Monday, May 17, 2010

OTHER SPIRITS - ABSINTHE

(Absinth) (IPA English: ['æbs?n?] IPA French: [ap.s?~t]) is a distilled, highly alcoholic, anise-flavored spirit derived from herbs including the flowers and leaves of the medicinal plant Artemisia absinthium, also called grand wormwood. Although it is sometimes incorrectly called a liqueur, absinthe is not bottled with added sugar and is therefore classified as a liquor or spirit.

Absinthe is often referred to as la Fée Verte ('The Green Fairy') because of its coloring — typically pale or emerald green, but sometimes clear or in rare cases rose red. Due to its high proof and concentration of oils, absintheurs (absinthe drinkers) typically add three to five parts ice-cold water to a dose of absinthe, which causes the drink to turn cloudy (called 'louching'); often the water is used to dissolve added sugar to decrease bitterness. This preparation is considered an important part of the experience of drinking absinthe, so much so that it has become ritualized, complete with special slotted absinthe spoons and other accoutrements. Absinthe's flavor is similar to anise-flavored liqueurs, with a light bitterness and greater complexity imparted by multiple herbs.

Absinthe originated in Switzerland as an elixir but is better known for its popularity in late 19th and early 20th century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers whose romantic associations with the drink still linger in popular culture. In its heyday, the most popular brand of absinthe worldwide was Pernod Fils. At the height of this popularity, absinthe was portrayed as a dangerously addictive, psychoactive drug; the chemical thujone was blamed for most of its deleterious effects. By 1915, it was banned in a number of European countries and the United States. Even though it was vilified, no evidence shows it to be any more dangerous than ordinary alcohol.[2] A modern absinthe revival began in the 1990s, as countries in the European Union began to reauthorize its manufacture and sale.


ETYMOLOGY

Look up absinthe in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.The French word absinthe can refer either to the liquor or to the actual wormwood plant (grande absinthe being Artemisia absinthium, and petite absinthe being Artemisia pontica). The word derives from the Latin absinthium, which is in turn a stylization of the Greek a (apsinthion). Some claim that the word means 'undrinkable' in Greek, but it may instead be linked to the Persian root spand or aspand, or the variant esfand, which may have been, rather, Peganum harmala, a variety of rue, another famously bitter herb. That this particular plant was commonly burned as a protective offering may suggest that its origins lie in the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root *spend, meaning 'to perform a ritual' or 'make an offering'. Whether the word was a borrowing from Persian into Greek, or rather from a common ancestor, is unclear.


Absinth (without the 'e') is a spelling variation of absinthe often seen in central Europe. Because so many Bohemian-style products use it, many groups see it as synonymous with bohemian absinthe, even though that is not always the case.

PRODUCTION

Anise, one of the three main herbs used in production of absinthe
Grande Wormwood, one of the three main herbs used in production of absintheThe main herbs used are grande wormwood, florence fennel and green anise, often called the 'holy trinity'. Many other herbs may be used as well, such as hyssop, melissa, star anise and petite wormwood (Artemisia pontica or Roman wormwood). Various recipes also include angelica root, Sweet Flag, dittany leaves, coriander, veronica, juniper, nutmeg, and various mountain herbs.

The simple maceration of wormwood in alcohol without distillation produces an extremely bitter drink, due to the presence of the water-soluble absinthine, one of the most bitter substances known. Authentic recipes call for distillation after a primary maceration and before the secondary or 'coloring' maceration. The distillation of wormwood, anise, and Florence fennel first produces a colorless distillate that leaves the alembic at around 82% alcohol. It can be left clear, called a Blanche or la Bleue (used for bootleg Swiss absinthe), or the well-known green color of the beverage can be imparted either artificially or with chlorophyll by steeping petite wormwood, hyssop, and melissa in the liquid. After this process, the resulting product is reduced with water to the desired percentage of alcohol. Over time and exposure to light, the chlorophyll breaks down, changing the color from emerald green to yellow green to brown. Pre-ban and vintage absinthes are often of a distinct amber color as a result of this process.

Non-traditional varieties are made by cold-mixing herbs, essences or oils in alcohol, with the distillation process omitted. Often called 'oil mixes', these types of absinthe are not necessarily bad, though they are generally considered to be of lower quality than properly distilled absinthe and often carry a distinct bitter aftertaste.

Alcohol makes up the majority of the drink and its concentration is extremely high, between 45% and 89.9%,[4] though there is no historical evidence that any commercial vintage absinthe was higher than 74%. Given the high strength and low alcohol solubility of many of the herbal components, absinthe is usually not imbibed 'straight' but consumed after a fairly elaborate preparation ritual.

Historically, there were five grades of absinthe: ordinaire, demi-fine, fine, supérieure and Suisse (which does not denote origin), in order of increasing alcoholic strength and production quality. While a supérieure and Suisse would always be naturally colored and distilled; ordinaire and demi-fine could be artificially colored and made from oil extracts. These were only naming guidelines and not an industry standard. Most absinthes contain between 60% and 75% alcohol. It is said to improve materially with storage. In the late 19th century, cheap brands of absinthe were occasionally adulterated by profiteers with copper, zinc, indigo plant, or other dyes to impart the green color, and with antimony trichloride to produce or enhance the louche effect (see below). It is also thought that the use of cheaper industrial alcohol and poor distillation technique by the manufacturers of cheaper brands resulted in contamination with methanol, fusel alcohol, and similar unwanted distillates. This addition of toxic chemicals is quite likely to have contributed to absinthe's reputation as a hallucination-inducing or otherwise harmful beverage.

ABSINTHE KITS

There are numerous recipes for homemade absinthe floating around on the Internet, many of which revolve around soaking or mixing a kit or store-bought herbs and wormwood extract with high-proof liquor such as vodka or Everclear. Even though these do-it-yourself kits have gained in popularity, it is simply not possible to produce absinthe without distillation. Absinthe distillation, like the production of any fine liquor, is a science and an art in itself and requires expertise and care to properly manage.

Besides being unpleasant to drink [6] and not authentic distilled absinthe, these homemade concoctions can sometimes be poisonous. Many of these recipes call for the usage of liberal amounts of wormwood extract or essence of wormwood in the hopes of increasing the believed psychoactive effects. Consuming essential oils will not only fail to produce a high, but can be very dangerous. Wormwood extract can cause renal failure and death due to excessive amounts of thujone, which in large quantities acts as a convulsive neurotoxin. Essential oil of wormwood should never be consumed straight.

PREPARATION

Preparing absinthe the traditional way. Traditionally, absinthe is poured into a glass over which a specially designed slotted spoon is placed. A sugar cube is then deposited in the bowl of the spoon. Ice-cold water is poured or dripped over the sugar until the drink is diluted 3:1 to 5:1. During this process, the components that are not soluble in water, mainly those from anise, fennel and star anise, come out of solution and cloud the drink; the resulting milky opalescence is called the louche (Fr. 'opaque' or 'shady', IPA [lu?]). The addition of water is important, causing the herbs to 'blossom' and bringing out many of the flavors originally overpowered by the anise. For most people, a good quality absinthe should not require sugar, but it is added according to taste and will also thicken the mouth-feel of the drink.





HISTORY

A vintage Pernod Fils absinthe advertisement.The precise origin of absinthe is unclear. The medical use of wormwood dates back to ancient Egypt and is mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus, circa 1550 BCE. Wormwood extracts and wine-soaked wormwood leaves were used as remedies by the ancient Greeks. [12] The first clear evidence of absinthe in the modern sense of a distilled spirit containing green anise and fennel, however, dates to the 18th century but may be older. According to popular legend, however, absinthe began as an all-purpose patent remedy created by Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor living in Couvet, Switzerland, around 1792 (the exact date varies by account). Ordinaire's recipe was passed on to the Henriod sisters of Couvet, who sold absinthe as a medicinal elixir. In fact, by other accounts, the Henriod sisters may have already been making the elixir before Ordinaire's arrival. In either case, one Major Dubied in turn acquired the formula from the sisters and, in 1797, with his son Marcellin and son-in-law Henry-Louis Pernod, opened the first absinthe distillery, Dubied Père et Fils, in Couvet. In 1805 they built a second distillery in Pontarlier, France, under the new company name Maison Pernod Fils.[13]

Absinthe's popularity grew steadily until the 1840s, when absinthe was given to French troops as a fever preventative. When the troops returned home, they brought their taste for absinthe with them, and it became popular at bars and bistros.

By the 1860s, absinthe had become so popular that in most cafés and cabarets 5 p.m. signalled l’heure verte ('the green hour'). Still, it remained expensive and was favored mainly by the bourgeoisie and eccentric Bohemian artists. By the 1880s, however, the price had dropped significantly, the market expanded, and absinthe soon became the drink of France; by 1910 the French were consuming 36 million litres of absinthe per year.

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