, traditional counterpart: it contains wormwood and has a high alcohol content.
There are several methods for drinking Absinthe, the first is the French style. A sugar cube is held over a shot of absinthe with a special slotted spoon. Water is then poured slowly through the sugar cube which then turns the absinthe milky white. This method is said to bring out the more subtle herbal flavours of the absinthe.
The second way is relatively new, the Bohemian method. The sugar cube is soaked in absinthe and held over a shot of absinthe then set alight and dropped into the absinthe, setting fire to the liquid. It is then either extinguished by adding a shot of water, or allowing the flame to die out as the alcohol is burnt away. This method produces a stronger flavoured drink than the French method.