Here’s what to know about absinthe! This liquor has a dubious past, but it’s back in good graces and worth mixing into cocktails of all kinds.
Looking at buying a bottle of absinthe, or wondering what it is? Absinthe is one hotly contested liquor: in fact, it was illegal in the US and Europe for almost 100 years! Thankfully it’s now is now back in good graces, and there are lots of great drinks to mix up with this controversial liqueur. Is it worth buying for the amateur home mixologist? We think so. Here’s more about it, what it tastes like, and how to use this famous anise-flavored liquor!
What is absinthe?
Absinthe is a green anise-flavored spirit made from distilling alcohol with botanicals like wormwood, anise, fennel and other herbs. There are many types and styles of this liquor. If you run across a bright green bottle, it likely includes an artificial color: the natural color is a very pale green.
When was absinthe banned, and why?
Absinthe was very popular starting in the 1840s, especially in Paris where residents named it “the green fairy” (la fee verte). It was so iconic that famous artists immortalized it in their work, like the “Absinthe Drinker” by Picasso. The US banned absinthe from 1912 to 2007, because of the mistaken belief that it induced hallucinations. Don’t worry: modern science confirms absinthe is perfectly safe when consumed in moderation. Here’s more:
- Is absinthe hallucinogenic? No! But this is why it was illegal in Europe and the US for almost 100 years. It was popular in the 1840s, but started to be mistakenly associated with violent crimes. People started to believe it and had the spirit banned. Modern research confirms absinthe is no more harmful than any other alcohol.
- Why did people say it was hallucinogenic? It’s possible that cheap versions of the drink were responsible for causing issues (source). But the claim itself is bogus. Supporters of the temperance movement took it and ran with it, which caused the long-time ban.
What does absinthe taste like?
Absinthe has an herbal aroma, with a strong anise or black licorice finish. Some taste light and floral, others are darker and earthier.
Are there any substitutes? Absinthe is a unique liqueur that’s hard to replace. You can use equal amounts of other anise-flavored liqueurs, like Pernod or Pastis.
Why we like it
There’s quite like absinthe and its black licorice perfume! This iconic spirit is so full of history that it brings a strong connection to the past when you mix it into cocktails. It’s a must in any adventurous home mixologist’s collection.
How much does it cost?
Absinthe is fairly expensive, but you use a very small amounts at a time (think: 1 teaspoon in a drink). A high quality 750 ml bottle costs around $40 to $50; high end bottles can go up to $70.
Your local liquor store is likely to only have a few options for absinthe. Look for a bottle in the $40 to $60 range, flavored with wormwood and not artificially colored. Don’t buy absinthe that costs under $20 to avoid artificial colors and flavorings.
Most popular absinthe cocktails
Don’t drink this spirit straight: it’s much too strong! Mix absinthe into cocktails, or drink it as a drip diluted with water poured over a sugar cube.
- Want to try the historic absinthe drip method? Here’s how to do it.
- Want a cocktail? Try it in one of these popular absinthe cocktails:
This spirit is also included in the La Louisiane cocktail.Print
The Corpse Reviver No 2 recipe is a classic cocktail that’s crisp, tart and perfectly balanced! It’s one heck of a drink…just as unique as its name.
- 1 ounce gin
- 1 ounce lemon juice
- 1 ounce Cointreau (or Grand Marnier)
- 1 ounce dry vermouth or Lillet Blanc*
- 1/2 teaspoon absinthe
- For the garnish: Orange peel or orange wedge
- Add the gin, lemon juice, Cointreau, dry vermouth, and absinthe to a cocktail shaker. Fill it with ice and shake it until cold.
- Strain into a cocktail glass. If desired, garnish with an orange peel or orange wedge.
*The most classic liquor here is Cocchi Americano, if you happen to have it.
- Category: Drink
- Method: Shaken
- Cuisine: Cocktails
More cocktail guides
Wondering what Chartreuse is? Or orgeat or St Germain? Want the best reposado tequila or how to make a Manhattan? We’ve got you! Here are a few more guides to liquor:
- Quick Guide to Chartreuse This pale green liqueur is worth adding to your collection…here’s why.
- Guide to Grenadine It’s mistaken as cherry, but this bright syrup has a secret.
- Quick Guide to Bourbon All you need to know about this American spirit.
- Quick Guide to Grand Marnier This top shelf orange liqueur is absolutely worth writing home about.
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.