Absinthe – La fée Verte
Known often in literature as la fée verte (the green fairy), this most potent of libations has associations with the French post impressionist artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. And The Tuppenny in Swindon’s Old Town it seems.
What is Absinthe?
Absinthe is a grain alcohol of Swiss origin. It’s made by macerating many herbs and spices, including fennel, anise, and wormwood. The first two give absinthe its characteristic licorice taste. While the wormwood makes it bitter in taste. It’s also what gives the spirit its famed mystique and jade-green hue.
The stuff of legend
As this article from Liquor.Com states, hovering between the legends of hallucinations and madness associated with the green fairy, there is an important and historic spirit. One that suffered a 100 year ban!
Banned?! How so?
Enjoying huge popularity in the 19th century, both America and chunks of Europe banned it until not that long back. It’s a complex story and this article gives the whole story but it’s one with more relation to history than science. Almost everyone in the cool gang between 1850 and 1900 drank the stuff. It was quite the latest thing and had a very high alcohol content. Thus it often got the blame for the frequent bouts of drunkenness and the intermittent bouts of delirium and even death.
The drink became more popular and with it the abuse of it increased. At length the association grew in the minds of society between absinthe and general alcoholism and degeneracy. It even got the blame, from a French psychiatrist, Dr Valentin Magnan, for the collapse of French culture. Magnan gave wormwood to a dog and watched it bark at a brick wall for thirty minutes. And thus lay the root of the myth that the green fairy causes hallucinations.
Cutting short a very long story, the Temperance movement added Mangan’s evidence to their narrative and advocated banning absinthe. Thus the early 1900s saw the start of a ban on the drink that lasted over 100 years.
The green fairy ritual
As indicated by the fancy fountain you see in the image above there’s a whole ritual around serving the green fairy. Absinthes.Com describes it in great detail.
In short, it involves a slow drip of water into a stemmed glass holding the spirit – often over a sugar cube held on a special perforated spoon. During this process the spirit becomes louche – cloudy and opaque.
See more Swindon in 50 Drinks posts here: