Seductive, Mysterious, Misunderstood
The Green Goddess of Spirits and her Modern Revival
by Durae Hardy
THEN: Mention the name ‘Absinthe’ and you’ll likely conjure images of dimly-lit, underground speakeasies, and tumblers of florid green liquid set aflame; or, perhaps, your mind leaps to sidewalk cafes of Ernest Hemingway’s 19th century Paris, tables peopled with boisterously conversing artists and writers, dressed as the original ‘hipster’ and sipping from bubbled goblets (with accompanying slotted spoons). By whatever reputation you know her – as the wayward bathtub gin of her day, or sophisticated sipper of choice amongst French bohemians – Absinthe will not mind; for The Green Goddess (as the dubiously regarded spirit is often known) is no stranger to controversy. In fact, it might be said that her reputation was built on it. So-named for the primary ingredient Artemisia absinthium ("grand wormwood"), Absinthe is believed to have originated in the 18th century near the border of France and Switzerland. A potent blend of distilled botanicals, including wormwood, green anise, and sweet fennel, along with other medicinal and culinary herbs, was being bottled and sold as a cure-all medicinal elixir. (To whom credit is due for the original recipe is a point of debate, though it’s generally agreed that attribution goes either to French Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, of Couvet, Switzerland, or, by other accounts, to the Henriod sisters, also of the village of Couvet). Major Dubied acquired this original recipe, and, in 1797, opened the world’s first Absinthe distillery, Dubied Pere et Fils.
Absinthe’s popularity exploded throughout France over the next 50 years, The Green Ferry was served to French troops as a malaria preventative in the 1840s, and subsequently, Absinthe found friends among rich and poor, Bourgeois and Bohemian. But to be so loved was ultimately to be her downfall.
In 1870 the notorious Phylloxera plague strikes Europe’s grape vines, and for the next three decades, wine becomes a scarcity. Happy to step in as the country’s go-to gal, French consumption of Absinthe reaches an all-time high at nine million gallons annually. Concurrently, the perfect storm brewed: pressure from a failing wine trade meet stirrings by Europe’s growing Temperance movement, both parties in need of a scapegoat handily delivered by one murderous Swiss farmer.
Enter, Jean Lanfray.
In 1905 in a tiny rural village of Commugny, Switzerland, Lanfray murders his pregnant wife and two daughters in a delirium quickly deemed to be Abisntheinduced. Incredibly, Lanfray survives, and the spectacle of his trial and subsequent media-induced bedlam becomes the catalyst needed to ban Absinthe in countries throughout Western Europe for nearly a century. Adding fuel to the fire were dubious claims of the spirit’s hallucinogenic properties, more likely due to the “high volume of neatly disguised, seductively perfumed alcohol” than to the presence of psychoactive ingredients. (ref.)
The Goddess’s 200-year reign comes to a close.
TODAY: British Entrepreneur George Rowley is largely credited with the modern revival of traditional Absinthe spirits. In 1998, upon his return from a trip through the Czech Republic and having experienced a relic of the near-forgotten spirit, Rowley arrived in France with the express intention of reversing the roughly eightyyear ban on Absinthe.
In partnership with Marie-Claude Delahay, founder and curator of Le Musee d l’Absinthe, Auvers-sur-Oise, France, the two set about to recreate the original 19th century recipe. Their success became La Fee Absinthe, the first traditional Absinthe to be commercially produced since 1914.
FRIENDS: No longer a novelty of questionable origin, Absinthe has recently developed a cult following of connoisseurs of fine spirits, and become an essential component to the contemporary barkeep’s repertoire as a distinct and complex traditional bitter.
It must also be noted that Absinthe has enjoyed acclaim from some noteworthy friends over the years, including: Oscar Wilde, Arthur Rimbaud, Earnest Hemingway, Marilyn Manson, Vincent Van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
the girl & the fig is no stranger to Absinthe. In fact, Pastis is one of Sondra's favorite libations, and to her, Absinthe is the more sophisticated, eccentric cousin and the one you definitely want to hang out with at the party. You will always find at least one Absinthe cocktail on the menu under House Cocktails and the bartenders at the restaurant have a few more recipes in their cocktail repertoire.
REFERENCES: 9 MIND-BLOWING LIQUOR MYTHS DEBUNKED: https://www.liquor.com/slideshows/9-mind-blowing-liquor- myths-debunked/2/#gs.4oby4cM. Accessed Jan. 14, 2018.