Last Call

Revealing the Secrets of Absinthe

One of my favorite parts of tending bar is clearing up misconceptions about alcohol. The biggest one has to be the old saw about beer before liquor or vice versa. (Answer: It doesn't matter, except you tend to drink faster and, therefore, drink more when you start with beer.) Right behind it is that most misunderstood spirit, absinthe. Any time someone spies our bottle of absinthe, I go through an almost ritualistic Q&A session. Yes, it's legal again, duh. Yes, it has wormwood. No, it doesn't make you hallucinate.

The history of absinthe is quite storied. It started in the late 18th century as a medicinal tonic. By the middle of the 19th century, it was prescribed to French soldiers as a malaria treatment. When the soldiers came home, they brought their taste for absinthe. For decades, it was all the rage, especially among artists and writers in the trés chic Bohemian culture.