What is Absinthe?
Absinthe is a strong herbal liqueur which is distilled with a great number of flavorful herbs including anise, often partially substituted with star anise, veronica, fennel, lemon balm, angelica, licorice, hyssop, Florence Melissa, and Roman wormwood (Artemisia Pontiac). In its modern version a subtle flavor of anise and/or licorice tends to predominate as well as light bitter undertones. Various recipes also include angelica root, sweet flag, dittany leaves, coriander, and other mountain herbs.
Absinthe usually has a pale-green color that gave it its original nickname of "The Green Fairy" and, among their ingredients; it has been the wormwood which gained the most notoriety throughout all times. Wormwood, or Artemisia absinthum, is an herb that grows wild in Europe and has been cultivated in the United States as well. Much of the liquor's legendary effect is due to its extremely high alcohol content, ranging from 50 percent to 75 percent but usually around 60 percent in average, in addition to the various herbs on its preparation.
A simple maceration of wormwood without the corresponding distillation produces an extremely bitter drink due to the presence of the water-soluble absinthine, which is one of the bitterest substances known. Authentic Absinthe recipes remark the importance of distillation after the primary maceration and before the secondary called "coloring maceration". The distillation of anise, Florence fennel and wormwood, produces a colorless "alcoholate" which leaves the alembic at around 82 percent alcohol and, added to this, the well known green color of the beverage is imparted by steeping roman wormwood, Melissa and hyssop in the liquid.
After finished this process, the resulting product is reduced with water to the desired percentage of alcohol, leaving it usually high. Inferior varieties of Absinthe are made by means of essences or oils cold-mixed in alcohol where the distillation process is omitted. In all cases the alcohol content is extremely high, not less than 45 percent and up to 85 percent in some Absinthes, however there is no historical evidence that any commercial Absinthe in older times was higher than 74 percent, given the low solubility of many of the herbal components in alcohol.
When it comes to Absinthe preferences, it is not drunk "straight," but usually consumed after a fairly elaborate ritual in which a specially designed, slotted spoon with a sugar cube inside its bowl is placed over a glass, then water is poured over the sugar until the drink is diluted in a ratio of 3:1 to 5:1. During the Absinthe ritual, the components that are not soluble in water come out of the solution and cloud the drink giving the drink that milky opalescence that has always been called the "louche".
Historically, we can speak about four different varieties of Absinthe: ordinaire, demi-fine, fine, and supérieures also know as "Swiss", the latter of which was of a higher alcoholic strength than the original. Absinthe can be colored green, which is done to add flavors or it can be left clear. Experts say that the best Absinthes contain around 60 percent to 74 percent alcohol.
Also it is said to improve very materially by storage and it has been confirmed that in the 19th century Absinthe, like much food and drink of the time, was occasionally adulterated by profiteers with copper, zinc, indigo, or any other dye-stuffs to impart the green color instead, because the process was never done by the best distilleries.
Nowadays, the dazzling green color depends on the brand and it usually comes from the chlorophyll content of the herbs used in the distillation process; however, some disreputable manufacturers added toxic chemicals to produce both the green color and the louche effect, also called "clouding", but in reputable brands this effect is caused by the precipitation of the essential oils of the herbs.