The Green Goddess. The Green Fairy. The Green Lady. Yep… we’re talking about absinthe, which is celebrated annually on March 5—National Absinthe Day—in honor of the day that the United States lifted its 95-year ban on the storied spirit.
Absinthe has a long and complicated history, which began in the late 1700s when Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a French physician, created an elixir used to cure a variety of ailments. Through a business deal, the recipe was acquired by Henri Louis Pernod, who opened the first absinthe distillery in Couvet, Switzerland in 1797.
In the early 1800s, Pernod moved to a larger distillery in Pontarlier, France, which became the epicenter of absinthe production. By the early 1900s, Pontarlier boasted nearly 30 distilleries, and absinthe had become the most popular drink in France.
Pernod created their signature absinthe by infusing alcohol with a blend of wormwood, anise, fennel, and other herbs. Although the primary flavor of absinthe is anise, the spirit gained notoriety for containing trace amounts of thujone—a chemical substance in wormwood that had a reputation as a potent hallucinogenic.
Due to its supposed mind-expanding powers, absinthe became a favorite among artists and writers of the period, and was referenced in works by Picasso, van Gogh, Hemingway, and Oscar Wilde among others. To get their creative juices flowing, absinthe enthusiasts would fill a glass with absinthe, and then place a sugar cube onto a slotted spoon over the glass. They would then create a “louche”—a mixture formed by dripping cold water over the sugar cube until the absinthe beneath became cloudy.
It didn’t take long, however, for absinthe to get a bad rap. The Green Fairy was blamed for seizures and madness. In 1905, a French laborer murdered his pregnant wife and children after drinking absinthe. Teetotalers used absinthe as a scapegoat for low morality and societal ills. Soon, France banned The Green Lady, and other countries, including the United States, followed suit.
Nearly 100 years passed before the absinthe ban was overturned, after numerous studies proved that there is nothing hallucinogenic about absinthe.
Today, absinthe enthusiasts still enjoy their drink prepared using the traditional drip method, or in a classic absinthe cocktail, like a sazerac. However, craft cocktail enthusiasts have begun to incorporate absinthe into innovative new cocktails for its unique color and flavor, and also use absinthe to rinse a glass before preparing a cocktail to impart a whisper of floral and bitter notes.
This March 5, celebrate absinthe’s legal existence with a toast to The Green Goddess on National Absinthe Day!
National Absinthe Day is typically celebrated