The lore of absinthe is burnished as much by the bohemian lifestyle associated with its consumption as the effect of the liquor itself. Although the reputation of its negative effects were likely greatly exaggerated (or perhaps due to poorly distilled products), the romance of absinthe continued to intrigue long after it was banned at the turn of the last century.
Nearly a century later, absinthe has reappeared on the bar shelf. After so many intervening years it is no wonder that the rituals of imbibing the celebrated “green fairy” should take on so much importance. Although there are several methods for enjoying absinthe the most authentic is the Parisian method known as La Louche.
The Louche method requires ice water, sugar cubes, and specially designed slotted absinthe spoons. The sugar cube is placed on the spoon which is balanced on the rim of the glass containing the neat spirit. The chilled water is then slowly allowed to drip onto the sugar cube, through the spoon, and into the liquor beneath. This process changes the absinthe in several important ways. First of all it dilutes the spirit, which is produced at a very high percentage of alcohol. The water also oxidizes the absinthe, thereby releasing its essential oils and allowing the drinker to appreciate aromatic character of the liquor (and perhaps heightening the effect of the infamous wormwood artemesia). Finally, the addition of sugar mellows the intensely herbal character of neat absinthe, rendering it more palatable.
The aesthetic transformation that occurs during the Louche method is an equally celebrated component of the ritual. As the water is slowly added to the absinthe, the oxidation process transforms the liquid from a clear peridot color to an cloudy opalescent green. Many romantics associate this literal transformation with the more subjective transformation of a drinker’s state of mind as the green fairy takes effect. Although these flights of fancy are somewhat muted by the significantly lower amounts of wormwood present in modern absinthe, the drama of the Louche preparation proves as compelling today as in years past.