In honor of National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week I thought we could talk about absinthe. For those of you who don't know, it's back.
Absinthe is an alcoholic drink that was banned in the U.S. and a handful of other countries in the early 1900s for a slew of controversial reasons. And since then, its legality has been restored in most countries, the most recent being the U.S.
Authentic absinthe is a type of liquor made from a medicinal plant called grand wormwood. It is widely known for its popularity in France in the 19th and 20th centuries and its reputation with famous artists and creative types such as Vincent Van Gogh and Oscar Wilde. When rumors spread about the liquor contributing to Van Gogh's ear cutting incident as well as a murder in Switzerland, the government banned the substance.
Almost 100 years after the prohibition of absinthe the government has approved a few brands for sale in the United States. One brand, Lucid, has hit the shelves already along with Kubler.
Absinthe generally has very high alcohol content and both of these brands are more than 100-proof. So, traditionally the alcohol is diluted with water and sugar is added to sweeten the flavor. More recently, even though this is sometimes believed to be a traditional way of preparing the drink, sugar will be set on fire above a glass of absinthe and let to drip into the glass. The mixture is then stirred to put out the flame and blend the flavors. Bars that now serve absinthe cocktails usually have their own theatrical way of preparing and serving the drink.
Even though most of the negative gossip about absinthe has been proven false, people still tend to want to believe the hype. Let's go ahead and tackle some myths.
Is absinthe poisonous? No, not any more than any other alcohol. Of course, all alcohol is poisonous when enough is consumed. Keep in mind it is very high proof, don't treat absinthe like a beer, obviously.
Are there chemicals in absinthe like THC, the active chemical in marijuana? No, the chemical rumored to have THC-like properties is thujone, a chemical in grand wormwood. Absinthe does contain very small traces of the chemical thujone, but there is no evidence to show that thujone has similar effects to THC.
Will I hallucinate from absinthe? No, people looking for a hallucinogenic experience will be disappointed. Or, at least all the evidence available suggests that hallucinations from absinthe are only a myth.
Does absinthe consumption produce a different kind of drunk? Yes, in the same way that beer and wine will produce a different kind of drunk. Most absinthe aficionados claim moderate intoxication from absinthe consists of an uplifted mood and inspired creativity. When excessive amounts of absinthe are consumed the result is similar to that of any liquor. Of course, alcohol poisoning is a very real danger, especially with a substance with such high alcohol content. Please, if you choose to indulge, do so responsibly and in moderation.
You can't yet find any of the recently approved brands of absinthe at the local liquor store, but I'm willing to bet it won't be too long before they make their way across the country.
And, before I forget, be sure and check out the exhibit this week in Red Square for Alcohol Awareness Week on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.