Happy Absinthe Day! 10 years ago today, absinthe was re-legalized in the United States after being banned for nearly 100 years. Less than a week removed from my History of Liquor course at Brookdale, I feel inclined to mention how needless the ban was in the first place. How hysteria, propaganda, and ignorance led to the banning of a substance no more dangerous than any other spirit if not abused. Gee, where have we seen that notion throughout history?
There has not been another liquor ever made which caused such a stir. Opponents claimed hallucinations (due to the wormwood), insanity, madness, and overly violent tendencies of all who imbibed the “Green Fairy”. Writers and artists who relied on it for creativity claimed it relaxed the drinker and sparked the mind. What we do know is, the worldwide banning was most likely not about what they were drinking but who was doing the drinking. Absinthe was generally enjoyed by the Bohemian sects of society. The artists. The creatives. The non-conformers. Banning their go-to drink was a way of targeting something society did not understand.
Is absinthe dangerous? It’s no better or worse than any other alcohol. If you drink anything to excess, you will do damage to your body in the long-term, or get drunk and undergo a personality change in the short. The amount of thujones (the hallucinatory component found in wormwood) likely was never high enough to cause the madness and insanity the propaganda claimed. And if you drink absinthe properly, with the right amount of water, it contains the same alcohol-by-volume as a glass of wine.
I own two bottles: French-made Lucid (which has one of the more sleek bottles you will ever see) and Philadephia’s own Vieux Carre (the same distillers behind Bluecoat Gin). Since these are the only two I’ve ever tried, I cannot exactly run the gamut with comparisons, but I like them both. Lucid is a bit more smooth, while the other seems to have more earthiness. I’m happy to report neither of the two have caused hallucinations or insanity.
Anyway, pour yourself some absinthe today and sit back and relax. I always tell my students that this is one of those drinks where you can literally taste history. It’s not my favorite thing in the world. I drink it only sporadically, but enjoy it nonetheless. Perhaps I and others are drawn to its mystique and the forbidden nature of its consumption more than the flavor itself. There’s nothing wrong with that.