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Lord Michael Lewis

Absinthe: The Topic

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This article from Maxim recounts an absinthe tasting from a few years back, including the proper way to drink it. My cousin was one of the tasters. I’ll ask him to fill me in on his personal impressions the next time I talk to him :smile:


Sometimes When You Are Right, You Can Still Be Wrong. ~De La Vega

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Have you even tasted it? I've done a great deal of research on absinthe, and just wanted to counteract the position of some former posters who said it only had an alcohol kick. Not that I'm contre, concerning modern-day absinthe...

I think during that part of the 19th century, there seemed to be some sort of paranoid, prohibition scare (like the American prohibition), and I don't believe that absinthe was as bad as it was purported.

Of course drinking pure wormwood will make you sick or kill you, but wormwood concentrate is NOT absinthe.

And I'd be willing to bet, that out of the 10's of million of absinthe drinkers in the late 19th century, only a handfull of people died and went mad...


Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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I believe there is a lot of paranoia and many misconceptions about this legendary drink. It seems to drive people up onto their soapboxes to make proclamations that they don't necessarily back up with actual fact. With such a heady myth, will people ever agree?


Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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On my trip back from Barcelona, I ended up picking up 4 different brands of Absinthe from the duty free shops. In Spain I picked up:

"Chateau Saint Ferran"

http://www.absinthebuyersguide.com/saintferran.html

"Mari Mayans"

http://www.absinthebuyersguide.com/marimayans.html

and "Pere Kermann's"

http://www.liquors.me.uk/en-gb/dept_151.html

and in London I picked up three bottles of "Sabor"

http://www.absinthebuyersguide.com/sebor.html

(for gifts, I've still got several bottles at home)

Of these four, I would specifically -not- recommend the Pere Kermann's. It was head and shoulders the worst of the lot. The others all fall within the same general level of quality. The Sabor at 55% abv was the gentlest of the lot, but both the Ferran (60% abv) and Mari (70% abv) had more anis flavor, which I preferred.

-Robert Hess

www.DrinkBoy.com

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I personally like the Serpis Red! Really nice herbal and anis flavor with a superb louche.

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Recently, I found that there is a product much like absinthe, but finally legal: absente.

I'm really curious about this, but it appears to carry a hefty price tag. I'm curious whether anyone has tried this, real absinthe, and what their opinion is of either.

Thanks!


I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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I tried some from the UK once. It was called absinthe, though I think there exists a "real" version of absinthe that this was not. I've got a really high alcohol tolerance so I drank a lot of it, probably 12-15 ounces over a couple of hours, with sugar, the whole bit. I didn't feel anything except more drunk (this was after about a bottle of wine on my own); I think I was expecting some kind of trippy hallucinations or something.

on edit: this stuff did have wormwood; is that the only factor in "real" absinthe? if so, I'm just not sure what the big deal is...


Edited by bratt23 (log)

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on edit: this stuff did have wormwood; is that the only factor in "real" absinthe?  if so, I'm just not sure what the big deal is...

Apparently absinthe with wormwood (&, thus, thujone, the compound in question) is again available in the UK.

I've never drank anything with thujone (that I'm aware of), so I can't comment on the experience.

Edit: BTW, Barnaby Conrad's Absinthe: History in a Bottle is an interesting read.


Edited by MatthewB (log)

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I had real Absinthe when I was living in Slovakia (where it is still legal). It made me very warm and kind of blurred the edges of everything around me. No hallucinations, exactly, but not your average buzz.

I don't know what the point of this "Absente" is if there is no wormwood in it. Isn't that the whole point?

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I don't know what the point of this "Absente" is if there is no wormwood in it.  Isn't that the whole point?

Ostensibly, yes, the point is the wormwood. But, being an American in the US, I figured I would take the gateway drug approach and try absente to decide if I liked it before I attempted to start saving money to go to Slovakia and try the real thing :smile:


I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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I don't know what the point of this "Absente" is if there is no wormwood in it.  Isn't that the whole point?

Ostensibly, yes, the point is the wormwood. But, being an American in the US, I figured I would take the gateway drug approach and try absente to decide if I liked it before I attempted to start saving money to go to Slovakia and try the real thing :smile:

The taste is anise-based. Do you like anise? If so, you'd like Absente. But Absente doesn't contain any "drugs" other than alcohol.

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A friend brought back a couple of bottles of absinthe from the Czech (is that spelled right? I'm not drunk now...) Republic awhile back. I managed to corner a considerable amount of it as a few of us sat around drinking after work. I probably put away 12 ounces of it on an empty stomach and will allow that I felt differently than after that much gin. Floaty, physically relaxed, mellow, but strangely alert. It seemed like things were happening around me and I processed them as if I were sober, but with no anxiety or irritation. This is probably total crap though. We were all amazed by the smuggling story and fascinated by the traditional absinthe utensils (which we used - spoon, sugar cube, pitcher of water, fire), all of it quite distracting. Who knows. I'll probably never get that brand again...

As for Absente, it is made to taste like the old-time absinthe but without any of the original effects. I think it was created by one of the pastis houses in France (maybe not) and was put out to capitalize on the renewed interest in absinthe and its history. It's pretty good. Each one of the anise flavored liquors has a unique taste and consistency. Pernod - strong liqorice, yellow, and syrupy. Ricard - A larger mix of spice flavors, kind of dry, and more naturally colored. Absenthe is complex and not too sweet. It's enjoyable with a few cubes and a splash of water, which you'll probably need. It's a higher proof. 100? 110? So it will fuck you up.

Just don't expect to hallucinate and start writing poetry...


If we aren't supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?

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There is no way you can get enough thujone from drinking absinthe to experience any of its mind-altering effects. You would be unconscious from alcohol poisoning before that happened. Any such perceived effects are purely psychological... much like such canards as "the mellow buzz you get from wine as opposed to the hard buzz from bourbon" or the often observed phenomenon whereby someone gets "high" smoking something they think is marijuana but in fact is not.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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This is something a have a bit of experience with.

First, on Absente vs. true Absinthe: The only difference between the two is that Absente is palatable, while true absinthe is generally not. I was just a small child when van Gogh and Verlaine where flirting with the green fairy, but my recollection is that nobody ever thought of the stuff as an epicurean experience.

I've had three brands of true absinthe--two from Portugal (actually not entirely positive the portuguese use wormwood, i've heard conflicting reports) and one from the Czechs. For my first taste, I ordered a glass from a Lisbon cafe on a hot summer afternoon. You want ice, the waiter asked? Not me. Well it was abominable. You need the ice. You need the sugar. You need all the help you can get because the taste of absinthe is bitter and aggressive. Hence, the much-romanticized tradition of holding a sugar cube on absinthe palette over your glass and slowly trickling water over it.

So why did anyone drink it? I believe the answer to that is that it was outrageously strong. The absinthe I brought back from Portugal (by the case, don't ask me how I got it through customs) was 69% alcohol. I held in my hand a bottle that was 75% but I saw my life flash before my eyes and put it back on the shelf. I also believe that most, if not all, of absinthe's effects--both the sought-after stoned state and the not-as-sought after degeneracy--were not due to the wormwood but were simply the result of people getting really seriously wasted. (However I have experienced the "blurred edges" phenomenon that mayapple reports. This is particularly pleasant when you're drinking absinthe by candle light, as you should. Never had any hallucinations, though.)

My criticism of Absente is that it's a bit too sweet. Michel Roux was going for a mass audience, and wanted his product sold at bars and restaurants, so I think he overdid it with the sugar. By no means should you follow the label instructions and add even more sugar, even if you have a fancy silver absinthe palette that you found in an antique shop in the Marais.

Actually, there's another absinthe substitute on the market that I prefer: Versinthe. (At least it was on the market 2 years ago; I haven't seen it lately.) Less sweet for sure, and more complex, with fun herbal flavors. Even better than the real thing if you ask me. If you can find it, check it out.

If you're curious about Absente, give it a whirl. But don't do it because you're hoping it'll taste like true absinthe.

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There is no way you can get enough thujone from drinking absinthe to experience any of its mind-altering effects.  You would be unconscious from alcohol poisoning before that happened.  Any such perceived effects are purely psychological...  much like such canards as "the mellow buzz you get from wine as opposed to the hard buzz from bourbon" or the often observed phenomenon whereby someone gets "high" smoking something they think is marijuana but in fact is not.

As someone in the pharm/tox brain business, I'd like to gently discourage such all-encompassing blanket statements. I'd like it better if it read "it's unlikely that you can get enough thujone from drinking absinthe to experience any of its mind-altering effects" and "any such perceived effects are more likely to be purely psychological". The nervous system is a complicated organic machine and one doesn't always respond the same way to the same doses of stuff as another. Also, by itself that much thujone may have no effect, but in combination with ethanol and the other bioactive substances that may be in absinthe, some may indeed experience a slightly different sort of inebriation. As for the differences in wine vs. bourbon buzzes, I'm not so willing to wave it all away...we already know that wine has other pharmacologically active agents in it besides ethanol, right?

Of course, I'm not talking about the 15-year-old smoking banana peels or oregano and thinking he/she is as high as if he/she had smoked a bowl of Humbolt county's finest.

regards,

trillium

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I became aware of Absinthe/Absente while researching everything New Orleans for an upcoming trip. Had to try it. Tried drinking it. Then found a recipe, I think some kind of oyster stew, and tried cooking with it. (EWWW!) Both ways were crap. The bottle isn't nice enough to be decorative either. Basically, the only reason I WOULD drink it was to get a cool buzz. But alas, the stuff I bought was not the "real thing".

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Trillium, the science just isn't there. I would suggest reading the other thread in this room entitled "Absinthe". Here is a short excerpt:

1. Thujone is the suspected candidate for the second active ingredient in Absinthe. (read not verifiable)

2. It is hypothesized, since Thujone is structurally similar to THC, that it may act on the same chemoreceptors that THC does.(That's a lot of guessing and not a whole lot of science)

3. Thujone is a convulsant, but would have to be active in low doses (which it is not) to allow for enough consumption to have effect. However, since Absinthe ranges from 55%-75% abv, consumption of levels high enough to cause acute symptoms borders on impossible. (Read, you can't get enough thujone to hallucinate from drinking Absinthe)

4. Steam distillation of wormwood yields roughly 2-4mg of Thujone per 1.5 oz of liquor. Based on actual Thujone research done on rats, it takes greater than 10 mg per kg of body mass administered chronically to notice even slight effects. (even at the highest levels, it would take 255 oz of Absinthe, drunk routinely, so as to build up presence in the blood, to cause a 150 lb individual to hallucinate)

5. "Absinthism" exhibits the exact same physiological effects as alcoholism. (I suppose that since I am drinking iced tea, yet exhibiting signs of malaria, I actually have "iced teaism"? Surely you see the absurdity?)

Furthermore, the article clearly states that there is no evidence to Absinthe's toxicity other than turn-of-the-century anecdotal evidence. And, most revealing, the article states that Benedictine, Vermouth, and Chartreuse all contain Thujone as well. I have never heard, after several years in the liquor industry, of anyone getting "high" or "hallucinating" from those products.

The article referenced in the excerpt can be found here: Absinthe FAQs

There is no evidence (even suggested evidence) to show that Absinthe causes anything other than funky drunkeness. It is akin to being a routine bourbon drinker and drinking a bottle of champagne for the first time. It will make you feel different. Or drinking beer if you're not a beer drinker, or anything else for that matter.

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I've had three brands of true absinthe--two from Portugal (actually not entirely positive the portuguese use wormwood, i've heard conflicting reports) and one from the Czechs.

FWIW, I have a friend in Portugal with whom I discussed absinthe once. He is quite familiar with "controlled substances" and was certain that the Portuguese absinto available now is not the"real thing"--presumably this meant "no wormwood". He also said there used to be a bar near Cais do Sodré (one of the seediest sections of town, near the docks) where you could get a bootlegged version of the real thing, but not for a few years now.

Does consumption of too much absinthe lead to absinthe-teeism?


My restaurant blog: Mahlzeit!

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The Spanish stuff is real. People have just exaggerated the claims of thujone content in 19th century Absinthe to strenghen their position against it. Absinthe around the turn of the century was manufactured with steam distillation which yeilds 4 mg per 1.5 oz at the most, but also renders the absinthe very bitter. For taste's sake, it is better at 2-3 mg. However, even at 4 mg, it means at most you would be looking at a 90 mg per litre at the most. This is readily available currently in the brand Serpis, which is the strongest currently available. It is also the brand I drink.

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As someone in the pharm/tox brain business, I'd like to gently discourage such all-encompassing blanket statements.  I'd like it better if it read "it's unlikely that you can get enough thujone from drinking absinthe to experience any of its mind-altering effects" and "any such perceived effects are more likely to be purely psychological". 

Good points, Trillium. My assertion was based on data I have seen as to the amounts of thujone typically needed to produce any consciousness-altering effects, the concentration of thujone in absinthe and the typical alcohol content of absinthe. This, along with my training in psycholgy, leads me to conclude that it is incredibly unlikely that the vast majority of drinkers drinking the vast majority of absinthe available can consume enough thujone so doing to experience any of thujone's consciousness-altering effects, and that any such perceived effects are almost certainly purely psychological in origin.

I will concede, however, that rare people having a certain physiology and drinking a particular batch of absinthe, etc. may experience some of absinthe's alleged consciousness-altering effects over and above what they might experience from a similar-tasting beverage with the same alcohol content.

As for the differences in wine vs. bourbon buzzes, I'm not so willing to wave it all away...we already know that wine has other pharmacologically active agents in it besides ethanol, right?

Things like wine, etc. may have pharmacologically active agents in them, but that doesn't mean that they are agents which have any consciousness-altering effect on the brain's chemistry. Of course, to a certain extent everything has a psychological effect... The smell of vanilla can result in certain brain events in some people. That said, I think we can agree that vanilla and THC are birds of a different feather. Most people who study these things would say that the effects resulting from the smell of vanilla were psychological and not consciousness-altering in nature whereas the effects resulting from the ingestion of THC are chemical and consciousness-altering. Given the fact that alcohol is a very strong consciousness-altering drug whose effects would likely obscure whatever minute effect any other agents in wine or bourbon might possibly have, and given an understanding of the power of the mind to "invent" psychological effects, especially where certain effects are expected, I think it is reasonable to conclude that any percieved differences between the altered consciousness one achieves via alcohol intoxication from drinking wine as opposed to bourbon are almost certainly psychological and not chemical. That, of course, does leave the door open for the special 0.001% case.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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I thought I'd respond to both sam and mickblueeyes in the same post. I'm not arguing the main effect of absinthe is alcohol. I am also not arguing that it should be outlawed based on the small amount of thujone it contains (in fact, in the previous thread that mickblueeyes has directed me to read, I've posted my assertion that I would guess a Burger King burger will do you as much harm then a glass or two of absinthe). What I am arguing is that true absinthe is a distillation of more than one thing, including wormwood, and that taken together, along with the ethanol, I wouldn't dismiss out of hand a drinkers assertion that they have experienced a different sort of inebriation. I said nothing about hallucination or "absinthism", which I certainly agree would be more likely due to consumption of too much alcohol than anything else. I'd appreciate it if my initial statement was read a little more carefully before I'm to be lectured on whether or not something is absurd.

I will also argue is that while ethanol does indeed have a powerful physiological effect (I'm staying away from the term psychological purposely) it does not immediately follow that because it has such a powerful effect it will mask the effects of other agents present. In fact, one could also make the opposite argument that the presence of ethanol would magnify the effect of another agent. Some studies this may be true with nicotine, for instance (note the "may be true"). While consciousness may be entirely understood from a psychological standpoint (I wouldn't know, I'm not an expert) it most certainly is not understood from a physiological standpoint. Further, the effects of ethanol on the nervous system are multiple and we don't even know which of these physiological effects make you "drunk". Therefore, I wouldn't personally dismiss someone's claim that the inebriation they experience from red wine is different from that from bourbon. I'm withholding judgement until I think there are enough data to decide if this is a reasonable assertion or not. It's my opinion there are not enough facts, hence, my suggestion that such strong statements in the post I was replying to are better served when qualified a little as in the examples I'd given. Of course, I would hold no blame if someone decides to chalk my comments up to unnecessary scientific pedantry and ass-covering and carry on exactly as they wished.

regards,

trillium

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What I am arguing is that true absinthe is a distillation of more than one thing, including wormwood, and that taken together, along with the ethanol, I wouldn't dismiss out of hand a drinkers assertion that they have experienced a different sort of inebriation.

I do agree with you about this. Perhaps I did not make it sufficiently clear in my previous post. While I think it is extremely unlikely that any such effects aren't almost entirely psychological or psychosomatic, I do think one cannot absulutely rule out the possibility that there may be some psychoactive properties in the other substances present that make themselves felt. That said, I think it would take a lot of convincing for me to buy that these effects are significant or produce a characteristic quality of inebriation separate from the psychological effects of expectations and associations relating to that beverage, etc. We do know, for example, that one can ingest a measurable amount of opiates by eating a poppy seed bagel. But I have a hard time believing that someone who ate a poppy seed bagel and then drank 4 martinis would experience an inebriation that was uniquely distinct from the inebriation of someone who ate a plain bagel and then drank 4 martinis -- despite the fact that we know opiates have an effect on consciousness and are potentiated by alcohol. In this example, if one of the drinkers had a strong psychological association with bagels I think that would have a much more profound effect on that drinker's quality of intoxication than the opiates in the poppy seeds.

Nevertheless, you do make a valid and interesting point, and I hope I didn't give the impression I thought your comments were absurd.

I will also argue is that while ethanol does indeed have a powerful physiological effect (I'm staying away from the term psychological purposely) it does not immediately follow that because it has such a powerful effect it will mask the effects of other agents present.  In fact, one could also make the opposite argument that the presence of ethanol would magnify the effect of another agent. ... Therefore, I wouldn't personally dismiss someone's claim that the inebriation they experience from red wine is different from that from bourbon.

You are correct, of course, that alcohol may potentiate the effect of other substances. That said, I think there is enough variation in the reported intoxicating effects of various alcoholic beverages to make me take any such reports with a big grain of salt. If there were certain psychoactive substances in bourbon (or whatever) that acted on the brain either directly or assisted by the potentiation of alcohol, I think A) we would see a lot more commonality among reports as to the unique intoxication produced by bourbon, and B) if research scientists thought this was a significant phenomenon we would see some research in this incredibly interesting area.

Given what we understand about perception and the mind, I am putting my money on psychological effects. It is, of course, impossible to separate the psychological effects that a person's associations with a certain alcoholic beverage may have on his/her perceived experience of the intixication that results from the consumption of that beverage. So, in that way, and to the extent that many associations and expectations that are connected with certain alcoholic beverages are influenced and formed by the culture at large, it is true that a "wine high" will differ from "bourbon high." And this goes a long way towards explaining why some beverages (Jagermeister, for example) are associated with commonly-reported characteristic psychological effects in certain cultures (American 20-somethings, in this case) and not particularly in others (German >40-somethings).

It's my opinion there are not enough facts, hence, my suggestion that such strong statements in the post I was replying to are better served when qualified a little as in the examples I'd given.  Of course, I would hold no blame if someone decides to chalk my comments up to unnecessary scientific pedantry and ass-covering and carry on exactly as they wished.

Oh, :raz:! What is wrong with a little precision of language? Although I clearly disagree as to the likelihood that such effects do happen, you are certainly not incorrect in pointing out the mistake in using such absolute terms. Although "extremely unlikely" and "impossible" are very closely related, they are not the same thing. So, while I don't think the evidence is there to give any credibility to such fraternity house myths as "Makers Mark gives a mellower buzz than Wild Turkey" and so forth, I suppose it is unscientific to reject them with absolute uncertainty. As you may note, I revised the language of my thoughts in my post of Aug 20 2003, 10:17 AM to reflect your comments.

Not that I'm going to be putting down this big shaker of sodium chloride any time soon when it comes to this subject. :wink:


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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Nevertheless, you do make a valid and interesting point, and I hope I didn't give the impression I thought your comments were absurd.

You didn't. I was too lazy to reply to two separate posts. Mea culpa.

A) we would see a lot more commonality among reports as to the unique intoxication produced by bourbon

If I were the betting sort, my money would be on bourbon or gin or vodka not having enough of anything in it to get you drunk differently then just drinking ethanol, but I wouldn't be so sure with red wine.

B) if research scientists thought this was a significant phenomenon we would see some research in this incredibly interesting area

As soon as NIH is willing to fund that sort of study, I'll write a grant! Until then, alas, I'm sticking with what pays the bills.

I think for some things it will end up being a combination of the two (perception and physiology), but when it comes to human brains, as fresco alludes, sometimes it's bloody hard to differentiate the two. Also, damn hard to ask the rat if the they feel the same sort of drunk with bourbon and red wine.

Given what we understand about perception and the mind, I am putting my money on psychological effects.

Ok, if you're wrong, you're buying, right? If you're not wrong but not entirely right, we both buy. Deal?

regards,

trillium

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I think for some things it will end up being a combination of the two (perception and physiology), but when it comes to human brains, as fresco alludes, sometimes it's bloody hard to differentiate the two.

Totally hard to differentiate, and very complicated. Basically you would have to separate out all the various constituent compounds and determine if any of them are consciousness-altering. Then you would have to determine the threshhold of perceptible consciousness-altering for each substance. Then you would have to factor in all the possible potentiation effects in the various combinations. Very, very complicated.

I think one also has to differentiate between 1. substances that have little physiological effect but can produce consciousness-altering effects by psychological association (e.g., mom's apple pie), 2. substances which act directly on the brain's chemistry to alter consciousness (e.g., THC) and 3. substances which do have a physiological effect that is not consciousness-altering but where the physiological effect alters consciousness by psychological association (sulfites, perhaps?). My strong suspicion is that alcoholic beverages are chock full of 1, have some 3 and very little of 2.

Ok, if you're wrong, you're buying, right?  If you're not wrong but not entirely right, we both buy.  Deal?

Oh, no... I'm buying no matter what. Having "e-known" you for all these years, if I ever meet you in the flesh you're not getting away without at least one drink from me. :cool:


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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From what I have been able to find absinthe itself is relatively benign. It is prolonged use that is the problem. A few times of getting drunk on it is not a problem or benefit. Long-term use will cause some problems not normally associated with alcohol abuse.


Living hard will take its toll...

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