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Absinthe 101: High In Spirits And For The Adventurous

By: Neelanjana Mondal

how to consume absinthe

If you appreciate hard liquor and are not acquainted with absinthe, then you should rethink your knowledge of quality booze. Absinthe is not for the weak-hearted because, unlike the typical liquors, it stands at 45-70% ABV (90-140 proof). This is equivalent to two pegs of the strongest of gin, whiskey, vodka and rum. You need to know how well you hold your liquor to attempt drinking this neat. Absinthe is highly flammable owing to its high alcohol content and boasts a pleasant anise flavour. 

anise flavoured spirit absinthe

Ideal Way of Drinking

On the rocks is the best way to savour this drink, especially if it's your first time trying it and you can hold your liquor, add a dash of water to make your experience a bit smoother. This liquor is a great choice for a cocktail and though not so common as your next-door whisky or rum, it is popular among the drinking community. European bartenders, specifically in Prague and London are said to have birthed many cocktails using this specific liquor. It is particularly popular in the former country where absinthe is a staple on bar menus and absinthe rinse or wash is fairly common and popular. This is similar to how bartenders use a base liquor to wash or rinse the inside of a cocktail glass and then throw away the excess liquid before creating the cocktail. 

absinthe ritual

The Absinthe Ritual 

We don't recommend doing this unless you are a professional or have bartending skills because it involves fire. This was born as a probable marketing stunt in the 1990s, and then perpetuated through depiction in films from the late 1800s to the early 1900s century France. 

To perform this ritual, the bartender pours a shot of absinthe liquor into a small tumbler glass. Next, they take a teaspoon of sugar and dip it into the absinthe, allowing the liquor to soak into the sugar. Then, holding the spoon over the glass, a lighter or match is used to set fire to the sugar. The sugar is allowed to burn for a minute or so until it begins to bubble and caramelise. Once the flame starts to die down, the bartender stirs the absinthe with the burnt sugared spoon, smothering the glass if the liquor catches fire. After the spoon ritual, an equal measure of water and some ice is added, to complete the absinthe drink.

absinthe in mixology

How to Consume Absinthe

Now that the hazardous ritual is out of the way, here’s the safer method of how this alcohol is typically consumed. Besides the marketing stunt we mentioned, absinthe since the 19th century has been ritualistically served by pouring water over a porous metal spoon, called an absinthe spoon, containing sugar lumps. There's a reason why it was served this way, absinthe typically comes in a bottle and is unsweetened. The special spoon was used to help in the dissolution of the sugar that the high alcohol content in the absinthe didn't allow. During preparation bartenders place a sugar cube on a slotted absinthe spoon over a glass, then slowly drip cold water over it from a carafe to help the sugar water drip into the drink. 

Here’s how to prepare your own: First, pour approximately 3 ounces of absinthe into a heavy stemmed absinthe glass. Place a slotted absinthe spoon over the rim of the glass, with a sugar cube resting on the spoon. Slowly drip icy cold water from a carafe over the sugar cube, dissolving the sugar into the absinthe. Continue dripping until the ratio is approximately 2-5 parts absinthe to water, adjusting to taste. Give the drink a final stir with the spoon and sip cautiously to avoid choking. 

The origins of this ritual are uncertain, but it seems to have emerged by the 1850s as a way to sweeten the naturally unsweetened absinthe. The high alcohol content prevented the sugar from properly dissolving unless water was added gradually. This was seen in illustrations from that period that displayed a long spoon or stirrer to dissolve the sugar in the drink. 

Different absinthe styles can produce more or less of a "louche" effect when water is added; a cloudy-looking liquid is formed when water is added to anise-bases spirits. Anise-forward French or Spanish absinthes tend to be sweeter and louche more dramatically. Bohemian absinthes use less anise, so they generally turn just slightly cloudy without a full louche. This phenomenon has zero effect on quality and different brands of absinthe exhibit different tastes.

Consuming absinthe requires more caution than most spirits. Always remember to try it safely, responsibly and in moderation.

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