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A Beginner's guide to absinthe

A Beginner's guide to absinthe

How absinthe is made

Absinthe is a high-alcohol distilled spirit (usually between 53 and 74% abv) produced by macerating wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), green anise (Pimpinella anisum), sweet fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce) and other plants in grain or wine alcohol. These three plants are often known as the 'holy trinity', as all must be present before the product can be considered absinthe. However it is usual for absinthe to contain many more plants, and other common ingredients are coriander, hyssop, gentian, Genepi, angelica and star anise. The two main varieties of absinthe are verte (green) and blanche (clear), although one or two red absinthes do exist. All absinthe is clear when it comes from the still, the green colour typically associated with absinthe is derived from an additional step whereby a sack containing a mixture of plants is added to the distillate to enable additional flavouring materials to leech out into the absinthe, and in the process, a green colour is obtained. The herbs used to colour absinthe include, hyssop, mint, lemon balm, Roman wormwood (Artemisia pontica) and veronica. An absinthe verte will usually have an 'earthier' flavour due to the additional colouring step; absinthe blanche can range in taste from the very simple, if just the holy trinity of plants are used, to a quite complex flavour if the plants usually used for colouring are instead added to the initial maceration. As can be imagined, the sheer variety of ingredients makes for some very different styles of absinthe.

Absinthe was historically produced in Eastern France and the Val-de-Travers region of Switzerland and this is where most absinthe is made today, however since the absinthe revival which started in 2000, absinthe is being made in many other countries including the UK, Germany and the USA. Those interested in reading more on the history of absinthe should look here

How to drink absinthe

The first thing to say is that as most absinthe ranges from 60 to 72% alcohol, absinthe should not be consumed neat or undiluted! Absinthe was originally taken as an aperitif, and it is intended to be diluted with water and enjoyed as a long drink. Although absinthe is certainly high in alcohol, if diluted with the recommended amount of water, the finished drink is no stronger than a glass of wine. Adding water to absinthe makes it go cloudy, the so-called louche, which happens when the essential oils that were dissolved in the alcohol separate out of solution. As well as producing the milky colour beloved of absinthe drinkers, adding water releases the flavours and scent of the plants used in its production. The amount of water that you use will be a matter of taste, but we recommend between 3 and 5 measures of water for whatever measure of absinthe you use, 25ml or an ounce of absinthe per glass is usual. Add the water slowly, pouring from a carafe or jug, and watch as the line of the louche moves slowly up the glass until all of the clear spirit has gone, the absinthe will then be ready to drink.

Sugar or no sugar?

Absinthe was traditionally taken with sugar, the so-called absinthe ritual. This is what you may have seen in the paintings and illustrations of the time and accounts for the dozens of different designs of absinthe spoons that were available. The ritual arose because absinthe is unsweetened and many 19th century drinkers had a sweet tooth and were used to the sweetened liqueurs that were popular at the time. Sugar will not dissolve in the 68% to 72% alcohol of neat absinthe so spoons were used to suspend the sugar over the glass while it dissolved in the water that was poured over it. Whether or not you take your absinthe with or without sugar is entirely matter of personal taste so try it both ways and see which you prefer. In tastings we find that tasters are divided 50/50 as to whether they prefer it with sugar or not. Some of our more austere and complex absinthes benefit from sugar which can be said to add 'middle' or body to the drink rather than sweetness. If you prefer it with sugar we have a range of replica spoons to choose from.

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