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Celebrate National Absinthe Day with a glass of the Green Fairy

Updated March 4, 2020 - 3:15 pm

Thursday is National Absinthe Day — a good time to celebrate the Green Fairy, its legendary nickname.

Absinthe is said to have originated in Switzerland in the late 18th century and by the mid-19th century was showing up as the subject of paintings such as “The Absinthe Drinker” by Edouard Manet and “L’Absinthe” by Edgar Degas. It became wildly popular among writers, artists and other bohemians in Paris near the turn of the 20th century, with fans said to include Ernest Hemingway, Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde. It also was beloved in New Orleans, where it was the principal ingredient in the Sazerac.

Its 2007 legalization in the U.S., overturning a 1912 ban, made absinthe popular in Las Vegas, said J.R. Starkus, director of mixology and trade development for Southern Glazer’s Wine &Spirits.

“Anytime something comes back to legality, immediately it’s of interest to anybody who knows about it,” Starkus said. “But I think, like anything else, it calms itself down and starts to level out. I think that’s kind of where we are with absinthe now.”

Starkus said the once-common belief that absinthe led to hallucinations also fueled that initial burst of popularity.

“For a while, everybody was really interested in it, because they said, ‘Wow, this is the thing that would make me hallucinate,’ ” he said. “They soon realized that’s not the case. It’s as dangerous as anything else that’s 136 proof.”

Jason Hughes, a bartender at the Golden Tiki on Spring Mountain Road, said the bar doesn’t sell a lot of absinthe, but he likes to serve it whenever he can, because of that very mystique.

“I like it because it still has a lot of stigma,” Hughes said. “ ‘Is it the real stuff? Is it not?’ It’s all real.”

Starkus said it’s important that it be consumed properly.

“Some people were lighting it on fire, but that’s not really a thing,” he said. “It’s more about doing the absinthe drip, one ounce of absinthe and three to five parts of cold water poured over a sugar cube.”

With the sugar cube suspended on a pierced utensil, he said, the water flowing over it leads to the famed “louching,” when the absinthe turns sort of murky and milky.

Its distinctive, licorice-like flavor can be polarizing.

“That’s a love-hate thing with most people,” Starkus said. “But it works very well as a rinse in a cocktail, or in small quantities. It adds a nice aspect to a drink. Half a barspoon of absinthe will add a completely different element to a margarita, where if you’re doing an absinthe drip, you are going to taste that flavor profile.”

“I like the flavor a lot,” Hughes said. “I was that weird kid that ate black licorice candy. Nobody else liked it, but I didn’t have to worry about the other kids stealing my candy.”

He said some brands, such as Pernot, are more aggressively bitter, but brands such as Kubler are milder.

“I love serving it in cocktails,” he said. “It can be kind of strong — 120 (proof) minimum, and they can go much higher.”

Hughes said he likes to make an absinthe frappe, adding fresh lemon juice, a little simple syrup, some egg white and maybe some cream, although that’s optional.

“You shake and strain that and serve it in a nice tall glass with soda water,” he said. “It’s almost like a Ramos. Sometimes I add mint leaves, just to add another dimension.”

Or he’ll make an absinthe swizzle — a variation on the chartreuse swizzle that substitutes absinthe for chartreuse and mixes it with pineapple juice and lime juice over crushed ice.

Like any other alcohol, absinthe should be consumed responsibly. If you need a reminder, take it from Oscar Wilde:

“After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were,” he wrote. “After the second you see them as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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