Sometimes my Mind Plays Tricks on me: The Resurrection of Absinthe

The green fairy illustrates the French’s long dominance over Western dining and drinking trends. Artists and their bourgeoisie patrons helped fuel a rumor that linked Absinthe with the emerald magical creature. That rumor, in turn, influenced American public policy and subsequent tippling options for decades until our current craft cocktail resurgence finally changed the law.

Absinthe’s principle ingredients are grande wormwood, green anise and Florence fennel. Within wormwood lives the terpene compound thujone which, when ingested in massive quantities, can cause hallucinations. Along with a high alcohol content—up to 150 proof—absinthe contains trace amounts of thujone. You need to drink a lot of absinthe to feel its psychological effects, which of course Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Hemingway and others in that late-nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century cultural cohort did in spades.

Those hard-drinking writers and artists spread the rumor that absinthe intoxication invites visits from the green fairy. America’s teetotaling movement caught wind of the rumor and used it to convince the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to ban absinthe. America’s absinthe ban stood from 1912 until 2007.

The funny thing about the ban is it never really counted anyway. The law prohibited absinthe with more than 10 mg/kg thujone, which basically don’t exist. Still, even after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the restrictions on absinthe stayed in place. Absinthe lived on only in the hearts and minds of American bartenders until leaders of the most-recent bespoke cocktail resurgence rediscovered it.

The traditional French way to enjoy absinthe is with just a little sugar and cold water (no wonder they were all so blasted), but it’s more common today to mix it into a cocktail for a whispering taste of black licorice and a pared-down delivery of its signature high level of alcohol. One such recipe embodying this 21st-century restraint can be found in The Nomad Cocktail Book, published last month by Penguin Random House. In it, Craft Cocktail Movement General and Bar Director Leo Robitschek details nearly 300 cocktails that helped propel the bar and his team to the industry forefront; since opening, they’ve received numerous Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards, the James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program, and since 2014 have been on the prestigious World’s 50 Best Bars list.

Follow his recipe to see what all this decades-long fuss about absinthe is all about.

Green Beast

From The Nomad Cocktail Book by Leo Robitshek.

2 cucumber slices, for shaking, plus whole-length cucumber slice, for garnish
.75 oz simple syrup
.75 oz lime juice
1 oz Pernod Absinthe
1 oz water

In a cocktail tin, combine all the ingredients except the garnish. Place a 2-inch ice cube in a double rocks glass. Fill the tin with 1.25-inch ice cubes. Seal and shake. Strain the cocktail into the double rocks glass using a hawthorne strainer and a fine tea strainer. Roll and skewer the remaining cucumber slice and garnish the cocktail.