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How to Drink Absinthe
Select a quality bottle of absinthe
Absinthe is made using many different methods and ingredients. There are several standards that help one to determine if a particular brand of absinthe is authentic and of high quality. It is also possible to make absinthe, although this is dangerous and not recommended. Different brands of absinthe will contain anywhere from negligible amounts of thujone up to about 35 mg/kg thujone. See the Tips below for more about the role of thujone in absinthe. International standards require that alcoholic beverages that contain greater than 25 percent alcohol by volume contain no more than 10 mg/kg thujone, while bitter spirits may contain up to 35 mg/kg thujone. If an absinthe is labeled as a bitter, it will probably contain 10 to 35 mg/kg thujone. Thujone is illegal as a food additive in the United States, but authentic absinthe containing negligible amounts of thujone can be legally sold. Vintage bottles of pre-ban absinthe can be obtained, and it is reputed that some of the lesser quality versions contained inordinately high levels of thujone and harmful adulterants such as copper salts, aniline dye and antimony trichloride. These circumstances may have led to absinthe's poor reputation.
Be aware that quality absinthe should show the louche effect
It is desirable for absinthe to gradually demonstrate increasing turbidity (opaqueness) or turn partially translucent as ice water is gradually added to it. This is known as the louche effect. The louched color should demonstrate complexity as well as nuance, and the absinthe should not turn opaque rapidly. However, it must be noted that not all quality absinthe will turn opaque, as the louche effect is primarily produced by the herbs anise and fennel. Absinthe typically tastes like licorice due to the addition of such herbs. The louche effect is produced by the precipitation of the herbal essential oils.
Select absinthe that is made from natural, whole herbal ingredients
The finest absinthe is made with whole, natural herbs and does not contain any artificial ingredients such as artificial colors and flavors. The herbs are merely ground up so that they can be efficiently used during the distillation and extraction processes. The pale-green color of typical high-quality absinthe is imparted by the chlorophyll that is extracted from whole, natural herbs. Absinthe that is bright green may be artificially colored. However, not all quality absinthe has a green color. Quality absinthe may also be clear, orange, or red, but the color should be imparted by natural herbal ingredients such as petite wormwood. Vintage absinthe may have an amber color, as the chlorophyll will have faded over time. If you're lucky enough to obtain a bottle of vintage absinthe, consider opening the bottle with a food scientist in order to ensure that the spirit is indeed safe to drink.
Select absinthe that has a high alcohol content
The best tasting absinthe falls into the range of 45-68 percent alcohol by volume. Absinthe has traditionally been about 136-proof. A very high alcohol content is not considered to be excessive because absinthe is traditionally diluted with water before drinking and it is meant to be sipped slowly over time, so as not to allow the effects of alcohol to overwhelm the subtle and pleasant effect of the herbs.
Pour about one ounce (30ml) of absinthe into a glass
There are various types of glasses that can be used, some of antique or historical design and others of more modern design. French absinthe glasses, such as reservoir pontarlier glasses, are quite suitable for the French absinthe ritual. Different styles of reservoir glasses are available, but every style will have a distinct or bulbous bottom area that indicates the amount of absinthe that is to be initially poured.
Lay a flat, perforated absinthe spoon across the rim of the glass, and place a single cube of sugar on the perforated area of the spoon
This is customary but is not necessary. The sugar is traditionally used to balance the bitter taste of the wormwood.
Drip very pure ice cold water into the absinthe from a small pitcher
This very slow and gradual addition of the water forms the heart of the absinthe ritual, and is done with or without the sugar. When using sugar, the cold water is dripped over the sugar and into the drink, causing the sugar to slowly dissolve into the absinthe. Very high quality absinthe can be expertly experienced simply with the ice cold water. Three or four ounces of water are added per ounce of absinthe. Ice cubes can be added to the pitcher of water if desired, but be sure that they don't fall into the glass of absinthe. As the water is added to the absinthe, the absinthe should gradually louche. Absinthe fountains were traditionally used to drip the ice cold water into absinthe drinks. Brouilleur devices can also be used to automatically drip the water into individual glasses. The brouilleur is placed over the glass, and water, ice cubes, or ice water (as well as sugar if desired) is added to it. The water will gradually drip through the brouilleur into the absinthe. The brouilleur is removed before drinking the prepared absinthe.
Stir the drink with the absinthe spoon after the water has been added
Two or three ice cubes can be added to the finished drink, but this practice may be frowned upon by absinthe purists.