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Historical gossip is full of stories alluding to absinthe as the liquor of choice for a “lost generation” of poets and artists: legendary names like Baudelaire and Verlaine claimed to drink it in great quantities for “inspiration”. While we can’t know for sure how much truth there is to these tales, we do know that there is a foggy haze of mystery surrounding these ancient concoction.
Absinthe is thought to have been first created in 1792 by the French doctor Pierre Ordinaire, who first had the idea of mixing alcohol with artemisia absinthium, or “wormwood”– an herb that is found all over the world with digestive, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. As it often happens, this plant was first used for medicinal purposes but its taste was so particular and appealing that it became widely popular in Switzerland, where Ordinaire lived, as a refined liqueur.
In 1805, Henri-Louis Pernod, decided to produce it industrially, and thus began the gloried years of absinthe: in 1912, consumption had risen to 220 million liters in France alone. With its bitter flavor and unmistakable green color, absinthe was typically consumed diluted in ice water with added sugar. Today, it’s easy to find ready-made preparations of absinthe, but it’s quite easy and affordable to make the concentrate at home.
Technically speaking, absinthe is a distilled liquor, which means that it comes from the distillation of a fermented plant product. It is composed of various herbs, which are the primary ingredients in the recipe. For a half liter of 95 proof absinthe, you’ll need: 35 grams of wormwood (artemisia absinthium) 35 grams of anise seeds 8 grams of angelica root 8 grams of star anise 4 grams of marjormam 4 grams of fennel seeds 4 grams of coriander, 4 cardamom pods half a seed of nutmeg. These herbs and seeds are all commonly found in any well-stocked supermarket or apothecary, but do avoid buying them “pre-mixed”. Purchase them one by one and mix them together yourself for a much better result. Begin by placing the alcohol in a glass bottle with the wormwood. Close the bottle with a sealed cork and let it sit for a month, shaking the bottle a couple times a day. Once the month is over, filter the liquid and add the other herbs, which you have mixed together previously with a mortar and pestle. You may use the same glass bottle, but make sure to wash and dry it carefully. Let the composition sit and steep for another month, shaking the bottle at least once a day.
At this point, your absinthe is ready to be enjoyed. How? You can sip it just as it is, but only if you are true experts at absinthe drinking. For those who might need a drink that’s a bit lighter and fresher, follow these steps: place a bit of sugar in a teaspoon and pour a glass of absinthe over the spoon, collecting the liquid in another glass. Using a match or lighter, carefully light the remaining liquor-soaked sugar on the spoon and blow out the flame after ten seconds. Then stir the spoon into the absinthe, adding a half-dose of ice water. Stir again. You might want to enjoy this splendid libation alone, at your desk, sitting before a sheet of blank paper and pen. Who knows what the poet or artist within you will do afterwards.