Absinthe might not cause hallucinations (as it was once thought to do), but that doesn’t make it any less fun to drink. The green fairy spirit started making a comeback after it was re-legalized in the U.S. 10 years ago. Now, it’s appearing in craft bars around Reno and is being produced by a regional distiller.
The black licorice-flavored drink uses anise, fennel, wormwood and other herbs to create its green color and flavor. The distillation is like gin in that it starts out as a basic grain-based clear spirit that is later infused with herbs. Except gin herbs don’t impart a color, so there’s that.
That sparkling feeling
The high alcohol proof puts absinthe into another category of booze and is probably responsible for the mythical hallucinations. The average bourbon is 90 to 100 proof, while the average absinthe is 120 to 140 proof. “Cask-strength” bourbons come closer to this range.
The absinthe herbs can give people a certain “clarity,” a “sparkling” feeling and focus after the first drink or two.
“This seems to wear off after 20 or 30 minutes, leaving one with an alcohol buzz,” according to Original Absinthe, a British absinthe trading company. “Two to three glasses of absinthe seems to do the trick. More than that, depending on the proof of the alcohol, absinthe just makes you very drunk.”
To slow down that drunkenness, absinthe is not something you should drink straight like whiskey. You can. But just probably shouldn’t.
Drip, drip, drip
Absinthe is one of those old European drinks best enjoyed with way too many steps. Traditionally, pour one or two ounces of absinthe into the bottom of an absinthe glass (similar to a Picon punch glass with a bulb at the bottom of the stem).
Next, place an absinthe spoon over the top of the glass. Put a sugar cube on the spoon. Finally, slowly drip ice water over the sugar cube using an absinthe fountain until the water melts the sugar and fills the glass.
See, absinthe even has its own tools and accoutrements. Because it’s French.
The result is a somewhat murky green or white glass of diluted absinthe. The dilution helps tame the bitter, black licorice flavor and makes it more pleasant. And also addictive if you like sugar.
Absinthe fountains are a bit expensive, though (about $200), and probably not something the casual home drinker will use very often. Though the fountain looks ornate and could make a great bar centerpiece.
Smaller absinthe drippers are made for single-glass use and are about $35. Or, you can use a small carafe and just pour slowly over a bar spoon of regular sugar. Just don’t tell anyone.
If you end up enjoying the spirit, it’s worth comparing local Frey Ranch absinthe to absinthe from other American distillers like St. George Spirits or Germain-Robin, available separately in Reno at Whispering Vine Wine Co., Ben’s Fine Wine & Spirits, Total Wine & More, or Craft Wine & Beer.
For the absinthe fountain experience in Reno, stop into Chapel Tavern with a few friends or do it alone at 1864 Tavern. And try the absinthe cocktails at the Depot or Death and Taxes.
Mike Higdon is the city life reporter at RGJ Media. He can be found on Instagram @MillennialMike and on Facebook @MikeHigdonReno.