Absinthe is a distilled, highly alcoholic (45%-74% by volume) drink that is made by steeping wormwood and other aromatic herbs (hyssop, lemon balm, and angelica) in alcohol. In French, the word "absinthe" means "wormwood." Absinthe is an anise-flavored spirit and traditionally has a natural green color (due to its chlorophyll content) but can also be colorless. When mixed with water, the liquor changes to cloudy white. It is commonly referred to in historical literature as "la fée verte" (the Green Fairy). It was also known as the "green fairy" during its heyday in France in the 1800's.
Absinthe originated in the canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. It achieved great popularity as an alcoholic drink in late 19th- and early 20th-century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers. Due in part to its association with bohemian culture, absinthe was opposed by social conservatives and prohibitionists. Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Amedeo Modigliani, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Aleister Crowley, and Alfred Jarry were all notorious characters of that day who were fans of the drink.
Pernod was the original absinthe. It is still distilled today, only without the wormwood. Other liqueurs used today as a substitute for wormwood are Ricard, Hersaint, Anisette, Ouzo, and Sambuca.
Absinthe is traditionally served with water and a cube of sugar. The sugar cube was place on an absinthe spoon (a small slotted spoon), and the liquor was drizzled over the sugar into the glass of cold water until the sugar was dissolved and the desired dilution was obtained. The sugar helped take the bitter edge away from the absinthe, and when poured into water, the liquor turned a milky white. The spoons themselves were often works of art, covered with filigree flowers and stars, or shaped like sea shells.
The effect of this drink was related to the degree of dilution, the amount imbibed, and the frequency of drinking. Physical effects of nausea, disorientation, hallucination and seizure were noted by the drinkers of absinthe.
By 1915, absinthe had been banned in the United States and in most European countries except the United Kingdom, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Denmark and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although absinthe was vilified, no evidence has shown it to be any more dangerous than ordinary spirits. Its psychoactive properties, apart from those of alcohol, have been much exaggerated. A revival of absinthe began in the 1990's, when countries in the European Union began to reauthorize its manufacture and sale. Now, nearly 200 brands of absinthe are being produced in a dozen countries, most notably in France, Switzerland, Spain, and the Czech Republic. Commercial distillation of absinthe in the United States resumed in 2007.
The heyday of absinthe lasted for only a few decades.
"Absinthe has a wonderful color, green. A glass of absinthe is as poetical as anything in the world. What difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset?
After the first glass you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world."
- Oscar Wilde