Absinthe makes you crazy and criminal, provokes epilepsy and tuberculosis, and has killed thousands…It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant, it disorganizes and ruins the family… – Barnaby Conrad III (via Wikipedia)
Outlawed in the early 1900’s due to it’s supposed deleterious and hallucinogenic effects, absinthe (pronounced "absenta" in Catalan) is back and legal in much of Europe.
Apparently, the art of absinthe manufacture was all but lost, and the distillers had to reverse engineer aspects of the process by chemically analyzing the residue of old casks, but they appear to have nailed it. Mark Linneman and I enjoyed several glasses at a small pub near our flat. (We spent a couple great days and nights hanging out with our friends from home, Mark and Kelly, who only semi-coincidentally were in Barcelona at the same time as we.)
Absinthe fills the glass clear, pale green when served, and comes over ice with a spoon, a sugar cube and a small bottle of water. We dipped the sugar cube in the absinthe, set spoon and soaked cube across the mouth of the glass and lit the cube on fire. In the rosy gloom and hum of the pub, the small, steady blue flame of the absinthe and caramelizing sugar was hypnotizing.
When it burnt completely, we dropped the cube down into the glass, added a few splashes of water (which turned the drink from clear to milky) and enjoyed. The flavor was like a strong, alcoholic licorice (fennel and licorice are the two main ingredients, along with grande wormwood, source of the supposed hallucinogenic and neurotoxic chemicals).
The quality of the drunk was definitely different. It’s hard to characterize precisely. It’s a strong drink, ringing in around 120 – 150 proof, so there’s certainly a fair amount of just plain old drunkenness at work, but it’s not like a beer drunk or a wine drunk. There was a loose giddiness about it, and conversation and laughter came quick and easy.
I wouldn’t say it was hallucinogenic, but walking the street afterwards, things seemed a bit off-kilter and surreal. Of course, the streets of Barcelona at night can feel that way stone cold sober, so who’s to say.