Absinthe. Just hearing or reading the word intrigues you. Hearing people talk about the illegal liquor always catches my attention. Why is it that so many people are fascinated with this liquor they know so little about?
My first encounter with absinthe was when I returned home for Thanksgiving Break my freshman year. My high school friends and I grabbed some beers and went to the beach for a bonfire. We casually drank and told stories about how awesome college was, when suddenly Julie busted out a bottle of absinthe.
“It’s illegal,” she proclaimed. “I brought it back from Israel.” We all moved in closer to the bottle as the fire caused it to radiate an emerald aura. I knew I had seen this stuff in movies and it was supposed to make you hallucinate and see green fairies. I immediately volunteered to try it first. Trying to impress my friends, I said, “This is how we drink in Santa Barbara,” and began chugging. To this day, I don’t actually remember how much I drank, but it must have been about five or six shots. This was far from the vodka handle pulls I have grown accustomed to at Isla Vista parties. This was a handle pull from 180-proof – that’s 90 percent alcohol – absinthe, and it tasted like a combination of black licorice and death. My throat instantly begged for a chaser. I chugged an entire beer and still could barely breathe. I drank a few bottles of water and blacked out.
The next morning I received calls from my friends asking if I hallucinated. I unfortunately would not know if I had seen any green fairies because the alcohol got to me before the wormwood. You see, there is this chemical believed to make you hallucinate called thujone, which is found in wormwood. Wormwood is used to make absinthe – hence people say you will hallucinate. Still mystified and determined to hallucinate, I tried again a couple years later.
Two of my best buds from high school came up to visit one weekend and brought a bottle of absinthe. This French bottle was 160-proof and contained wormwood. We researched for hours on various websites how to properly consume this green elixir. The proper way to drink absinthe, we found out, involves the use of sugar cubes, a special glass and a special slotted spoon. Of course, we had none of these items, so we had to MacGyver them. We ran to I.V. Market and got some sugar cubes, a shot glass and plastic spoons. We returned and started preparing our spoons to make them “slotted.” We drilled holes in the spoons – although a sharp pen will do the trick, too. We poured a shot of absinthe into each of our glasses and then placed the slotted spoon on top. Next, a sugar cube was placed on each of the spoons. We slowly poured cold water over the sugar cube until it disappeared into the mixture below. Our rocks glasses were now full with a mixture of about four parts of sugar water and one part absinthe. This dilution was supposed to be enough to hallucinate without getting too drunk. It was based off a ritual preparation, which causes the flavors in the absinthe to blossom and the color to turn milky and opaque.
We drank about four glasses of this nasty concoction and didn’t feel anything. Disappointed, we skipped the sugar water and started taking straight shots of absinthe. After the bottle was gone, we sat around, drunkenly waiting for green fairies. Nothing happened.
I decided to write this article not to deter you from trying absinthe, but merely to enlighten you that it’s nothing more than green moonshine. The reason absinthe has such a reputation is because thujone was believed to be similar to THC – known to cause mild hallucinations. Also, cheaper absinthe used to be made with copper, zinc, methanol and fusel alcohol, which may have caused hallucinations or harmful effects. In addition, many tests conducted in the early 20th century comparing the effects of thujone against alcohol showed thujone often caused more harmful effects – including muscle spasms and convulsions. But these tests were conducted with dramatically higher levels of thujone than are found in absinthe. For these reasons, there is much controversy and hype over absinthe.
Next time you are presented with the opportunity to try absinthe, definitely go for it. Just be careful not to be swindled into paying ridiculous prices in hopes of trying some magical booze. It’s the perfect drink if you like the taste of black licorice and enjoy blacking out.