I had never heard of absinthe before arriving in Europe because
it simply didn’t exist in America at the time. The fiery green, 140-proof liquid was the love of Parisan artists
in the 1920s. It was also, many suspect, the agent provocateur responsbile for Van Gogh mailing his ear
to a certain lady friend.
The devil in absinthe is thujone, a compound found in one of the drink’s signature ingredients,
wormwood. Ingesting thujone led to such nasty, Van Gogh-like actions that authorities eventually banned the drink
throughout Europe. Spain remained the one holdout. When the Eastern Bloc opened up, absinthe began appearing
there as well thanks to outdated liqueur laws.
I tried it once in Prague where the bartender warned me in broken English, “One absinthe okay. Two
Absinthe, bye-bye.” I had one shot, and left with both of my ears intact. Although it tasted no
different than a very strong, bitter alcohol, I wasn’t interested to find out what two shots tasted like.
Absinthe is having a bit of a comeback thanks, in part, to a New Orleans chemist who has reverse engineered the
long lost recipe for absinthe and is attempting to de-demonize the evil green spirit. You can check out Wired Magazine for a nice write-up on the topic,
or pick up the March 13, 2006 issue of The New Yorker for
an (offline only) article about the “New Absinthe Craze” by Jack Turner.