Both vilified and adored; brace yourself for the return of the controversial ‘green fairy’
By Edwin Soon; as published in Robb Report
Edgar Degas dedicated his painting L’Absinthe to it. In Spain, Ernest Hemingway drank copious amounts of it, then proceeded to race with bulls… and survived. Marilyn Manson, creator of Mansinthe, his own award-winning brand of the spirit, attributes his inspiration and grotesque stage persona to absinthe. But the uber famous imbiber of all time has to be Vincent van Gogh – he managed to sever his own ear whist in the depths of an absinthe binge. Over the years, absinthe has been touted as an elixir by some; a cure for malaria, while others condemned it as the ‘root of all evil’. Taboo notwithstanding, many a famous persona has been linked to it. Amongst them; Charles Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, Franklin Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli and Johnny Depp.
It was not van Gogh’s brazen act that led to absinthe’s prohibition. But the few incidents where the spirit took the blame for crimes committed. Most sensational of all was the case in Switzerland in 1910 that an alcoholic who murdered his family, cited absinthe as his favourite tipple. Soon after, the spirit was banned in the country. The Netherlands, France and the US soon followed. The object of so much fervor wasn’t absinthe itself – a greenish looking spirit of 14 herbs, including licorice and anise but the presence of thujone in Artemisia adsinthium, or grand wormwood, an herb from which the spirit is derived. Thujone (similar in chemical structure to Tetrahydrocannibinol, the active ingredient found in marijuana) causes hallucinations.
Still, most other Europeans continued to drink it but somehow the green spirit fell out of favour in the 1960s. Interesting – that at its heyday a century prior, come 5p.m. l’heure verte (the green hour) would be declared in bars, bistros, cafes and cabarets across France. Everyone, from the wealthy bourgeoisie as well as the working class would indulge in the spirit.
The pendulum has swung again and in the 1990’s the European Union countries began manufacturing absinthe. The US even started to distill absinthe in 2007.
Absinthe was illegal in Singapore until November last year. The reason why the ban was lifted boiled down to good science. A review by the relevant authorities showed that thujone levels in absinthe do not exceed 10 parts per million in liqueurs containing more than 25% alcohol. In layman terms, the effects of the drug were too dilute to have any real effect and absinthe was safe after all to drink.
Intrigued to finally try the green fairy? How you enjoy it would depend if you are a traditionalist of modernist. Traditionally, a sugar cube is placed on a slotted spoon, water is drizzled over the sugar into a glass containing absinthe. Watch as the resulting milky greenish drink called la fee verte or the green Fairy-Muse makes its appearance!
For a modern twist, you might like to try an Absinthe Minded (served with gin, orange liqueur and vermouth) or a Hemingway (served with champagne).
Who knows what the green fairy might unleash inside of you!
Restaurant Absinthe stocks 16 kinds of absinthe
46 Bukit Pasoh Road, Singapore 089858. Tel 6222 9068