Poor Old Absinthe

The full story about Absinthe was published in Bartender Magazines October issue.
By Edward Washington

Poor old absinthe, the much maligned and ostracised liqueur of the late 20th century. It is fair to say that absinthe has suffered disproportionately in the annuls of alcohol history and is only just beginning to recover from the decades of international slander that it received. André Simon in his 1950’s book, A dictionary of Wine, Spirits and Liqueurs describes it as; “A distilled product flavoured with wormwood, of definite tonic properties but dangerous when used indiscreetly owing to its potency.”

“French Government ministers openly attributed absinthe consumption to young French girls converting to the vices of prostitution.”

Absinthe’s entry into the mainstream French market can be attributed, in part, to the French army and her colonial campaigns. In the 1830s the French were fighting a colonial war throughout North Africa. Unaccustomed to the harsh conditions many of the soldiers succumbed to illness and fever ran riot among the ranks. With quinine expensive and often unavailable, doctors were quick to issue wormwood alcohol infusions in its place as the plants grew in abundance throughout the region. Soldiers of the African Battalion soon used absinthe like concoctions as antiseptic, to ward of dysentery and to spike their unhealthy drinking water, or wine, in an attempt to flush their bodies of prevalent intestinal round worms.


As the French soldiers returned home they brought the acquired taste for the bitter drink with them and the call for ‘une verte‘ – the green colour imparted by the various infused herbs that remains suspended in the drink due to its high alcoholic percentage – was soon common in Marseilles,  a major port for returning troops. The recent colonial successes of the army inspired ordinary French citizens to take up the absinthe habit states Adams; “as if by consuming the exotic liqueur they too became one of France’s victorious soldiers celebrating a new age of military success absent since the beginning of the Napoleonic War.” Many absinthe producers chose to capitalise on this military association and period advertising often shows soldiers enjoying the benefits of absinthe. This tactic was not limited to the 1800s with some Champagne houses choosing to adopt the same style of advertising during the First World War.

Between 1850 and 1869 individual consumption of absinthe had risen from just over one liter per head per annum to over two and half. A number of murders were blamed on the effects of the green fairy and French Government ministers openly attributed absinthe consumption to young French girls converting to the vices of prostitution. The use and abuse by the lower classes began to dissolve the popularity and social acceptance of absinthe as an aperitif and the drink was it soon subject to dubious medical experimentation and accusation.

The growth of social consumption led to a wide array of products on the market and the lower classes were often subjected to a drink that was inferior yet still dangerously alcoholic – upwards of 80 per cent.  The ‘green fairy’ was particularly in high demand for itinerate workers between the ages of 20-25 years – namely the artist class of Paris – and they were often seen sitting speechless at the cafes, absorbed in a world of the blackest melancholy waiting for inspiration.

Morning Glory Fizz

Morning Glory Fizz:

45ml Blended Scotch whiskey
15ml Moulin Rooz Absinthe
15ml Lime juice
10ml Lemon juice
2tsp Castor sugar
1 Egg white

Syphon selters or vichy water to top

Add all ingredients except syphon selters to your mixing glass. Dry shake (without ice) to emulsify egg white. Add cracked ice and shake briskly. Strain into a highball glass and top with sparkling water. Consume immediately.

Adapted from Harry Johnson’s New and Improved Bartender’s Manual, 1934 Revised Edition

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