Absinthe 1790s - 1860s
Jean Béraud Public domain,Wikimedia Commons
Artemisia absinthium (aka grand wormwood) is a herb that grows wild in Switzerland and France and has been used medicinally for thousands of years because of its acclaimed virtues as a digestive aid and nerve tonic.
Henri-Louis Pernod and Henri Dubied opened the first commercial absinthe distillery in Couvet, Switzerland, near the French border in 1797. They relocated to Pontarlier, France, in 1805, whereupon the Pernod Fils distillery became the world’s largest producer of absinthe and would retain that position until it was disbanded following the French absinthe ban in 1915.
During the French conquest of Algeria (1830–1847), soldiers were issued rations of absinthe because it was believed to prevent malaria and other diseases associated with unclean water. French soldiers returning from their service carried their taste for absinthe home with them, and absinthe soon became the fashionable drink of cafés that catered to the bourgeoisie.
Photo by Eddideigel CC BY-SA 3.0 from
Public Domain photo of Pernod Fils factory
Absinthe 1860s - Present
Beginning in the 1860s, the insect responsible for phylloxera began ravaging the vineyards of continental Europe. The plague particularly affected France and was commonly referred to as the Great French Wine Blight. France even offered a cash prize to anyone who could cure the blight. Three botanists were called in to find a solution. In the meantime, however, the grape harvest declined and the price of wine rose accordingly. It was during this time that the popularity of absinthe increased, becoming the preferred tipple of the common people. The increased demand saw yearly increases in production, the price was lowered, and absinthe emerged as a nationally fashionable drink and object of global commerce.
Nearly thirty years would pass before the wine industry recovered from the widespread blight, but the masses were now hooked on absinthe. Famous artists, poets, and writers praised the virtues of the green spirit and even nicknamed it La Fée Verte (the Green Fairy). Its popularity had crossed oceans by this point—a bar on Bourbon Street in New Orleans was opened in 1874 that would become the Old Absinthe House. One can still visit this bar and view the original built-in absinthe fountains on the back bar.
So why (starting in the 1900s) was absinthe beginning to be banned worldwide? Because the wine industry promoted the notion that absinthe was a poison, aiming to specifically demonize grand wormwood, in attempts to recover its lost market share. Both the wine industry and the temperance movement capitalized upon the cheap, adulterated versions of the drink imbibed by poor alcoholics in an effort to smear the entire category. This attack was promoted by a well-funded publicity campaign that advertised absinthe as a source of moral corruption and the ruin of modern society.
In America, absinthe was banned from 1912 to 2007, which created an unfilled void when it came to classic cocktails that called for the spirit. After unraveling almost a century’s worth of falsehoods and myths, New Orleans native and chemist Ted A. Breaux and Viridian Spirits, LLC, obtained approval to introduce Lucid Absinthe Supérieure as the first genuine absinthe sold in the American market in ninety-five years.
Top Things to Know about Absinthe
“Absinthe” is a French word that means “wormwood.” Wormwood is a herb that can have convulsive properties if used to excess.
Absinthe is pronounced AB-sent.
Pernod (purr-NO) was the very first commercial absinthe.
Absinthe does not make you hallucinate.
Green Fairy is a nickname for absinthe.
La fée verte is French for Green Fairy.
Absinthe was banned in America in 1912.
New Orleans native, chemist, and absinthe historian Ted A. Breaux and Viridian Spirits, LLC, are responsible for bringing absinthe back to America in March 2007. They spent $500,000 to get the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to drop the American ban on absinthe. Every other American absinthe after this rode on the coat tails of their hard work and money spent.
Historic partaking of absinthe does not include setting anything on fire.
The real reason absinthe was banned is because the wine industry wanted their business back.
Absinthe should never be bright green and should always be in a dark bottle to protect the oils from light. Many companies tried to make a quick dollar by making a low proof fake colored spirit.
Popular absinthe cocktails
The Absinthe Drip
In the first hundred years of absinthe’s existence, it was drunk as an Absinthe Drip. An Absinthe Drip requires six things: absinthe, a glass, a slotted absinthe spoon, a sugar cube, an absinthe fountain, and ice-cold water.
1 ounce absinthe
5 ounces ice water
1 sugar cube
Instructions: First, take the glass of your choice and add six ounces of water so you can eyeball how high you’ll need to drip the water. Pour out the water and dry the glass. Next, fill an absinthe fountain with ice and water. Now pour the absinthe into the glass, set a slotted absinthe spoon across the rim, then place the sugar cube on top. Position this setup under the spigot of the absinthe fountain and then slowly drip water over the sugar cube until it melts and you have reached the six-ounce level. Stir and enjoy.
As the water mixes with the oil in the absinthe, it will turn cloudy. There are all kinds of absinthe glasses, spoons, fountains, and more that you can purchase. It all depends on how far you want to take your absinthe drip experience.
Death in the Afternoon
It is said that in Spain, Ernest Hemingway invented this cocktail while writing his nonfiction bullfighting book of the same name. One thing is for sure—it is lethal.
In a chilled champagne glass add:
1 ounce absinthe
5 ounces chilled champagne
This cocktail was invented at the oldest bar in New Orleans, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop.
Chill a cocktail glass, and then in a mixing glass add the following:
.25 ounce absinthe
2 ounces gin
.25 ounce dry vermouth
Add ice, then stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Believed to be invented at the Old Absinthe House in New Orleans.
Chill a cocktail glass, then pour the following ingredients into a blender:
1.5 ounces absinthe
.5 ounce orgeat syrup
.5 ounce heavy cream
1 egg white
Blend for five to ten seconds, then pour into a chilled cocktail glass.
Absinthe Bloody Mary
This absinthe drink may sound odd, but the herbs in the absinthe actually go well with the herbs and spices in the Bloody Mary mix.
Pour the following ingredients into a tall 12-ounce glass:
1.5 ounces absinthe
5 ounces Bloody Mary mix
Add ice, stir, then garnish as you choose.
Photo of grape phylloxera on Flickr by Judy Gallagher (CC BY 2.0)
Photo by T.A. Breaux in 2014 at the Combier Distillery in Saumur, France, cleaning an antique absinthe still, following a distillation of Jade absinthe.
Photo by James Joel on Flickr / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Photo by Brian Huff /2014 Absinthe drip fountain at the Bourbon O Bar on Bourbon Street.
The Wormwood Society is a non-profit association focused on providing current, historically and scientifically accurate information about absinthe, helping to reform the regulations impacting absinthe in the United States and encouraging the responsible enjoyment of a safe, rewarding and historically interesting beverage.
Jade Liqueurs® was founded in 2000 by T.A. Breaux, a professional scientist who has dedicated almost two decades of research toward resolving the mysteries and myths associated with absinthe.
Absinthe In Film
1932 Grand Hotel
Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, and John Barrymore order and drink absinthe at a Berlin bar. In the Grand Hotel, a man tries to get Joan Crawford to order a Louisiana Flip, but she orders absinthe.
1940 Bank Dick
W. C. Fields sits at a bar and orders several drinks, but one you can hear and see clearly is absinthe.
1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Absinthe is seen and the film’s opening line is, “Absinthe is the aphrodisiac of the soul. The green fairy who lives in the absinthe wants your soul, but you are safe with me.”
1994 Interview with a Vampire
Brad Pitt is seen drinking absinthe, and then absinthe is mentioned another time.
1995 Total Eclipse
The film’s opening scene shows a waiter serving a glass of absinthe, and then Leonardo DiCaprio disrupts a speech about absinthe. Later it shows DiCaprio drinking absinthe.
2001 From Hell
While taking a bath in a claw-foot tub, Johnny Depp makes himself a poisoned absinthe.
This is when everyone started thinking that absinthe should be set on fire. This was never the traditional way of drinking absinthe, but media is powerful.
2001 Moulin Rouge
Moulin Rouge is a 1890s Paris nightclub, so lots of drinking is seen. Absinthe is drunk and an absinthe fairy flies around at different times in the film.
Susan Sarandon pulls out a bottle of illegal absinthe she smuggled and makes two Absinthe Drips for herself and Jude Law.
2004 Euro Trip
Absinthe is drunk in a club by the main characters.
2009 Dorian Gray
Ben Barnes sits for a portrait painting with a glass of absinthe next to him.
2013 The Immigrant
Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard drink absinthe.
2017 Girl's Trip
Absinthe is drunk in New Orleans.
Absinthe In Books
1927 “Hills Like Elephants,” Ernest Hemingway
A line in the story reads, “Yes,” said the girl. “Everything tastes like licorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe.”
1950 The Second Seal, Dennis Wheatley
“There he went up to his room, sat on his bed for a while, then rang for the waiter and ordered a double Absinthe. When it arrived, he added sugar and water and slowly drank the opal fluid.”
2003 The Second Glass of Absinthe, Michelle Black
The author talks about an absinthe hallucination.
2007 Rebel Angels, Libba Bray
The character Gemma Doyle drinks absinthe with her friends at a Christmas Ball.