Since its (re-) legalization a few years ago, I have somehow acquired three bottles of absinthe. I found them while I was cleaning out the liquor cabinet the other day, all largely untapped. I think I tried a few sips, and a few more cocktails, and then put all three bottles on the top shelf and forgot about them. Even though it comes in my favorite color green, is made of one of my favorite herbs (wormwood–which grows vigorously in my garden every summer), and I find its long history fascinating, I cannot seem to acquire a taste for la Fée Verte. Maybe it’s too strong for me, maybe I just haven’t found the right cocktail recipe (please forward if you have one), and maybe I just don’t have the right stuff: my tea strainer is clearly no substitute for an absinthe spoon, and my sherry glass can’t compete with the Pontarlier glass of the proper absinthe set-up. And then there are special fountains, decanters, seltzer bottles, sugar tongs, and saucers: the Absinthe Ritual was quite a production.
A contemporary absinthe service and the absinthe ritual in 1910: photograph from the Virtual Absinthe Museum, a great site for all things absinthe.
I do like the slotted spoons: they were made in many different designs and seem to be quite collectible. I’m sure most of them have been serving as pie knives for the last century or so. With the lifting of the ban on absinthe and the diffusion of steampunk culture (which seems to give absinthe pride of place, right of there with gears and octopuses), new absinthe accessories are also being produced, including all manner of spoons. The possibilities are endless.
A selection of antique absinthe spoons from Absinthe Originals; Green Fairy Wing Absinthe Spoon by Etsy seller DangerAwesomeLasers.
The other type of absinthia (it is a word) that seems to be very collectible are images. Obviously the café paintings produced by nearly every French Belle Epoque artist are out of reach, but there was also a lot of more ephemeral absinthe art produced in the period as well: posters, photographs, cards. I particularly like the posters produced around 1910, when a fierce debate was being waged over the Green Fairy. Advocates for and against the prohibition of absinthe put out very compelling images, like these posters below. In the first one, published by A.H. Gantner is Switzerland in 1910, a menacing man representing the coalition of religion and medicine (strange to have faith and science on one side!) is literally skewering the green fairy and Swiss freedom at the same time. That was the central pro-Absinthe argument at the time: temperance is anti-freedom, not just freedom to drink absinthe, but civil liberties in general. Five years after absinthe was banned in Switzerland, France followed suit, and an Audino poster from 1915 presented the Green Fairy as Joan of Arc, burning at the stake while her ghostly Swiss sister looked on. In the last image, an advertisement for a 1913 film titled Absinthe produced by the Gem Motion Picture Company in New York, an absinthe addict stares at the evil substance, mesmerized.
Wellcome Images, Wellcome Library, London.
Well I think I’ve gone off on a tangent: the suppression of absinthe is another subject altogether, really, as is its early history, before the nineteenth century, when it was perceived as medicinally beneficial rather than addictive and destructive (as well as pleasurable). I’m talking about stuff today. Though I haven’t acquired a taste for absinthe, I do like its smell (and color), especially as contained in my candle from Witch City Wicks.
January 18th, 2013 at 11:16 am
Absinthe MUST be mixed, either with ice-cold water, from a fountain dripper (for the wonderful opalescent change), or with water and an ice cube. It ranges from really Anise-ey to really Herby, depending upon the maker. I like Philadelphia’s Vieux Carre: nioce green color and mixed, gentle flavorings.
January 18th, 2013 at 12:22 pm
Thank you, Richard: obviously I need a lot of advice about absinthe, as well as the proper set-up. Unfortunately that is not one of the bottles I have in my cabinet!
January 21st, 2013 at 5:39 am
If absinthe seems a bit strong, you can always try Pernod, which was created as a substitute for absinthe following the ban in France.
It’s interesting to see how the green fairy appears in those pictures too – modern artists depict her as a much more svelte character (think Kylie Minogue in the movie Moulin Rouge).
January 21st, 2013 at 7:23 am
You are ever-observant, Alastair: these green “fairies” are rather full-figured, and not fairy-like at all!