Absinthe was the drink of choice among artists and writers in the mid to late 19th century. It inspired poets and appeared in works by Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh. It was drunk by the scandalous playwright Oscar Wilde (who once said: “Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality”), the eccentric Toulouse-Lautrec (who had alcohol issues far beyond absinthe), the poets Charles Baudelaire and Edgar Allen Poe (ditto), and the famous 20th century author Ernest Hemingway (double ditto), just to mention a few. In keeping with the esteemed literary company with whom he is often compared (as a drunkard not a writer), ELV can often be found sipping this elixir of the Gods at Fleur de Lys – where General Manager Tobias Peach (peachy name for a restaurant guy heh?) gives a mini-seminar with every pour.
By the end of the 19th century, phylloxera had destroyed two-thirds of the vineyards on the continent of Europe. The price of wine skyrocketed and was soon in short supply. The Aristocrats bought and consumed what was available, leaving the middle-class, “la bourgeoisie” of artisans and tradesmen searching for a cheaper alternative. Absinthe was already growing in popularity and was a perfect alternative, being a distilled spirit, it was much stronger than wine and had a mysterious effect that heightened the senses. It was perfect for the emerging Bohemian culture growing in Europe.
In the cafés of Paris, the cocktail hour became known as “L’Heure Verte”, the Green Hour.
According to history, or perhaps myth, the elixir of wormwood was originally developed by Dr. Pierre Ordinaire in 1789. He was a French doctor who was living in the Suisse town of Couvet, in the Canton of Neuchâtel. The doctor was in self-exile due to political reasons from the Franche-Comté region. It was said that he discovered the plant wormwood (Artemisia Absinthium) while traveling in the Val-de-Travers. He mixed wormwood and other herbs with alcohol to create his 136 proof elixir, which he employed in his treatment of the sick and retched. After many claims of miraculous healing powers, it became a panacea or cure-all. It was eventually nicknamed, “la Fée Verte”, which means the Green Fairy.
It was believed that Dr.Ordinaire bequeathed his recipe to Mademoiselle Grand-Pierre, who supposedly sold it to two sisters named Henroid in Couvet. However, historical information suggests that the Henroid sisters were making the distilled elixir before the Doctor arrived in the area. The doctor is credited with being one of the first to promote la Fée Verte.
Traditionally, Absinthe is prepared by pouring cold water over a cube of sugar resting on a slotted spoon. The cold water dissolves the sugar while diluting the green Absinthe. The sugar helped to mask the bitterness of the absinthium and other oils. As the cold water mixed with the absinthe, it clouds to an opalescent white with a tint of green, this effect is called the “louche”, pronounced “loosh”. The louche occures when the essential oils are not able to disperse in the water therefore, creating a clouding effect. The mix ratio is according to preference, usually 2 parts water to 1 part absinthe.
Here is the absinthe menu from Fleur de Lys along with the prices and tasting notes. ELV knows not from milkier louches and sophisticated touches of bitter herbs, but can tell you that if you drink all of these in one sitting, you’ll get really f*cked up.
Traditional Absinthe Service Performed Tableside at Fleur de Lys
Grande Absente Absinthe Originale, France $35
The nose is subtle with notes of green licorice and fresh herbs. A firm anise flavor quickly fades and has a mint finish on the palate. It is the oldest recipe from France that originated in the Alps near the Swiss border.
Lucid Absinthe Supérieure, France $30
The nose has a heavy aroma of black licorice and green herbs. Toasted orange notes are also present, which balances the herbal notes. The full body mouth feel is forcefully tainted with higher amounts of Grande Wormwood therefore classifying it as ‘Supérieure’.
Kübler Absinthe Supérieure, Switzerland $25
The nose is complex and fresh with notes of anise similar to the smell of a candied licorice stick. Unlike its French counterparts, this absinthe is clear and produces a louche that is milkier. Yves Kübler is one of the original recipe creators for absinthe itself.
Absente Absinthe Refined, France $20
The nose is predominately anise, but some light floral aromas and a suggestion of citrus zest lurk in the backdrop. The medium body presents a dryish palate that’s similar to the nose, but with a sophisticated touch of bitter herbs.
Just so you know: The hallucinagenic qualities of wormwood are rife with overstatement, urban legend, and just plain falsity. Absinthe is no more or less addictive or hallucinagenic that any other strong alcoholic drink. The claims that gave it its notoriety a hundred years ago in Paris were the product of the same public-health-panic-button-pushing-moralist-mind-set that tried to clean up the drunkards of London in the early 19th Century by having cheap gin declared illegal. ELV has an antique 1904 public health poster in his house from Paris (France not Texas) that declares: Absinthe Rend Fou (absinthe makes you crazy). Well yes it will, if you drink enough of it, but so does Booker Noe 126 Proof Bourbon.