To this day whenever anyone hears that there is absinthe in a drink, or available on its own, there’s instant curiosity. “Isn’t that illegal?” we sometimes hear. Or, “Like, real absinthe? With wormwood?” Or, “ooo, I want to try that!”
So, where does this mystique come from, and is it warranted? In this article we want to discuss precisely that.
What is Absinthe?
Before we talk about the mystique, we need to tell you what absinthe is. It’s a spirit which originated in Switzerland, and has at its heart anise, fennel, and wormwood. Those ingredients are soaked in alcohol (also known as macerating), and after the infusion it’s put into the distilling process.
The herbal oils evaporate from the water and bitter essences of the herbs and return during the cooling process. The absinthe, which is clear at this point, then goes through a second maceration and distillation with a different group of herbs, which lend the greenish tint.
Why was it banned?
In the early 1900s, due to public pressure, some rumors linked to grisly crime, sensationalization of the drink by (who else?) Oscar Wilde, etc. the drink was banned. The main reason was due to a psychoactive ingredient, thujone, which is present in absinthe. Thujone comes from wormwood and is a gamma-aminobutyric inhibitor, for those of you interested in the chemistry behind it. During the height of the absinthe craze, it was rumored that the drink made you go mad – temporarily for some, permanently for others.
Meet Artemisia absinthium, the “evil” plant responsible for the ban on absinthe
The reality is that there was never enough thujone in absinthe in order to cause hallucinations (I know, disappointing). There are two more probable culprits:
More likely than anything, any crimes or hallucinations attributed to absinthe came from the alcoholic content. Most absinthe is bottled at around 70% or more alcoholic content (upwards of 135 proof), and that’s nearly twice as strong as the vodka we bottle here at LS.