How to Drink Absinthe And Survive: An Expert Guide
Absinthe is the notorious Swiss spirit supposed to conjure an imaginary green fairy. However, contrary to popular belief, absinthe isn’t dangerous, it isn’t illegal, and it definitely does not give you hallucinations. While it is, for lack of a better word, intoxicating, there's a definite art to it drinking it.
A short history of absinthe
Absinthe is a French word that's rooted in the Greek absinthion, which the Greeks used for medicinal purposes. Wormwood, one of its ingredients, was used to soothe and treat pain. When France conquered Algeria, the army put wormwood in wine to dilute its taste. They returned to France, bringing with them the taste of wormwood-spiked wine.
It was originally enjoyed only by the uppercrust, but eventually became a favored drink of creatives, from Paul Verlaine to Pablo Picasso. Edouard Manet even painted "The Absinthe Drinker" in 1859.
Becqueriaux crafted special absinthe-based cocktails for his one-night stint at Bank Bar.
Sven Olsen, an absinthe expert and the founder of absinthe company La Maison Fontaine, wants clear up a few misconceptions about drinking absinthe. The Moment Group recently invited Olsen as well as mixologist Timothy Becqueriaux to a guest session at Bank Bar to teach Filipinos how to drink absinthe.
“Absinthe has an alcohol percentage that’s just slightly higher than a glass of red wine,” he explained. “What we are trying to promote is the classic, traditional way of drinking it, which is mixing absinthe with iced water," says Olsen.
How to enjoy absinthe
Absinthe is a great spirit to use in cocktails, too. La Maison Fontaine has actually created a line of absinthes meant to be used as a base spirit—they even crafted a liqueur, a chocolate absinthe, to create a softer absinthe base for those still wary of the green liquid. “We are here to convince the bartenders,” Olsen jokes. At many bars, bottles of absinthe normally go unused—usually due to misconceptions.
Becqueriaux, who was named one of Hong Kong’s top 25 bartenders in 2015 and 2016 and is responsible for developing Hong Kong’s first absinthe-based cocktail program, recommends starting with absinthe-based cocktails:
“[Absinthe] works very well with fruits, such as citruses, or tropical fruits like pineapples and bananas, so that a customer who’s trying this drink for the first time is not overwhelmed by the strong anise flavors that come from the spirit. It’s kind of a first step before trying the absinthe served traditionally so you ease into the process.”
Nothing more magical than drinking absinthe from a fountain.
Quick tips about absinthe
“Using an ounce or 45ml of absinthe in a cocktail lets you play around with classic cocktails such as espresso martinis, negronis, or you can do your own creations,” Becqueriaux continues.
For example, to put a spin on the espresso martini, you can use the blanche absinthe instead of vodka. As for those who want to use the chocolate absinthe liqueur, Becqueriaux suggests a twist on a negroni, where the chocolate absinthe replaces the sweet vermouth you would usually use, bringing out a deeper and more complex flavor from the cocktail.
For people at home who are curious about trying absinthe, Olsen recommends a simple cocktail. “We do absinthe and a ginger ale or a ginger beer, and just a twist of lime—even I can do that without messing up,” he jests. “And, of course, the traditional way of drinking it. Just adding iced water gives you a really refreshing drink. We recommend one measure of absinthe to three to four measures of iced water, but it’s all about personal preference.” Nothing to be scared of, he assured.
As for other easy cocktail recipes, Becqueriaux says it's safest to play with any kind of citrus. “For me, absinthe goes really well with lime juice, so you could just mix absinthe, lime juice, a little bit of sugar or sugar syrup, and then top it off with some soda water. That’s it,” he says. You can even add a fresh mint sprig or some lemon as an extra refreshing touch.