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-- By Polishqueue in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA on Tue, 11 Oct 2011 at 18:07.
Let's face it... it ain't th' flavor...
And it ain't th' anise aroma...
It's the effect, stupid.
In the case of the liqueur called "absinthe" (or however you choose to spell it), the effect is both visual & appreciative, as well as, of course, psychological (i.e., the effect of the liqueur on one's perception of reality).
Visually, I personally believe that any absinthe that does not produce the "Green Fairy" should not be considered "true absinthe, no matter how much alcohol or thujone it contains. The "Green Fairy" is not just a euphemasism for getting drunk, nor is it some imaginary "something that only stoned people can perceive". It is simply a very profound effect of the chemical reaction that takes place under specific circumstances -- such as occur when true absinthe is diluted to the point where the substances carried over during the distillation process solidify at lower temperatures and precipitate out upon dilution to a leve below their soluability point. That's not so unusual, of course. It is, after all, the whole purpose of "chill filtration", as practiced by nearly all commercial distillers in order to allow their product to remain crystal clear, even when chilled by ice in the glass. In the case of absinthe, however, that "cloudiness", called "louche" by those who appreciate it, becomes a very desirable feature.
It is not, however, a feature unique to absinthe. Ouzo and several other liqueurs (including some of the finest bourbons and ryes) share the ability to cloud when diluted with ice-cold water. Unlike (most) of those, however, absinthe is bottled at a very high proof. 65% alcohol is common, and the better brands often are even higher. Bourbon, Scotch, and rye at those levels are pretty much immune from precipitants, but the herbs infused into absinthe allow the clear (or slightly green, if not artificially colored) liqueur to cloud to a translucent cloudiness. It is that cloudiness that is so appreciated by those who love absenthe.
Why? Because of the way the drink is traditionally served.
One does not, as is common with whiskey drinks, simply pour ice water into, or add ice cubes to, a glass containing absinthe. Whether you choose to use the sugar-cube-absinthe-spoon method or not, the idea is to add ice water to the pure absinthe VERY SLOWLY, while observing the reaction. If you just dump about three or four times the amount of ice water as absinthe, you'll get a SIMILAR reaction, but the Green Faerie will not be visiting your drink. The secret is to VERY SLOWLY dribble a stream (or even individual drops if you have an ice water decanter capable of doing so) JUST UNTIL the "louche" effect begins, and there becomes a distinct line between the clouding in the bottom of the glass and a very VIVID line of crystal-clear and intensely-green liquid floating atop the opalescence. In the very best of absinthes, there can be even a third layer of clear liquor BELOW the opalescent one. When you look down, you can see the subtle colors of the "loushed" layer THROUGH the emerald lens of the top layer.
THIS is the "green faerie".
If you are watching ice water dripping, drop-by-drop, into your second or third glass, you can even "see" the fairies "dancing" in the glass, as each drop penetrates the green layer. Is it hallucination? Optical illusion? Whimsey? Who knows... or cares. The effect (especially after two or three of these) is not subtle at all. In fact, the overwhelming tendency to notice things that one might otherwise ignore is probably the part of the absinthe experience that people liken to hallucinatory drugs. It isn't really "hallucinatory", of course. It's the same feeling that anyone who has consumed several ounces of 130+ proof alcohol would encounter, except that the other ingredients in absinthe offset the tendancy to fall asleep after inbibing that much alcohol. Artists love it. FRIENDS of ARTISTS, who otherwise may be too "civilized" to understand how artists really see the world, are often OVERWHELMED by the experience. I personally believe THAT, more than anything else, is the basis for this liquor's reputation.
So, if the slow, steady addition of ice water doesn't produce a multicolored opal drink with an 1/8th inch or so layer of clear and intensely green floating on top, use a different absinthe. Otherwise, stop right there (no matter what the water-to-abinthe ration might be) and drink it. Meanwhile, start another glass going.
Once you see the emerald layer in the second glass, if you don't see the "green fairies dancing" through it, drink up and begin the third glass. If you don't see them in the third glass, give up and simply enjoy being high. A fourth glass will not help you tonight; you'll probably see them next time. In case you didn't notice, at one drip at a time, absinthe is all about patience.
Absinthe is about revelation. Scarlett O'Hara's great revelation was that tomorrow is another day.
She was right.
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About the effects of absinthe
When it comes to the effects of drinking absinthe, people's opinions -- and experiences -- vary wildly. Some go as far as to claim the drink is psychoactive, while others say there is no "secondary" (that is, other than alcohol-induced) effect at all.
As early as 1993, Matthew Baggott posted his Absinthe FAQ in the Usenet newsgroup "alt.drugs" (there wasn't much of the web as we know it back then). As you will suspect from the newsgroup's name, the issue of absinthe's "psychoactive qualities" was one of the interests of the document.
Some people take it further still. We definitely do not recommend any experiments with Paxil and absinthe (nor, for that matter, mixing any medicine with alcohol). Anyway, it's quite clear which way the wind blows here, since Jasmine Sailing's bizarre piece more or less concludes absinthe is a narcotic. Is it really? Yup, it does read like the girl was out of her mind when she wrote the page -- and no, we don't think the Fairy was to blame!
A far more sober look at the effects of the Green Fairy can be found in "The Return of the Green Faerie", an article written by Frank Kelly Rich of the Modern Drunkard magazine (no pun intended). Recommended reading.
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What is "La Louche" ritual?
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The freedom-loving Green Fairy...
Goddess of rebel poets & artists
in France and beyond