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Absinthe is mysterious and luscious – an expert tells us which bottles you should buy

What is absinthe and what bottles should you try?

Absinthe in glass next to a bottle with a black background
Randy Fath / Unsplash

There are few spirits as misunderstood as absinthe. We dare you to find one spirit as misunderstood as absinthe. There’s a good chance, even with very little information to back anything up, you already have some preconceived ideas about it. You might believe that it’s a hallucinogenic and after a few sips, you start seeing a green fairy flying every which way. You might even think that is why this alcohol was banned in the U.S. for so long. It’s not.

“The truth is that most of these claims are not true, as overindulging in this spirit leads to the same issues as with any other,” said James Couty, food and beverage manager at Pendry Chicago and Chateau Carbide in Chicago, Illinois. “The ‘Green Muse,’ as it was commonly referred to during its heyday of the Grand Epoque, a period where expressionist painters and poets such as Edgar Allen Poe were creating their historic artworks, inspired and delighted the masses.”

But what is absinthe? “The history of absinthe began in the Val de Travers region of Switzerland as a cure-all tonic infused with natural herbs and botanicals found in the region,” explained Couty.

If you didn’t know it already, absinthe’s closest spirit counterpart is probably gin. This is because this high-proof spirit (usually over 110 proof) is infused with various herbs and botanicals. The most well-known ones are anise, fennel, and the very divisive wormwood. The latter is what has caused all the problems for this spirit. Wormwood contains a chemical known as thujone, which is large quantities, can cause seizures and vomiting. You’d have to drink a ridiculous amount, though, as it’s harmless in small amounts and doesn’t make you hallucinate.

As we mentioned above, absinthe has for years (and still is by many) been unjustly assumed to be a psychotropic substance. While this isn’t true, it was banned in Europe and the U.S. Absinthe was banned in the U.S. in 1912, based on the idea that not only would it make you hallucinate, but it was believed that if you drank too much of the green stuff you’d end up with a malady referred to as “absinthism,” in which you would become severely addicted to it on top of the assumed hallucinations. It was finally legalized in the U.S. in 2007, but with specific rules (less thujone).

“Post ban we have seen a resurgence in interest in this spirit, including the age-old process of ‘louching,’ which is when you add sugar and water to it through a slow and steady process,” Couty told us. “This turns it into an opalescent magical-looking cocktail, with flavors and aromas that scintillate the senses.”

While not as saturated a market space as the likes of gin or other more popular spirits, a few notable brands are crafting high-quality absinthes. The best part? Couty was gracious enough to tell us some of his favorite absinthe alcohol bottles. Keep scrolling through this absinthe drink guide to see his thoughts on them all.

La Fee Absinthe Blanch Superieur
La Fee

La Fee Absinthe Blanch Superieur – France

“La Fee Absinthe Blanch Superieur was created in 2011 as a collaboration with Marie Claude Delhaye, the founder and curator of the Absinthe Museum. La Fee means ‘fairy’ in French, as absinthe was often referred to as the green fairy. The process sets La Fee products apart from many of the rest of their distillation techniques. Each of the 11 herbs is distilled and infused separately, which is not unlike many bourbons, then blended to perfection. This gives a far more consistent product compared to if they had been distilled together. This balanced style does not see a second maceration of green herbs, which allows it to maintain its clear appearance until water is added and the ‘louching’ process turns it opaque or cloudy. The slightly sweeter characteristics and notes of peppermint allow for the sugar to be left out, and one can enjoy the blanche style of absinthe in its purer form.”

Pernod Absinthe
Pernod

Pernod Absinthe – France

“Pernod is perhaps one of the oldest distillation houses making attempts to recreate a recipe from a bygone era. When reintroduced after the ban was lifted, the product was a new formula, but in recent years they have made attempts to get back to the original recipe and flavor profile from their storied past. Even during the phylloxera epidemic, Pernod stood true to its roots and didn’t sway from using grape-neutral spirit as its base, in many ways, retaining its character and intrigue throughout its history. There are notes of anise, grand wormwood, and angelica, as well as a signature green hue, imparted from a secondary infusion of botanicals.”

Kubler Absinthe Verte
Kubler

Kubler Absinthe Verte – Switzerland

“Kubler Absinthe Verte was first produced in the Val de Travers region of Switzerland, which is commonly known as the birthplace of absinthe itself. The original formula was that of medicine, including many herbs and botanicals found in the region at that time, most noticeably Grand Wormwood or Artemisia absinthium. Although there are writings dating back to ancient Egypt touting wormwood’s medicinal properties, they were not included in a distilled spirit until approximately 1763. Despite the ban, Kubler has been distilling some of the highest-quality absinthe since 1863 and is currently being distilled again, by the original distiller’s grandson Yves Kubler, just a few miles away from where the original was created. They use no artificial colors or flavorings, and their recipe is considered by many to be the closest to the original. Kubler absinthe gives a distinct anise and wormwood experience, with a slightly bitter finish. This absinthe is best enjoyed in a 3:1 ratio of water to absinthe with sugar.”

St George Absinthe Verte
St George

St George Absinthe Verte – California

“Post-ban, we’ve seen a great influx of new takes on this old favorite. Thought by many to be one of the distillers creating absinthe that could rival a pre-ban recipe, is the St. George Absinthe Verte. They have taken the recipe, and in some ways, turned it on its head and deviated oh-so-eloquently away from the original. Most notably, they list the botanicals they use right on the bottle, including star anise, instead of green anise. This gives a fun tasting experience where one can attempt to pinpoint each botanical, or even wonder, what does stinging nettle taste like, anyway? The rich green color, ‘louching’ to a light green with a tinge of gold, makes for an exciting full experience.”

Corsair Red Absinthe
Corsair

Corsair Red Absinthe – Tennessee

“Corsair Red Absinthe perhaps deviates from the ‘green path’ most of all. Infused with hibiscus, as well as classic wormwood and fennel, here you get a gorgeous floral bouquet, finishing with citrus and a gentle anise tingle. Corsair has been a leader in the micro distillery pantheon of the liquor world and with this Red Absinthe, they certainly hit the mark of a fun new iteration. Lemon balm and flowers would once have been unheard of. Their pioneering mindset has given us a true original in the absinthe arena.”

Sirene Absinthe Verte
North Shore Distillery

Sirene Absinthe Verte – Illinois

“Taking its name from Greek mythology and the seductive sirens, Sirene is an enchanting absinthe, containing the classic trinity of herbs — wormwood, fennel, and anise — as well as a combination of proprietary herbs and botanicals, which give a unique tasting experience and that fun anise tingle. Distilled in Illinois, it is a hometown favorite for the adventurous.”

Christopher Osburn
Christopher Osburn is a food and drinks writer located in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. He's been writing professional
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