A century ago, absinthe was at its peak in drinking and popular culture. As temperance campaigns aimed to vilify the drink, its mythos only grew. Citizens were warned that it would lead them down the path of villainy until it was finally banned. Still, the elixir’s mystical status only increased. Soon, stories of La Fée Verte took hold and were passed around as fact.
But was it all just exaggerated? Is there any truth to the tales of the “Green Fairy?”
Just Really Strong Alcohol
Absinthe is a spirit. It’s often been confused with a liqueur, which it’s not. Liqueurs are a blend of alcohol and sugars, but Absinthe is actually simpler than all of that. Developed by Dr. Pierre Ordinaire around 1792, absinthe ordinaire is a high proof grain alcohol that’s basically the same as a really strong gin. The choice in flavoring the alcohol is where absinthe and gin diverge. Absinthe uses macerated botanicals, which flavor the 72% ABV distillate into what’s called La Bleue or Blanche absinthe. The green version you’re most familiar with requires a second maceration of the three key botanicals: green anise, grande wormwood, and sweet fennel. The length of the steep of the second maceration and whether or not the roots of the botanicals are used can cause the color to vary from a deep green to a muddier brown.