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What Is Absinthe? 5 Key Facts About Absinthe Alcohol

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It’s time to answer one of the most widely considered questions in the world of cocktail drinks, cocktail ingredients, and bar business setups. That question is, what is absinthe? Absinthe is one of those liquors that has intrigued mixologists, bar patrons, and bar managers–or the bar owner–since the late 1700s when it was first made. 

In this post we cover the basics of absinthe. We cover what is absinthe and what it is used for, what it’s ABV level is, and the legality of the whole absinthe operation. By the end of this post you’ll know more about absinthe than before. You’ll be able to decide if absinthe is right for you and for your bar. Prepare for a wild ride.

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What Is Absinthe Used For?

When it comes to answering the question of “What is absinthe used for?” it’s worthwhile to answer in two parts. There is the historical first reason behind the creation of absinthe and the nowadays reason of creating delicious, powerful drinks. 

The historical use of absinthe starts out in Switzerland in 1792. The exact date varies by account–and by how much absinthe has been consumed by the storyteller. As the story goes, absinthe was created by Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor living in Couvet, Switzerland. Dr. Ordinaire crafted absinthe as an all-purpose patent remedy. 

These days absinthe may be called medicine in a joking tone but it has taken on a new purpose. Absinthe, either real absinthe with thujone or the newer, less potent variations is used primarily in cocktails. You can use the traditional method of pouring absinthe over a sugar cube if you want the old effects and remembrance. You can even sample it in some of the oldest bars in America.

What Color Is Absinthe?

Absinthe is traditionally green in color. However, it can be colorless. The green hue is caused by the addition of green anise. Beyond adding the distinctive color green anise enhances the profile of absinthe. It gives it the familiar citrus and aromatic profile indicative of classic absinthe. Colorless absinthe is still good, but green absinthe rounds out the history of the drink.

What Percent of Alcohol Is In Absinthe?

The ABV, or alcohol by volume for absinthe typically falls between 45% and 74%. It isn’t the strongest liquor or spirit, considering there are many types of vodka and rum options that are over 100%. It is the mix of ingredients alongside the high ABV that makes absinthe the potent spirit it is. That mix has captured the attention of drinkers and drink mixers for ages. 

Is Absinthe Legal?

In a general sense, absinthe is legal to purchase and drink. Selling it depends on the composition of the absinthe. The addition and percentage of thujone makes it unlawful to serve in the United States. However, there are plenty of absinthe blends that are legal to be served in U.S. bars and restaurants. 

Absinthe was originally banned in the U.S. in 1912, as well as in several European countries around the same time. In 2007 it was legalized in the U.S. with regulation in regards to the use of thujone. 

What Is Absinthe Made Of?

Absinthe is made with the process of redistilling neutral alcohol with botanicals. Those botanicals are wormwood, anise, and fennel. The wormwood is the source of thujone, which is the most potent ingredient in absinthe. Absinthe also often includes hyssop, melissa, star anise, and lemon balm. 

"Key Takeaway: It is the mix of ingredients alongside the high ABV that makes absinthe the potent spirit it is. That mix has captured the attention of drinkers and drink mixers for ages."
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Frequently Asked Questions About Absinthe

Absinthe is one of those spirits that inspires curiosity in every area of the world of mixed drinks, bars and restaurants, and drink connoisseurs. From the history of absinthe and its more famous drinkers to how to drink absinthe today there is plenty to learn. It can even be interesting if you’re a teetotaler, because the history is so rich.

Our answers to these frequently asked questions address some of the more common questions new absinthe drinkers are curious about. We also cover some of the history of absinthe. The history is as unique as the drink itself. 

What Happens If You Drink Absinthe Straight?

If you drink absinthe straight it has the potential to burn your taste buds and cause serious health problems. The alcohol content is so high and the flavor is so powerful, it all but requires distillation to make it enjoyable and safe. 

The ideal way to drink absinthe is to dilute it with water and a sugar cube. There is an art to the practice of diluting absinthe. The gist of it is to put your absinthe in a glass. Then, using an absinthe spoon or a large fork, put the sugar cube on the spoon or fork. Pour ice-cold water over the sugar cube. This mixes the sugar, water, and absinthe into an enjoyable drink.

Is Absinthe a Strong Alcohol?

Yes, absinthe is a strong alcohol. Technically classified as a spirit out of all the types of alcohol, absinthe traditionally has an ABV of 45-74%. It can get stronger depending on how you mix your absinthe cocktails. There is a reason absinthe is one of the more controlled spirits you can purchase. It should be handled with care and respect. 

Did Van Gogh Drink Absinthe?

Vincent Van Gogh was known to drink absinthe. Van Gogh drank excessively, which was no doubt a byproduct and perpetuator of his struggles with depression. Van Gogh knew absinthe was a danger for him as he drank an extreme amount of it, but he continued to drink it. 

Absinthe, especially the form of it that Van Gogh drank, is known to cause delirium and hallucinations in large quantities. It was also believed that absinthe would cause drinkers to see a yellow hue surrounding objects. It’s suggested that this is reflected in the hues Van Gogh used in many paintings, including Starry Night

What Did Oscar Wilde Say About Absinthe?

On the subject of absinthe, Oscar Wilde said:

“After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second you see them as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world. I mean disassociated. Take a top hat. You think you see it as it really is. But you don’t because you associate it with other things and ideas.

If you had never heard of one before, and suddenly saw it alone, you’d be frightened, or you’d laugh. That is the effect absinthe has, and that is why it drives men mad.”

Oscar Wilde was known to enjoy absinthe. It makes you wonder, how much of his writing was influenced by the intoxicating drink?

Why Is Absinthe Called the Green Fairy?

Absinthe was originally called the Green Fairy because of the inclusion of green anise which makes the spirit green. The nickname took shape as “la fée verte” or “the Green Fairy.” The romanticised and heightened story behind the nickname says that when you consume absinthe it causes you to hallucinate and see a green fairy. As far as the historians know, that is false.

What Is the History of Absinthe?

Absinthe originated in Switzerland in the late 18th century and became popular in the 19th century, particularly in France. It gained a reputation for its supposed psychoactive effects and association with bohemian culture.

What Is the Alcohol Content of Absinthe?

The alcohol content of absinthe can vary, but it is generally high. It typically ranges from 45% to 74% alcohol by volume (ABV). This makes absinthe one of the strongest alcoholic beverages available.

Can Absinthe Be Used in Cocktails?

Yes! Absinthe can be used in a variety of cocktails, including the classic Absinthe Frappé, Sazerac, and Corpse Reviver No. 2. It can also be used as a flavoring agent in other drinks to impart its distinctive herbal notes.

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Absinthe: Myths, Misconceptions, Mischievous Cocktails

There are plenty of rumors rolling around absinthe cocktails, serving specifications, and the history of the spirit. Overall it’s a unique spirit to serve at your bar or restaurant. 

When you have a few bottles on hand for mixing drinks, check out BinWise to manage your inventory with the new additions. BinWise Pro and the BinScan mobile app can take care of your absinthe inventory while you take care of the cocktails.

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