Consumed and loved by playwrights, poets, and literary geniuses of the late 19th century, the potent potable absinthe still earns its keep in the commercial and home bars of today. Unique in both color, flavor, and process of preparation, this green, licorice-tasting spirit is yours to enjoy via the traditional drip method by way of an absinthe fountain, in the famous Sazerac cocktail, and even in a few modern craft cocktails.
Wormwood in absinthe purportedly acted as a hallucinogen, making people hostile, crazy, and turning even the most cultivated individuals into criminals. These accusations were later disproven.
Absinthe’s popularity is not without controversy, however, since it was banned across the world in the early 19th century due to the false claim that the ingredient wormwood acted as a hallucinogen, making people hostile, crazy, and turning even the most cultivated individuals into criminals. These accusations were later disproven, but in 1934 two New Orleans natives created their own version of absinthe (sans the wormwood), and named it herbsaint. Both spirits are available today, and here are four places in New Orleans where you can indulge in this delicious, age-old concoction.
1. Taste a Sazerac at Cure
Leave it up to the cocktail geniuses over at Cure on Freret Street to improve upon the classics. For their “Bonded Sazerac” they combine E.H. Taylor bonded rye whiskey (from Buffalo Trace Distillery), Nouvelle Orleans absinthe, demerara sugar (high-quality brown sugar with a toffee-like flavor) and a lemon peel. A spectacular Sazerac with a $20 price tag. Save this one for special occasions.
2. Try Something Different at Old Absinthe House
Considering absinthe is in the name of the bar, it’s fairly easy to assume that the cocktail program is geared in favor of the namesake spirit. There are many variations out there, but try their take on the Absinthe Frappe, a late 19th-century cocktail creation distinguished by its cloudy appearance. At the Absinthe House, they combine herbsaint, anisette (anise-flavored liquor) and soda water in a rocks glass over crushed ice. Simple yet powerful.
3. A Slow Drip at SoBou
If you have the time and patience, a traditional absinthe drip is a super cool way to experience the flavor depth of this spirit. At SoBou on Chartres Street in the French Quarter, they prepare a classic French Absinthe Drip, where ice water is stored in a fountain and slowly dripped over a sugar cube resting in a slotted spoon over a glass filled with roughly 1-2 ounces of absinthe. The slow drip of the icy sugar water into the absinthe causes the drink to take on a milky consistency, which the French refer to as “louche.”
4. Learn About Absinthe at SoFAB
The Southern Food and Beverage Museum on Oretha Castle Haley, also known as the SoFAB Institute, has an exhibit dedicated to the history and unique preparation of the spirit. View a private collection of beautiful absinthe fountains, spoons, and glassware while learning about the artists who adored the beverage, and how the drink made its way from France to New Orleans.
Lagniappe: Make Your Own Absinthe Cocktail at Home
“The Green Monster”
Makes 2 cocktails
- 1 oz. Absinthe or Herbsaint (I used Vieux Carré Absinthe)
- 1 oz. fresh lime juice
- ½ oz. simple syrup
- 3 ½ oz purified water
- 1 medium-sized cucumber
I adapted this cocktail recipe to feature slightly less sugar and more refreshing cucumber.
Slice a one-inch piece of cucumber and muddle it in the bottom of a highball glass. Add lime juice, simple syrup, and absinthe, then transfer the mixture to a cocktail shaker with ice cubes. Shake for a few seconds. Add the purified water and shake again, then strain over ice in the highball glass. Garnish with cubed cucumber. Immediately sip through a straw and feel the summer heat (and all your cares) melt away.