The Absinthe-Minded Artiste

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My husband and I are psyched beyond words for our upcoming trip to Paris… If not for anything else, the weather in Manila is getting worse as the days pass. To celebrate the occasion, I initially thought of writing about wine… But that’s the easy (but complex) idea. You know how people automatically equate France to wine…? Too predictable. Plus, a discussion on French wines will merit a nice, long, intellectual (BORING!) chapter to do it justice.

So, I decided not to write about that.

I’ve mentioned that I write from passion, right? I decided instead to write about two things I love about Paris: Artistic Paris in the early 1900’s and alcohol, specifically Absinthe.

Anyone who knows me understands that I am obsessed with anything that has to do with The Lost Generation of Paris and The Belle Époque. Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso… Van Gogh, Degas… I think that some of the best literary and visual masterpieces came from this era and from this bunch of tortured souls. In fact I’m such a big fan of the film “Midnight in Paris” for reviving all these masters on the silver screen.

Prior to the film, I was left to read and imagine the daily dealings of these artists: Lounging about in Deux Magots, engaging one another in a pseudo-psychological yet intellectual conversation… Exchanging ideas from the most mundane to the most profound.

This is, however, a beverage blog… So before I bore you to death with my ramblings about these artistic geniuses, let’s move on booze talk. It’s quite interesting to note that the common thread these people had was an alcoholic beverage called Absinthe.

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Bottle of Absinthe from Ralph’s, Absinthe spoon from Paris, and a rock glass.

Much notoriety comes with this beverage. It is often attributed to the “tortured” part of bygone Paris’ tortured souls. Once called a “hallucinogenic”, this “green fairy” has such a high alcoholic content that it rendered the drinker so immensely intoxicated. This extreme level of intoxication was rumored to have induced so much creativity and inspiration from the Lost Generation of masters, and soon, it became a staple in the bohemian Paris café scene during the late 19th to the mid 20th century.

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Bottle of Absinthe from Paris (came with the spoon too!). Complete with Van Gogh’s self-portrait in the front.

What makes this beverage so lethal? Depending on the distillation methods, the alcohol percentage could be anywhere from 45%-75% (average beer is about 5% alcohol, wine has a range of about 10%-16%). They say that the level of intoxication you can get from a potent dose of Absinthe can make you “see things”, therefore it is called a “hallucinogenic”. Thujone was once attributed as a chemical component of this beverage. Thujone was once theorized to cause muscle spasms, then it was said to have similarities to cannabis (you know, weed…? Oh good, it’s organic, we shouldn’t panic). None of these theories were proven (in fact the similarity between Thujone and cannabis has been successfully disproven in 1999).

They also say that Absinthe is so addictive that it can cause some form of dependency… A form of alcoholism specific to Absinth called absinthism. Such was the fear of consuming this alcoholic beverage that it was banned in several countries (and still is) for decades.

Assuming you are one of the brave souls who are willing to try one, here a few methods for preparation:

1) The Bohemian method (my personal favorite for showmanship): Douse a sugar cube in a shot of absinthe. Put a slotted spoon on top of a glass (I personally prefer a rock glass for its ease) with one shot of Absinthe. Put the sugar cube on the slotted spoon. Ignite the sugar cube. Drop the sugar cube in the Absinthe. Extinguish with about 3 shots of water. This allows most of the alcohol to evaporate.

2) The French method (points for lethal-ness): Again, prepare a glass with one shot of Absinthe. Put a slotted spoon with a sugar cube on top, not necessarily doused with Absinthe. Slowly pour 3-5 shots of water through the spoon, passing through the sugar.

So… Artistic inspiration? Potential first step to a downward spiral? You be the judge. It’s available in most liquor stores. If you are not brave enough but still want to experience Absinthe in some sensory level, I found a nice, safe, non-edible alternative: Body Shop has an Absinthe hand cream which smells like the real stuff. It negates any smell of garlic you have in your hands too. 😉

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Available in Body Shop stores

Do share your experiences with Absinthe. Cheers!

**After further research, I found out that one of the factors that made Absinthe lethal in the early part of the 20th century is adding Opium in the cocktail. Le gasp!

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