The Absinthe Ritual

by John Pope

John discusses how to drink absinthe with an expert, in this interview with Victor from absinthes.com

Absinthe is a drink full of mystique and misconceptions. Slightly embarrassed about my lack of knowledge, I decided to ask an expert exactly how I should be drinking the much misunderstood green spirit, so got in contact with Victor from absinthes.com.


P&G: Everyone has heard of absinthe, but a lot of people are confused about exactly what it is and where it comes from.

Victor: That’s true, but there are no secrets really. Absinthe was first developed as a medical remedy in the Val-de-Travers (Switzerland), and after it became increasingly popular the original recipe was sold to a business man who created a commercial aperitif. It became extremely popular in France around 1900, and was banned and demonized by the government of many countries after it was blamed for social destruction, alcoholism, and violence. Today, absinthe is legal again, and completely harmless. Absinthe has a high ABV – 45%-74% on average – which can sound very intimidating. Absinthe is traditionally drunk diluted with water, which reduces the alcohol content to about the same than a glass of wine.

P&G: 74% alcohol sounds like something that will strip the lining from my throat.

Victor: You just have to know not to drink it straight and to keep a right water-absinthe-ratio. Then it surely won’t burn your throat.

P&G: Ok, so once we’ve got our hands on some of this misunderstood liquid, how should we drink it – there seem to be a lot of myths and misconceptions about that as well?

Victor: Absinthe is traditionally drunk diluted with water, which reduces the alcohol content to about the same than a glass of wine. So you would pour one measure of absinthe into a glass, and slowly pour about 3-4 measures of preferably iced water on top. You can add sugar if you want to, then you would drip the cold water over a sugar cube that sits on an absinthe spoon. This is called the traditional absinthe ritual, it takes some time and watching the drink louche while the water is added can be very soothing.

P&G: What is this louche, what is the water changing?

Victor: One of the herbs used to make Absinthe is anise, which contains an essential oil: anethole. Anethole completely dissolves in alcohol, but not in water. So, when you add water to your absinthe, the alcohol level decreases, and the anethole precipitates. This is what we experience as the explosive reaction of absinthe turning cloudy, when water is added. In general, adding water to absinthe reveals various aromas and flavours that are bound in alcohol. 

P&G: Ok, but why all of the ritual, can’t we just pour water in like with Pernod?

Victor: The essential oils all precipitate at different levels of dilution, pouring the water in slowly like this allows each aroma to develop slowly, one after the other. Sounds like a lot of work, I know – but exactly for that purpose, absinthe fountains were invented. You can simply place your absinthe glass underneath, watch the water drip and sit back. 

P&G: But nobody has an absinthe fountain laying around these days.

Victor: You can use a carafe instead, or you get one from absinthes.com for example.

P&G: What about a lighter? – my first taste of absinthe was in a bar where they set fire to the sugar – although to be fair the memories of that night are a little hazy.

Victor: That’s the Bohemian ritual, it was invented in the 90’s to make absinthe more appealing in Czech bars – but that procedure isn’t linked to the traditional preparation of absinthe. I can see why it can be exciting to look at and that it gives a ‘dangerous’ feel to the drink, but the burned sugar actually destroys some of the nice flavours of absinthe. So, we don’t really recommend or support this ritual, but since we can’t live up to the historic traditions forever, it’s clear that there has to be something new. There are some really good cocktails with absinthe coming up these days, that’s a nice change as well.

P&G: So tell us a little about absinthes.com – what do you do?

Victor:At absinthes.com, our mission is to make a broad range of high quality absinthes accessible to customers all over the world. We strive to educate our customers and spirits enthusiasts about our range of products, and to pass on all knowledge we gain through our relationships with suppliers and manufacturers. It is essential for us to provide the best customer service possible, and to offer assistance to any of our customers’ needs. I work for our marketing team, create strategies and observe the absinthe market.

If you need anything absinthe related, whether it is a fountain, a spoon, or a bottle of the stuff itself then P&G highly recommends checking out absinthes.com.
  • Jules

    Really?? – I’m so disappointed, I thought the whole setting fire to the sugar thing was some kind of old tradition, not just something invented as a marketing gimmick. :(

    • Victor – Absinthes.com

      Hi Jules,

      I’m sorry to disappoint you ;-)

  • Jamie.Bing

    Why was it banned for so long, the wormwood is supposed to be a hallucination, isn’t it?

    • Carol

      Jamie, surely you mean a hallucinogen?

      • Victor – Absinthes.com

        Hi Carol and Jamie,

        There is a substance contained in wormwood, called thujone. It’s a neurotoxin that can cause damage to the human brain. When absinthe was banned, it was believed that the amount of thujone contained in absinthe was the reason why people became alcoholics and went crazy and violent.

        Studies however proofed that neither the thujone levels in the
        absinthes before the ban, neither the ones from today ever contained this much thujone that one would feel an effect. There are legal restrictions of how much thujone is allowed to be contained in absinthe (35mg/l in the EU) This means that all absinthe brands basing their advertising on a ‘high thujone’ content are just playing on the false perception of absinthe causing hallucinogenic effects.

        If you want to read more about the ‘thujone-myth’, read: http://www.absinthes.com/themag/facts-analysis-absinthe/absinthe-and-thujone-2344

  • Dan

    If it is so subtle and the oils need to precipitate, etc. then surely putting it in a cocktail just kills it?

    • Victor – Absinthes.com

      Hi Dan,

      The main and most predominant flavours of absinthe (wormwood and
      anise) are always there, even if you don’t dilute it slowly. What I said
      in the interview would be the ideal-case-scenario of preparing an
      absinthe the traditional way (we have been on plenty of absinthe parties
      where people poured in the water very quickly, we still drank it, and
      we still enjoyed it ;) ) And as for cockails – like I said, the
      predominant flavours will add their share to the taste of the cocktail.

  • Artemisia Absinthium

    First of all, many informations that I see here are not true. Absinthe is made from plant Artemisia Absinthium that is also called Wormwood, There is no true origin of Absinthe since it was made in the beginning on couple of places in Europe as natural drink made by doctors from herbs for extra income (Czech, Austria,Germany, Switzerland). The main component extracted from seeds of Artemisia Absinthium is Thujone (the only reason why people like absinthe). It is MAIN Psychoactive component of Absinthe(not anis) it has similar structure like THC but it is different and LEGAL C10H16O. Absinthe is in most of EU country’s legal and it goes like this: “Absinthe drink must be made out of Artemisia Absinthium, it can contain max 35 mg / lit of Thujone with min. 50 % of Alc ( it can not be made below 55 % of Alc, since the louche would be made inside bottle and that is not the point). So you don’t have any hallucinations, but the flow is very euforic and you can’t afford to cross the line. As I like to say : drink it with mind and respect. I also must say that my manufacturer is the only person in last 20 years that makes true 100% natural Absinthe with highest level of Thujone and lowest level of alcohol, without any aditives or chemistry. Pure natural absinthe. you can check my site: http://www.artemisia-absinthium.hr.
    And also Absinthe is legal in USA but it can’t contain no more than 10 mg/lit.
    Btw I have in my products also Aromatherapy massage oil (extract with 380 mg / lit of Thujone) don’t ask me is it possible to drink it :)

    Every information that I gave, I haven’t read somewhere, as main exclusive distributor of Bairnsfather it is my job to know this things. .

  • Artemisia Absinthium

    Also about the effect, I am so tired of all this wannabe Absinthe manufaturers , there is over 50 of them in the world. Anybody who knows some base things and who have tried real 35 er, knows that there is no such similar effect and in the same time anything similar that is LEGAL. It ios a very euphoric filling, with much buzz in the same time. Since i am connected with many musicians and artist(clients) which have very opened Bohemian way of life like me, I have found out that many people in that world told me that Thujone reminds them on something like Extasy or Cocain, it can’t be compaired to anything but it is beautifull if you use it with respect and in normal quantity like anything else,the best thing is that it doesn’t have any sideffects. I recommend that you drink it pure or diluted with water, DON’T MIX IT WIT OTHER DRINKS, it only kills the effect, and have in mind that Thujone kills every parasites in you body, it cleans your stomach and if you put some B.S. on it you will have contra effect.

  • Con Fused

    So, one absinthe seller saying that the whole thujone high is a myth and another saying it is the only reason to buy absinthe…

    and the reality is?

    • GreenFairy

      One of these sellers is a brand ambassador, and the other seller is a platform where you can buy all sorts of different absinthe. I suppose if you look at the site of the brand ambassador as well, you can tell what kind of idea is behind their products.