The Green Fairy

Never has a drink garnered more mystique.

Absinthe was the tipple of choice for Ernest Hemmingway, James Joyce, Vincent Van Gogh and Oscar Wilde. This spirit, also known as absynthe or absinth, is an alcoholic beverage with a history replete with artistic liberation, violence, defamation and rebellion.

The word itself is derived from absinthium, meaning wormwood, which is the bitter herb that goes into the drink, along with anise (delivering its distinct liquorice taste), fennel and other herbs. It is high in alcohol and (famously) green; although it is also sometimes colourless, but is almost always watered down to a misty pastel hue prior to drinking; unless one is feeling brave enough to drink it straight.

Absinthe earned the name “The Green Fairy” (or simply “La Fée” … The Fairy) as it quickly became an aid for artistic exploration and innovation in late 19th century Europe and America. Bohemian artists, writers and poets would drink a whole lot of it, get drunk and then apparently feel very inspired indeed.

Oscar Wilde (who invented a cocktail mixing absinthe and champagne called “Death in the Afternoon”) was a particularly erudite fan: “After the first glass of absinthe, you see things as you wish they were. After the second you see them as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”

Not everyone was enthusiastic about this creative libation. Prohibitionists and conservatives believed the drink to be psychoactive because it contains thujone. The wine industry agreed and a smear campaign ensued (ed: this is hearsay but makes a lot of sense). This led to absinthe being banned in 1915 in America and Europe. Modern day science tells us that the actual amount of thujone in the drink is miniscule, meaning that the most dangerous thing about absinthe was the myth that surrounded it.

In 1907 a French addiction support association called La Croix Bleue gathered 400,000 signatures on a petition which declared: “Absinthe makes you crazy and criminal, provokes epilepsy and tuberculosis, and has killed thousands of French people. It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant, it disorganises and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country.”

When absinthe enjoyed a comeback in the 1990s, it was still tarred with the notion that an absinthe drinking session might result in hallucinations. So much so that on bottle labels in America, it must clearly state that this is not the case. Today, the legacy of absinthe has extended to a show at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and the inspiration for Kylie Minogue’s Green Fairy role in Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film Moulin Rouge (short clip here). Indeed, absinthe is not short of a cultural reference.

Whilst the promise of hallucination has settled into its role as more marketing ploy than legitimate health hazard, the status of the drink as an established spirit seems to have been overlooked. Despite it being a popular, well-known product, it is different from its peers like gin and whisky. Most countries have no legal definition for absinthe, meaning there are no set rules for how and where it must be made to be classified as the real deal.

This leaves the floor open for absinthe to do what it does best … intrigue and rebel.

Absinthe exists in printed form as chapter 2 of RR#1 … available to order HERE

Wikipedia Reference: Absinthe

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