Absinthe Minded – Blame the Green Fairy

Bohemian writers and artists sipped absinthe in search of inspiration. The romantic associations of “the green fairy” linger to this day.

Absinthe Minded – Blame the Green Fairy
According to the mythology, absinthe, also known as “The Green Fairy” has the power to inspire creativity and unlock writer’s block.

The blank white page. To a writer, it can be heaven and it can be hell.

If gazing at cloud formations, listening to Mozart or doing cartwheels have failed to ignite inspiration, I must confess that on occasion, I followed an edict from one of my favorite authors, Ernest Hemingway, who advised, “Write drunk; edit sober.”

Absinthe with an absinthe spoon used in the louching process.
Absinthe with an absinthe spoon used in the louching process.

Despite the expert advice, these episodes have not always fared well, as the recipients of my stream-of-semi-consciousness paragraphs can attest. Nevertheless, I’ve yet to write under the influence of absinthe, that mythical spirit and muse of the late-nineteenth century European literary crowd.

Hemingway described absinthe as “brain-warming, idea-changing liquid alchemy.” That’s quite an endorsement for overcoming writer’s block and quite an inviting temptation. Could there really be a remedy contained in a bottle?

Absinthe originated as an elixir in the small Swiss village of Couvet. The anise-flavored spirit soon became all the rage among Parisians as many bohemian writers and artists called upon the “Green Fairy” in search of inspiration. The romantic associations still linger to this day.

Traditionally, absinthe was readied for enjoyment by placing a cube of sugar on a perforated spoon above a glass of neat absinthe, and then slowly pouring chilled water from an absinthe fountain over the sugar until it dissolved. This ritual of preparing absinthe, known as la louche, dilutes the spirit and slowly transforms its color from emerald green to a lighter, opalescent shade of milky green. Louching remains an essential aspect of the true absinthe experience.

The Green Muse” by Albert Maignan
“The Green Muse” by Albert Maignan shows absinthe liberating the mind of a poet.

Absinthe contains a high level of alcohol, but what sets it apart from any other spirit is the inclusion of the herb Artemisia absinthium, grande wormwood. And, although absinthe is not a hallucinogenic, the legendary mind-altering effects of absinthe have been misleadingly attributed to thujone, the compound found in wormwood’s essential oils.

Adding water to absinthe releases these essential oils, leading many people to believe that louching enhances sensory perception, increases alertness, stimulates creativity and even counters the alcohol’s intoxicating effects.

Thujone can be toxic in excessive amounts, but according to biochemist Wilfred Arnold of the University of Kansas, “the most toxic compound in absinthe is the alcohol,” not the thujone. One would die of alcohol poisoning long before one could consume enough absinthe to get a substantial dose of thujone.

If a biochemist’s findings don’t put you at ease, fear not, as the FDA requires that any absinthe sold in the U.S. must be thujone-free (less than 10 parts per million of thujone). Interestingly, thujone is also found in herbs like sage, tarragon and oregano, but these are GRAS – generally recognized as safe by the FDA.

Absinthe was banned in America in 1912, but a loophole in the U.S. law established that drinks containing less than 10 mg of thujone per liter are legal. However, to many absinthe enthusiasts, drinking their storied absinthe without thujone is akin to clipping the Green Fairy’s wings.

In Search of the Green Fairy at Seventy7 in Culver City

Matthew Goldberg, general manager of Seventy7, prepares absinthe using the traditional la louche technique with an absinthe fountain. Photo by Todd Young.
Matthew Goldberg, general manager of Seventy7, prepares absinthe using the traditional la louche technique with an absinthe fountain. Photo by

No, you aren’t hallucinating. Singular Matthew Goldberg is bringing back l’heure verte—the “Green Hour,” a late-afternoon ritual when late-nineteenth century Parisians enjoyed a glass or two of absinthe before dinner.

The green absinthe turns milky white when mixed with ice water from the fountain. Photo by Todd Young.
The green absinthe turns milky white when mixed with ice water from the fountain. Photo by

Matthew is the General Manager of Seventy7, a speakeasy in downtown Culver City with a celebrated vintage cocktail list. One of his most popular libations is, you guessed it, the Moulin Rouge, made with Lucid Absinthe, Plymouth Gin, muddled strawberries, passion fruit puree and simple syrup; “Death in the Afternoon” made with champagne and Lucid Absinthe; and “Corpse Recover # 2” made with Beefeater gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, lemon juice and a dash of Lucid Absinthe.

Seventy7 also offers the absinthe ritual in authentic “Belle Époque” style, complete with sugar cubes, slotted spoons and ornate absinthe fountains that dispense iced water.

Patrons can choose from five brands of absinthe at this neo-classic cocktail bar. The recipes stem from traditional recipes and are distilled in the same manner with the allowable U.S. amount of wormwood.

Matthew notes that in well-made absinthe, the anise flavor is balanced with other botanicals, resulting in a taste that is considerably more complex than licorice. Premium absinthes contain green anise, which has a much more balanced and mellow flavor than the star anise oil found in lesser brands.

Regardless of how balanced the flavors are, keep in mind that absinthe is between 90 and 148 proof, so enjoy the absinthe revival in moderation.

Adds Matthew, “If you drink enough of any spirit, the possibility of hallucinating is imminent.”

Copyright © Michelle Gigon/2012 Singular Communications, LLC.

Michelle GigonMichelle Gigon is the Food, Wine & Spirits Editor for Singular magazine and the leader of SingularCity’s Girls, Guys and Grapes group. On her list of favorite things are (A) discovering memorable epicurean experiences and (B) telling people about them. A former brand agent at CAA, Michelle is also a freelance creative director on lifestyle marketing programs for Lexus, Nestlé, TV Land and Aspen Food & Wine Classic.

Singular Absinthe Party at Seventy7

Singular Absinthe Party at Seventy7Join us on Tuesday, June 5 from 8-10 pm for an Absinthe party at Seventy7  in downtown Culver City as we explore the rituals and mystery of this powerful liquor, mix, mingle and enjoy appetizers at this neo classic cocktail lounge that inspires memories of a bygone era.

Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. To purchase your ticket in advance go to:

http://singular-absinthe-party.eventbrite.com

Your ticket includes appetizers and a shot of Lucid Absinthe prepared in the traditional “la louche” fashion. This ritual of preparing absinthe, known as la louche, remains an essential aspect of the true absinthe experience.

Come see for yourself if the “Green Fairy” inspires your creativity! There will be specials on several Lucid Absinthe cocktails as well.

The Seventy7 Lounge is discretely located at 3843 Main St Culver City, CA 90232 and is next to Rocco’s Tavern. Look for the neon “cocktails” sign. Culver City public parking is available in several nearby lots.

 

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4 thoughts on “Absinthe Minded – Blame the Green Fairy

    1. Hi Michael. You’ve stirred up some memories. Chartreuse was a staple in my parents’ liquor cabinet; it’s nice to see it popping up on more cocktail lists these days. Although both Chartreuse and absinthe have a beautiful green color, the flavor profiles are distinct due to the anise in absinthe. Chartreuse has an intense floral and herbal flavor with hints of cloves, citrus, thyme, rosemary and cinnamon. Have you tried it? It’s on the cocktail menu at LACMA’s Stark Bar. Cheers!

  1. Wow! Another GREAT article Misch! One of your best! Absinthe has always been romanticized and you brought me right back to the funky, dark bohemian coffee houses where artists and poets hung out! Definitely going to go try this out!

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