Everyone has heard of the magical mythical drink, Absinthe – the drink thought to be hallucinogenic, the Green Fairy that may make you see fairies, the anise flavored herbal spirit popular in Bohemian Montmartre. But, not many people can answer the question “What is Absinthe made of?”. They may say wormwood but not many will be able to expand on that!
So, what is Absinthe made of?
Well, Absinthe was created by the legendary Dr Pierre Ordinaire in Switzerland in the late 18th century as an elixir for his patients. Henri-Louis Pernod started selling Absinthe commercially at the turn of the 19th century and used a wine base and macerated herbs including common wormwood (artemisia absinthium), fennel, green aniseed, hyssop, angelica root, lemon balm, dittany, star anise, nutmeg, veronica and juniper to flavor and color the alcohol.
Other herbs used in Absinthe production include: calamus root, mint, cloves, sweet flag, licorice, caraway seeds, coriander seeds and roman wormwood (artemisia pontica) also known as petite wormwood. Claude-Alain Bugnon, the famous bootlegger who now distills Absinthe in Switzerland, also flavors his La Clandestine Absinthe with local Alpine herbs which give his Absinthe a taste of honey and a bouquet of Alpine meadows.
It is the essential oils of the herbs in Absinthe which cause the Absinthe to louche when water is added. The oils are soluble in alcohol but not in water and so precipitate when the water is added making the drink turn cloudy or milky. If your Absinthe does not louche then it may not be a real Absinthe or a quality Absinthe rich in essential oils.
AbsintheKit.com, who make distilled Absinthe essences for people to make real Absinthe at home, use classic Absinthe herbs to flavor their essences. This means that Absinthe made from their essences will taste just right and will also louche beautifully.
Some Czech Absinth does not contain anise or aniseed and is really just a type of wormwood bitters. Make sure that you buy real anise and wormwood Absinthe to experience the true classic flavor.
The common wormwood plant is the most famous Absinthe ingredient, the ingredient which gives Absinthe its slightly bitter taste and the ingredient which caused Absinthe to be banned in many countries in the early 1900s. Originally used since ancient times as a medicine, it became labeled as a psychoactive neurotoxin which cause psychedelic effects such as hallucinations, convulsion and spasms. Wormwood oil contains a chemical called thujon or thujone which was compared to THC in cannabis. Absinthe was thought to contain vast amounts of thujone and to be responsible for driving people to insanity and even to death.
However, recent studies and tests have shown that vintage Absinthe actually only contained small amounts of thujone, nowhere near enough to be at all harmful. EU and US laws only allow Absinthe with small amounts of thujone to be bought and sold so Absinthe is perfectly safe to consume and enjoy.
Absinthe is a spirit or liquor not a liqueur as it does not have added sugar. It is a high proof alcoholic beverage but is usually served diluted with iced water and sugar. Although it is safe to consume, you must remember that it a very strong spirit and will quickly get you drunk especially if you mix it with other spirits in cocktails!
So, the answer to the question “What is Absinthe made of?” is easily answered – alcohol and a blend of herbs.