Absinthe has likely maintained its mystique over the past two centuries because of the process involved in drinking it. That and the neon-green hue. And the possibility that it might make you hallucinate.
To overcoming the bitterness in the anise-flavored spirit, drinkers slowly introduce a sugar cube or sugar water. As part of the Moth Podcast series, Filmmaker L. Gabrielle Penebaz talks about how Donald Sutherland and absinthe are forever linked in her mind -- and what's so engaging about the liqueur:
It is the keystone of late 1800s Bohemia. And you can imagine a dandy walking his turtle down the street like a dog. They have the time to drink this stuff. Because you don't drink it like beer, you know, you don't just shove it down, you know, like frat boy.
Absinthe's reputation (or its forbidden allure, at least) might have also benefited from being illegal in the United States. Today a distilled version of the original -- without the chemical Thujone (a byproduct of the herb wormwood that is used in the production process) is legal.
Thujone is supposedly the chemical responsible for the hallucinations sometimes experienced by absinthe drinkers -- this sentiment pervades even though a 2008 German study suggested that hallucinations were self-induced and couldn't be traced to the liqueur.
Though the filtered version is legal, absinthe is still not widely available -- despite the efforts of Jade Liqueurs founder Ted Breaux, a chemist who is fueling the drink's comeback from New Orleans. There's also a series of home brew kits for those who want to test the words of the English poet Ernest Dowson: "absinthe makes the tart grow fonder."
[Image via Flickr: nig4]