Perhaps it’s far from joining wine in elite status among liquor connoisseurs, but absinthe, that prodigal son-of-a-gun made mythical during a near-hundred year absence for making artists lose their ordinary senses, has returned to the United States.
Through a series of changes to a complex law structure, a number of brands of absinthe were approved for sale in the U.S. late last year. Now it’s slowly creeping into North Metro lifestyle, winning over experts with its quirky liquor taste after nearly a century of lawmakers worrying that it caused hallucination.
“One or two drinks, you will not hallucinate, but you will have a more alert and euphoric feeling than with regular alcohol,” says Drew Owens, manager and sommelier of Centennial Wine & Spirits in Louisville, which now carries one version of it.
When he first started carrying Lucid absinthe (which he assures is true absinthe) three months ago, Owens saw hordes of partiers buying it. Now, it seems the clientele is more sophisticated, seeking it for historical significance and flavor.
Hopefully absinthe’s comeback will be routed in this taste.
Regardless, Owens expects to carry three or four more brands by year’s end. Restaurants are also offering it on drink menus, cementing its status as more than just a novelty drink, even if it still has a bit of a reputation.
“It’s like being drunk, but clear of mind, magnifying your natural state,” says Sebastian Tramani of Boulder’s Royal Peacock Indian Restaurant.
Nicknamed “The Green Fairy” for its translucent, chartreuse tint, the government banned it in 1912 by outlawing Artemisia absinthium, a specific type of wormwood, the one thought to cause visions.
The century’s old versions had much higher concentrations of wormwood, causing numerous notables to offer their take on absinthe’s effect.
The always witty Oscar Wilde once said: “The first stage is like ordinary drinking, the second when you begin to see monstrous and cruel things, but if you can persevere you will enter in upon the third stage where you see things that you want to see, wonderful curious things.”
Van Gogh supposedly lopped his ear off while under the influence of it—although reports suggest his version of absinthe had nearly 30 times more wormwood than what you’ll find on shelves today.
True, the buzz of absinthe feels a little different than that from a whiskey, vodka or liqueur, but absinthe is far from a drug.
It’s liquor, 75 proof or so.
In moderation, it makes for a nice after dinner drink or fun round at the bar.
Over the years, there were plenty of loopholes to get one’s hands on it—the Internet or knockoffs with similar content minus the wormwood. The government’s hurdle essentially ensured the novelty of Absinthe never wore off, keeping it out of the mainstream.
Now it looks poised to take a bite out of a market dominated by vodka, rum and other spirits with its unique serving method and flavor.
Absinthe’s taste certainly isn’t as complex as wine, but Owens expects a market that includes the snobbery that comes with top shelf selections.
There’s also a certain hip factor involved because of how it’s traditionally served: An absinthe-dipped sugar cube is set across the glass on a slotted spoon and lit on fire. The caramelized sugar then drips into the drink.
Its taste is varyingly compared to Jagermeister, Sambuca and Ouzo, so mix it with Raspberry D’Amour or Sour Apple Puckers if the burning method isn’t for you.
Regardless of how it’s enjoyed, economics suggest with demand up, a new supply line will follow. Leopold Brothers Distillery, the world’s only eco-sustainable brewery is coming home to its native Colorado, relocating after 10 years in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Brothers Scott and Todd Leopold say they’ll be sending absinthe to market very soon. They are just one of two distilleries in the nation set on absinthe production in the near future.
That’ll likely change as word gets out—after all, how can you say no to a drink with such a wild and sordid past?