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How to drink absinthe and live to tell the tale of the Green Fairy

Do you know the Green Fairy? Get to know it right here

Bartender preparing absinthe at a bar
Rafa Elias / Getty Images

Mention absinthe in casual conversation, and you’ll likely get a mixed bag of reactions. Some may mention hallucinations. Others may have a wild story or two about waking up on the shores of the Seine, with no memory of the past week. Some may be shy or tentative; speaking of it as a toddler might sneak a trip to the cookie jar. And even more still, particularly in the States, will be ready to spew uneducated judgment on a matter they know nothing of.

Absinthe’s sultry reputation

Of course, the varying dramatic reactions could be due to many reasons. After all, the reputation of this mysterious green drink is unparalleled by any other. Blame it on Oscar Wilde, Picasso, or Baz Luhrman, but whatever ideas you have about absinthe are probably false. Well, in part. Perhaps it’s time to let go of some of the mystery around the Green Fairy, however sexy that mystery is.

The most important thing to know about absinthe is that it isn’t a beginner’s spirit. This is because of its potency. Absinthes typically clock in between 50% and 70% alcohol by volume, so you’re not going to want to fill a pint and go to town. You could, but we guarantee that you’ll never, ever want to do that again.

Was absinthe illegal?

Yes, absinthe was indeed illegal in many countries for a significant period of time. Absinthe faced bans in various countries during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it was mainly driven by misinformation, concerns, and fears about negative health effects, which were often exaggerated and based on impure absinthe. Competition from wine industries and political agendas played a role in some cases, too.

It was banned in Switzerland from retail sales in 1907 and the complete ban came into effect in 1910. In France, absinthe was banned in 1915, although this was initially an emergency measure because of World War I. In the U.S., it was banned in 1912. Other country bans included Belgium, the Netherlands, and other European nations. Most countries lifted their bans by the early 2000s.

However, here are some of the ways you can enjoy this intriguingly curious little spirit.

Absinthe in a glass
alandiaspirits / Pixabay

How to drink absinthe

In a cocktail

This beautifully fruity concoction is a perfectly lovely way to enjoy one’s Absinthe. Complemented by tropical juices and citrus, one can almost imagine that little green fairy lounging poolside with a very on-trend beach umbrella.

Fairy Godmother Cocktail

  • 1 ounce of absinthe
  • 3/4 ounce of elderflower liqueur
  • 3/4 ounce of pineapple juice
  • 1/2 ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce of freshly squeezed lime juice


  1. Pour the ingredients into a shaker and shake with ice.
  2. Strain into a stemmed glass.

With cold water and simple syrup

There is a common notion that absinthe found in the U.S. is less potent, but that is rarely the case. This method can easily assess the spirit because high-quality absinthe will create a louche, without fail, while lesser products will keep their original color.

From an absinthe fountain

The French way

  1. Pour absinthe into a special absinthe glass. Fill it up to the lowest line on the glass, or fill the bubble at the bottom.
  2. Place an absinthe spoon over the top of the glass.
  3. Place a small brick of sugar on top of the absinthe spoon (they make sugar specifically for this purpose).
  4. Place the glass beneath the absinthe fountain and turn on the valve until water is slowly dripping onto the sugar.
  5. Once the sugar dissolves, turn up the speed on the absinthe fountain until the liquid reaches the second line in your absinthe glass.
  6. Stir and enjoy.

It’s completely acceptable to use a pitcher of water and a small strainer in lieu of an absinthe fountain and spoon. It’s not as sexy, but it’ll do in a pinch.

If you find yourself of a certain artistic bent, and willing to invest in a life full of absinthe imbibing, we have a list further below of the tools you’ll need.

Absinthe fountain
Martial Philippi / Getty Images

What is absinthe?

Though only available legally in the U.S. for a decade, absinthe is steeped in history. Originally popularized in Switzerland and France in the 1800s, absinthe is a spirit — not a liqueur — with a high alcohol percentage. Absinthe is traditionally made with white grape-based spirit, wormwood, anise, fennel, and other herbs.

There are two forms of Absinthe — Absinthe blanche and absinthe verte, or white and green. Absinthe’s famous green hue comes from the herbs, which slough off their chlorophyll during secondary maceration.

The myth of hallucinations caused by Absinthe was widely spread by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, and other famous Absinthe imbibers during the late 1800s. Of course, it should be taken into account that these great artists were, more likely than not, partaking in other types of mind-altering hallucinogens, and not Absinthe alone.  Also, it’s believed that some of the more shady absinthe distillers actually put hallucinogenics into their swill.

Capillary wormwood
the_iop / Pixabay

The essential list of absinthe gear

Having said all of this, Absinthe doesn’t have to be intimidating. Enjoyed properly, it’s a tasty licorice-flavored spirit that can connect you with some of the greatest artists and thinkers the world has ever known. It’s also a pretty good way to get tanked.

Absinthe reservoir glasses
La Rochere

Reservoir glass

These glasses have either a bubble or etching near the bottom of the glass to show how much absinthe to use. The most common type of reservoir glass is known as a Pontarlier glass.

Absinthe spoon

Absinthe spoon

These slotted metal spoons balance atop your glass, providing a resting place for wayward sugar cubes. Elaborate grilles achieve the same effect with more stability and are made to be easily secured on most reservoir glasses.

Absinthe fountain

Absinthe fountain

No, you can’t really use this for anything else, but you’ll definitely earn style points if you whip this out with a bottle of Pernod. The faucet speed is adjustable, so you can watch your absinthe transform at your own pace.



If the fountain’s too much for you (or your cabinet space), consider a brouilleur. Also known as drippers, brouilleurs are typically small bowls that can sit on a reservoir glass and slowly funnel drops of water downwards. More elaborate versions called balanciers employ a method in which the water moves a small see-saw below the opening, displacing the water on the way down. The end result is more of a splash than a pour or droplet, so it creates a nice middle ground in terms of prep time.

Full absinthe set

Full absinthe set

Don’t want to spend the time or effort collecting the pieces for an absinthe set separately? Lucky for you, there are plenty of options when it comes to buying everything you need to properly consume absinthe in one easy package. This one, for example, even comes with sugar cubes to get you started.

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Lindsay Parrill
Lindsay is a graduate of California Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu, San Francisco, from where she holds a degree in…
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