National Absinthe Day

A distilled highly alcoholic light green colored beverage considered a spirit and not a liqueur. A spirit, or liquor, has been distilled from grains or plants, sometimes flavoured but always unsweetened. Once a spirit, or liquor gets sweetened and flavoured, ie mint, it then becomes a liqueur.

Artemesia Absinthium
Artemesia Absinthium

Absinthe is made up of the flowers and leaves of the perennial Wormwood plant (Artemesia Absinthium) and flavoured with green anise (similar taste to licorice), sweet fennel and other herbs. The plant originates in Europe and grows well in Canada.

The French word, absinthe, translated to English is wormwood, and comes from Latin absinthium and from Greek apsinthion.

Revelation 8:10-11 states: “The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water—the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.” Revelation was written in the year 95AD.

The use of drinking absinthe is mentioned in Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura (I 936–950) book of poems, where Lucretius indicates that a drink containing wormwood is given as medicine to children in a cup with honey on the brim to make it drinkable.

The first known use of the liqueur, laced with wormwood, was in 1612. Back then, the taste was highly potent and men needed a lot of courage to drink it. Today’s Absinthe alcohol content ranges from 45% to a whopping 74%.

Van Gogh painted Still Life with Absinthe during springtime in Paris, France in 1887. Reproductions of the painting range from the $200 figure for smaller sizes and as much as $1,000 for larger ones.

Wilfred Niels Arnold, a Kansas City, Kan., biochemist wrote a study on the artist in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He believes Van Gogh was addicted to chemicals in the terpene class. Terpenes are present in camphor, absinthe and turpentine, which he was known to drink, yes, even the turpentine. A tree planted over Van gogh’s grave, in Auvers-sur-Oise, happens to be a Thuja tree, a classic source of thujone, the toxic element in absinthe. Thujone is a chemical compound found in a number of other plants, one of them being Artemesia Absinthium so it naturally ends up in Absinthe.

Absinthe was so popular in France before it was banned (for its highly intoxicating effect) that bars even had “the hour of absinthe” like today’s cocktail hour, says Arnold. Despite the origins of the drink being in Egypt, France has claimed the fame. Dr Pierre Ordinaire, while living Couvet, Swiss, designed Absinthe, as it is known today. It had been rumoured to cure flatulence and anemia.

Five years after his death, in 1797, Henri-Louis Pernod opened a distillery in Switerland. Later, he opened Pontarlier near the Swiss border in France. Production of absinthe stopped in 1915 when it was banned because of its believed psychoactive and hallucinogenic qualities. It switched to the production of pastis, an anise flavoured spirit. When the ban lifted in the 1990’s, they continued with absinthe, too. It is currently a commume but there are many distilleries in Couvet.

The hallucinogenic qualities, some think are false. People would get very drunk on it because they loved the taste so much, they drank too much of it. The high alcohol content contributed, too, I’m sure. Some believe the intoxicating effects also were due to the other herbal qualities found in absinthe. Some of the herbs have heightening qualities and some have lowering (especially since liquor is a depressant) to give something more than an alcoholic buzz.

Europe lifted their ban in the 1990s since it is now believed to not be as harmful. Their law dictates a maximum 35 mg of thujone per kg are allowed in absinthe.

US lifted their ban in 2007 on the condition it contains less than 10ppm of thujone, Apparently, today there are no traces of it in bottles sold in the US.

Made in France $64.95 at 62% Alcohol Content

However, another source states that it is not legal in the US but as a food, not a drug. The US does not allow the distillation or commercial production of absinthe but you can legally own a bottle or make your own as long as it is not distilled.

Our LCBO sells absinthe but is costly. It is best served chilled with a little water and sugar.

There is a restaurant in Ottawa called Absinthe, located at 1208 Wellington St. I have eaten there once a little over year ago. Patrons pay a base amount, for example, at that time, it was $20, to receive a 3-course meal. You choose from their options of appetizers, entrees and a dessert. They offer vegetarian dishes as well. I don’t remember what I ordered, I think a soup to start, but I do remember the taste. Delicious!

After spending 15 minutes calling MANY restaurants offering French cuisine, I finally found the brand new Sur Lie, that sells Absinthe. They serve it in the traditional format with a sugar cube!

Located at 110 Murray St., it is out of the main hub but is a hidden gem. The friendly and knowledgeable staff make it a great place to relax. The Amazing Matthew knows his stuff when it comes to the products they offer at the bar. He was kind enough to let me video tape his preparation of my drink. To my surprise, he lit it on fire! Three weeks ago, they opened their doors and this Tuesday is the grand opening. Please show your support and try to make it.

Their unique menu is a must see. The not-often-seen beef tartare, duck and scallops are on my list when I attend Tuesday’s opening. Organic salmon is on the menu, too. So many great choices!

There are promises of a superb patio this summer. See you out back!

Have A Great Absinthe Day!

Happy Absinthe Day! Who knew there was such a procedure to this drink!

Posted by Kim Ratcliffe-Doe on Sunday, March 5, 2017