Absinthe is historically described as a distilled, highly alcoholic (45–74% ABV) beverage. It is an anise-flavoured spirit derived from herbs, including the flowers and leaves of the herb Artemisia absinthium, commonly referred to as “grande wormwood”. Absinthe traditionally has a natural green colour but can also be colourless. It is commonly referred to in historical literature as “la fée verte” (the Green Fairy).

Although it is sometimes mistakenly called a liqueur, absinthe is not bottled with added sugar and is therefore classified as a spirit. Absinthe is unusual among spirits in that it is bottled at a very high proof but is normally diluted with water when consumed.

Absinthe originated in the canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. It achieved great popularity as an alcoholic drink in late 19th- and early 20th-century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers. Owing in part to its association with bohemian culture, absinthe was opposed by social conservatives and prohibitionists. Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Amedeo Modigliani, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Aleister Crowley, and Alfred Jarry were all notorious “bad men” of that day who were (or were thought to be) devotees of the Green Fairy.


Absinthe has been portrayed as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug. The chemical thujone, present in small quantities, was blamed for its alleged harmful effects. By 1915, absinthe had been banned in the United States and in most European countries including the United Kingdom, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Andorra and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although absinthe was vilified, no evidence has shown that it is any more dangerous than ordinary spirits. Its psychoactive properties, apart from those of alcohol, have been much exaggerated.

A revival of absinthe began in the 1990s, when countries in the European Union began to reauthorize its manufacture and sale. As of February 2008, nearly 200 brands of absinthe were being produced in a dozen countries, most notably in France, Switzerland, Spain, and the Czech Republic. Commercial distillation of absinthe in the United States resumed in 2007.

The precise origin of absinthe is unclear. The medical use of wormwood dates back to ancient Egypt and is mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus, circa 1550 BC. Wormwood extracts and wine-soaked wormwood leaves were used as remedies by the ancient Greeks. Moreover, there is evidence of the existence of a wormwood-flavoured wine, absinthites oinos, in ancient Greece.

The first clear evidence of absinthe in the modern sense of a distilled spirit containing green anise and fennel, however, dates to the 18th century. According to popular legend, absinthe began as an all-purpose patent remedy created by Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor living in Couvet, Switzerland, around 1792 (the exact date varies by account). Ordinaire’s recipe was passed on to the Henriod sisters of Couvet, who sold absinthe as a medicinal elixir. By other accounts, the Henriod sisters may have been making the elixir before Ordinaire’s arrival. In either case, a certain Major Dubied acquired the formula from the sisters and in 1797, with his son Marcellin and son-in-law Henry-Louis Pernod, opened the first absinthe distillery, Dubied Père et Fils, in Couvet. In 1805 they built a second distillery in Pontarlier, France, under the new company name Maison Pernod Fils. Pernod Fils remained one of the most popular brands of absinthe up until the ban of the drink in France in 1914.

In 1905, it was reported that Jean Lanfray murdered his family and tried to kill himself after drinking absinthe. The fact that Lanfray was an alcoholic who had consumed much more than his usual two glasses of absinthe in the morning was either overlooked or ignored; the murders were blamed solely on absinthe. The murders were the last straw, and a petition to ban absinthe in Switzerland was signed by more than 82,000 people. The prohibition of absinthe was then written into the Swiss constitution in 1907.

In 1906, Belgium and Brazil banned the sale and distribution of absinthe, although they were not the first. Absinthe had been banned as early as 1898 in the colony of the Congo Free State. The Netherlands banned absinthe in 1909; Switzerland in 1910; the United States in 1912, and France in 1914.

The prohibition of absinthe in France led to increased popularity of pastis (and of ouzo, to a lesser extent), anise-flavoured spirits that do not contain wormwood. The Pernod brand resumed production at the Banus distillery in Catalonia, Spain, where absinthe was still legal, but slow sales in the 1960s eventually caused them to shut it down. In Switzerland, the ban drove absinthe underground. Clandestine home distillers produced absinthe, focusing on la Bleue, which was easier to conceal from the authorities. Many countries never banned absinthe, notably Britain, where it had not been as popular as in continental Europe.

Modern revival
In the 1990s an importer, BBH Spirits, realized that there was no UK law prohibiting the sale of absinthe, as it had never been banned there. They began to import Hill’s Absinth (not a true Absinthe) from the Czech Republic, which encouraged a modern resurgence in absinthe’s popularity. Absinthe had also never been banned in other European countries where it was never popular. As a result, it is in these countries where absinthe first began to reappear during the revival in the 1990s. These absinthes—mostly Czech, Spanish, and Portuguese brands—are generally of recent origin, typically consist of Bohemian-style products, and are therefore considered by absinthe connoisseurs to be of inferior quality.

La Fée Absinthe, released in 2000, was the first brand labelled absinthe distilled and bottled in France since the 1914 ban, initially for export from France, but now one of roughly 50 French-produced absinthes available in France. French absinthes now must be labelled as boissons spiritueuse aux plantes d’absinthe to be sold within that country per the most recent guidelines. Absinthes produced in other countries must be relabelled to meet these same guidelines to be legally imported and sold within France.

Absinthe has a deep history in the Northern Catalan region encompassing Barcelona, Tarragona, Lleida, and a section of the Pyrenees mountains. While the drink was never officially banned in Spain, it fell out of favour from the early 1940s to present day. Since 2007 it has enjoyed a significant resurgence in the region and has at least one major export brand.

Australia and New Zealand
Absinthe has never been illegal to import or manufacture in Australia. Importation requires a permit under the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulation 1956 due to a restriction on importing any product containing oil of wormwood. In 2000 there was an amendment by Foods Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) as part of a new consolidation of the Food Code across Australia and New Zealand. This made all wormwood species prohibited herbs for food purposes under Food Standard 1.4.4. Prohibited and Restricted Plants and Fungi, however it was found to be inconsistent with other parts of the pre-existing Food Code. The proposed amendment was withdrawn in 2002 during the transition between the two Codes, thereby continuing to allow absinthe manufacture and importation through the existing permit-based system. These events were erroneously reported by the media as Australia having reclassified it from a prohibited product to a restricted product. There is now an Australian-produced brand of absinthe called Moulin Rooz.

In the Netherlands, restrictions on the manufacture and sale of Absinthe were successfully challenged by the Amsterdam wine seller Menno Boorsma in July 2004, making absinthe legal once again.

Belgium, as part of an effort to simplify its laws, removed its absinthe law on 1 January 2005, citing (as did the Dutch judge) European food regulations as sufficient to render the law unnecessary and in conflict with the spirit of the Single European Market.

In Switzerland, the constitutional ban on absinthe was repealed in 2000 during an overhaul of the national constitution, although the prohibition was written into ordinary law instead. Later that law was repealed, so from 1 March 2005, absinthe was again legal in its country of origin. Absinthe is now not only sold but is once again distilled in its Val-de-Travers birthplace, with Kübler and La Clandestine Absinthe among the first new brands to re-emerge.

On March 5, 2007, the French Lucid brand became the first genuine absinthe to receive a COLA (Certificate of Label Approval) for importation into the United States since 1912, following independent efforts by representatives from Lucid and Kübler to topple the long-standing U.S. ban. In December 2007, St. George Absinthe Verte, produced by St. George Spirits of Alameda, California, became the first brand of American-made absinthe produced in the United States since the ban. Since that time, other micro-distilleries have started making small batches of high-quality absinthe in the U.S.


Traditionally, absinthe is prepared by placing a sugar cube on top of a specially designed slotted spoon and then placing the spoon on the glass which has been filled with a shot of absinthe. Ice-cold water is then poured or dripped over the sugar cube so that the water is slowly and evenly displaced into the absinthe, typically 1 part absinthe and 3 to 5 parts water. During this process, components not soluble in water (mainly those from anise, fennel, and star anise) come out of solution and cloud the drink. The resulting milky opalescence is called the louche (Fr. “opaque” or “shady”, IPA [luʃ]). Releasing these components allows herbal aromas and flavours to “blossom” or “bloom” and brings out subtleties originally over-powered by the anise. This is often referred to as “The French Method.”

Preparing absinthe the traditional way. Note that no burning is used

“The Bohemian Method” is an alternative that is popular primarily due to the use of fire. Like the French method, a sugar cube is placed on a slotted spoon over a glass containing one shot of absinthe. The difference is that the sugar is pre-soaked in alcohol, usually more absinthe, and then set ablaze. The flaming sugar cube is then dropped into the glass igniting the absinthe. Finally, a shot glass full of water is added to douse the flames. This method tends to produce a stronger drink than the French method. A variant of “The Bohemian Method” is to allow the fire to burn itself out. This variant, called “Cooking the Absinthe” or “Flaming Green Fairy,” removes much but not all of the alcohol.

Originally a waiter would serve a dose of absinthe, ice water in a carafe, and sugar separately, and the drinker would prepare it to his preference With increased popularity, the absinthe fountain, a large jar of ice water on a base with spigots, came into use. It allowed a number of drinks to be prepared at once, and with a hands-free drip, patrons were able to socialize while louching a glass.

Although many bars served absinthe in standard glasses, a number of glasses were specifically made for absinthe. These had a dose line, bulge, or bubble in the lower portion denoting how much absinthe should be poured in. One “dose” of absinthe is around 1 ounce (30 ml), and most glasses used this as the standard, with some drinkers using as much as 1½ ounces (45 ml).

In addition to being drunk with water poured over sugar, absinthe was a common cocktail ingredient in both the United Kingdom and the United States, and continues to be a popular ingredient today. One of the most famous of these is Ernest Hemingway’s “Death in the Afternoon” cocktail, a concoction he contributed to a 1935 collection of celebrity recipes. His directions are as follows: “Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”


Currently, most countries have no legal definition of absinthe, although spirits such as Scotch whisky, brandy, and gin generally have such a definition. Manufacturers can label a product “absinthe” or “absinth” without regard to any legal definition or minimum standard. Producers of legitimate absinthes use one of two processes to create the finished spirit: either distillation, or cold mixing. In the few countries which have a legal definition of absinthe, distillation is the sole permitted process. An online description of the distillation process (in French) is available.

Fennel, one of the three main herbs used in production of absinthe

Distilled absinthe
Distilled absinthe is produced in a form similar to high quality gin. The botanicals are macerated in the already distilled alcohol before being redistilled one or more times with the herbal ingredients to impart complexity and texture to the beverage. The distillation of absinthe first produces a colourless distillate that leaves the alembic at around 72 percent ABV (144 proof). The distillate can be bottled clear, to produce a Blanche or la Bleue absinthe, or it can be coloured using artificial or natural colouring. Traditional absinthes take their green colour from chlorophyll, which is present in some of the herbal ingredients during the secondary maceration.

The natural colouring process is considered critical for absinthe ageing, since the chlorophyll remains chemically active. The chlorophyll plays the same role in absinthe that tannins do in wine or brown liquors.

This is done by steeping petite wormwood, hyssop, and melissa (among other herbs) in the liquid. Chlorophyll from these herbs is extracted giving the drink its famous green colour. This process also provides the herbal complexity that is typical of high quality absinthe. This type of absinthe is known as a verte. After the colouring process, the resulting product is diluted with water to the desired percentage of alcohol. Historically, most absinthes contain between 50 and 75 percent alcohol by volume (100 to 150 proof). It is said to improve materially with storage, and many pre-ban distilleries aged their absinthe in neutral barrels before bottling.

Cold mixed
Many modern absinthes are produced using the cold mix system. This process is forbidden in countries with formal legal designations of absinthe. The beverage is manufactured by mixing flavouring essences and artificial colouring in high-proof alcohol, and is similar to a flavoured vodka or “absinthe schnapps”. Some modern Franco–Suisse absinthes are bottled at up to 82.3 percent alcohol[49] and some modern bohemian-style absinthes contain up to 89.9 percent. Because of the lack of a formal legal definition of absinthe in most countries, many of these lesser brands claim their products to be “distilled” (since the alcohol base itself was created through distillation) and sell them at prices comparable to more authentic absinthes that are distilled directly from whole herbs.

Absinthe is traditionally prepared from a distillation of neutral alcohol, various herbs, and water. Traditional absinthes were redistilled from a white grape spirit (or eau de vie), while lesser absinthes were more commonly made from alcohol from grain, beets, or potatoes. The principal botanicals are grande wormwood, green anise, and florence fennel, which are often called “the holy trinity.” Many other herbs may be used as well, such as petite wormwood (Artemisia pontica or Roman wormwood), hyssop, melissa, star anise, angelica, sweet flag, dittany, coriander, veronica, juniper, and nutmeg.

Alternative colouring
Absinthe can also be naturally coloured red using hibiscus flowers. This is called a rouge or rose absinthe. As of now, only one historical rouge brand has been discovered.

The interest in absinthe has spawned a rash of “absinthe kits”, which are claimed to produce homemade absinthe (not to be confused with hausgemacht absinthe, despite “hausgemacht” translating as “homemade” in German). Kits often call for soaking herbs in vodka or alcohol or adding a liquid concentrate to the same to create an ersatz absinthe. Such practices usually yield a harsh substance that bears little resemblance to the genuine article, and are considered to be inauthentic by any practical standard. Some concoctions may even be dangerous, especially if they call for supplementation with potentially poisonous herbs, oils and/or extracts. One case has been described in which a person suffered acute renal failure after drinking 10 ml of pure wormwood oil, a dose much higher than that found in absinthe.

Most categorical alcoholic beverages have regulations governing their classification and labelling, while those governing absinthe have always been conspicuously lacking. According to popular treatises from the 19th century, absinthe could be loosely categorized into several grades (ordinaire, demi-fine, fine, and Suisse—which does not denote origin), in order of increasing alcoholic strength and quality. Many contemporary absinthe critics simply classify absinthe as distilled or mixed, according to its production method. And while the former is generally considered far superior in quality to the latter, an absinthe simply classified as ‘distilled’ makes no guarantee as to the quality of its base ingredients or the skill of its maker.

Blanche, or la Bleue
Blanche absinthe (also referred to as la Bleue in Switzerland) is bottled directly following distillation and reduction, and is uncoloured (clear). The name la Bleue was originally a term used for bootleg Swiss absinthe, but has become a popular term for post-ban-style Swiss absinthe in general.

Verte (“green” in French) absinthe begins as a blanche. The blanche is altered by the “colouring step,” by which a new mixture of herbs is placed into the clear distillate. This confers a peridot green hue and an intense flavour. Vertes are the type of absinthe that was most commonly drunk in the 19th century. Artificially coloured green absinthe is also called “verte,” though it lacks the herbal characteristics.

Absenta (“absinthe” in Spanish) is a regional variation and differs slightly from its French cousin. Absentas are sweeter due to their use of Alicante anise, and contain a characteristic citrus flavour.

Hausgemacht absinthe
Hausgemacht (German for home-made, often abbreviated as HG) is a type of absinthe that is home-distilled by hobbyists. It is often called clandestine absinthe. It should not be confused with the Clandestine brand, nor should it be confused with absinthe kits. Produced mainly in small quantities for personal use and not for sale, hausgemacht absinthe enables experienced distillers to select the herbs personally and to fine-tune each batch. Clandestine production increased after absinthe was banned, when small producers went underground, most notably in Switzerland. Although the Swiss had produced both vertes and blanches before the ban, clear absinthe (also known as la Bleue) became more popular after the ban because it was easier to hide. Although the ban has been lifted, many clandestine distillers have not made themselves legal. Authorities believe that high taxes on alcohol and the mystique of being underground are likely the reason for this. Those hausgemacht distillers who have become legal often place the word clandestine on their labels.

Bohemian-style absinthe
Bohemian-style absinthe (also called Czech-style absinthe, anise-free absinthe, or just “absinth” (without the “e”)) is best described as a wormwood bitters. It is produced mainly in the Czech Republic, from which it gets its designations as “Bohemian” or “Czech,” although not all absinthe from the Czech Republic is Bohemian-style. It contains little or none of the anise, fennel, and other herbs that are found in traditional absinthe and bears very little resemblance to historically produced absinthes. Typical Bohemian-style absinth has only two similarities with its authentic, traditional counterpart: it contains wormwood and has a high alcohol content. In the 1990s Czech Absinth producers introduced the method of lighting the sugar cube on fire. This type of absinth and the associated “fire ritual” are modern creations and have little to no relationship with the historical absinthe tradition.

Absinthe that is artificially coloured or clear is relatively stable and can be bottled in a clear container. If naturally coloured absinthe is exposed to light, the chlorophyll breaks down, changing the colour from emerald green to yellow green to brown. Pre-ban and vintage absinthes are often of a distinct amber colour as a result of this process. Though this colour is considered a mark of maturity in vintage absinthes, it is regarded as undesirable in contemporary absinthe. Due to this fragility, naturally coloured absinthe is typically bottled in dark UV resistant wine bottles Absinthe should be stored in a cool, room temperature, dry place away from light and heat. It should also be kept out of the refrigerator and freezer as anethole can crystallize inside the bottle, creating a “scum” in the bottle which may or may not dissolve back into solution as the bottle warms.

Source : wikipedia