Once again I visited Lara and Chris in Movelier – a small village in the corner between France and Germany. It is the poorest part of Switzerland, mostly farmers and the people speak French. Last time Lara told me about her neighbor who is an Absinthe connoisseur. This time we went over to his place for a taste of real Swiss Absinthe.
Most people think of France when they hear Absinthe but that is not correct. If we talk about Absinthe in the modern sense of a distilled spirit there is evidence that it was made for the first time about 1780 in Val de Travers near the French border. There is no exact date as it varies by account. It is a highly alcoholic spirit (45–74% ABV / 90–148 U.S. proof) with an anise-flavored taste. Derived from botanicals like flower and leaves of Artemisia absinthium (Grand Wormwood), sweet fennel, green anise as well as other herbs.
“A glass of absinthe is as poetical as anything in the world. What difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset? – Oscar Wilde
A popular legend names Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor living in Couvet to be the creator of Absinthe. He sold it as an all-purpose remedy and his recipe was later passed to the Heriod sister of Couvet. And the sisters marketed it as a medicinal elixir. Others say the sisters may have been making Absinthe before Ordinaire settled in Switzerland. So nobody knows for sure but the next big step for the spirit was in 1797. Mr. Dubied bought the formula from the sisters. Together with his son and son-in-law Henry-Louis Pernod, he opened the first absinthe distillery in Couvet.
“Let me be mad, mad with the madness of Absinthe, the wildest, most luxurious madness in the world.” – Marie Corelli
You could not really order an Absinthe in a café in Paris for quite some time. The drink made a detour over Africa before it became famous in France. French soldiers fighting Muslim insurgents in Algeria in the 1840s took it into battle. They used it to spike their canteen water and claimed it was good for warding off tropical fever, dysentery, harmful bacteria, and “to recruit exhausted strength.” After they won the war they found it very useful back home as well to fight the fear of fever and germs back in France. On top of that, it proofed itself useful for warding off sobriety and the ennui of civilian life.
It rose to great popularity as an alcoholic drink in late 19th- and early 20th-century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers. To name just a few of the known absinthe drinkers: Edgar Allan Poe, Vincent van Gogh, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Marcel Proust, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Charles Baudelaire, and Amedeo Modigliani.
“Let us toast to animal pleasures, to escapism, to rain on the roof and instant coffee, to unemployment insurance and library cards, to absinthe and good-hearted landlords, to music and warm bodies and contraceptives… and to the “good life”, whatever it is and wherever it happens to be.” – Hunter S. Thompson
A big part of the popularity of Absinthe was that it was often portrayed as a dangerous and addictive psychoactive drug and a hallucinogen. Thujone which is present in the spirit was blamed for these harmful effects. By 1915 Absinthe was banned almost everywhere in the world. Recent studies have shown that the psychoactive compounds found in the spirit have been greatly exaggerated – apart from the alcohol of course.
“The absinthe made everything seem better. I drank it without sugar in the dripping glass, and it was pleasantly bitter. I poured the water directly into it and stirred it instead of letting it drip. I stirred the ice around with a spoon in the brownish, cloudy mixture. I was very drunk. I was drunker than I ever remembered having been.” – Ernest Hemingway
The traditional preparation of the drink is called the French Method. One places a specially designed spoon over a glass filled with some Absinthe. On top of the spoon, you place a sugar cube over which you slowly drip ice-cold water into the glass.
The sugar cube is added to sweeten the drink and counteract its mild bitterness. The Greek word for absinthe translates into “undrinkable” because if you drink it from the bottle it is too strong and bitter.
When the water dilutes the spirit the components with poor water solubility will cloud the drink. Mainly released from the spirit are those from anise, star anise, and fennel. Together with flavors that “blossom” and the perfuming of herbal aromas that otherwise would be muted in the neat spirit it will become part of the taste that you inhale with your nose while you drink Absinthe. Everyone has a different opinion on how much water you should poor and it also depends on the Absinthe you use. In general, you can say 3 to 5 parts of water to 1 part absinthe. The final result will be a milky drink that is called the “louche” which is French for opaque or shady.
“Let me be mad, then, by all means! mad with the madness of Absinthe, the wildest, most luxurious madness in the world! Vive la folie! Vive l’amour! Vive l’animalisme! Vive le Diable!” -Marie Corelli
Since everybody wants the drink different it is you that prepares the drink for yourself or for your friends by hand. There were even some experts that poured it for the guest and taught them how to do it properly in some of the bars in Paris. As the popularity increased the Absinthe fountain was introduced. It looks like a small version of an old street light with 4 or 6 small spigots. This enables the drinkers to prepare a few drinks at the same time, socialize while the water slowly drips over the sugar.
Not sure why there is a Maple nut on the absinthe fountain
Fresh clean spring water with ice cubes filles the glass reservoir of the absinthe fountain
It serves up to 4 people. There is Absinthe in the glass
Swiss Absinthe Marylin 54%. Distilled in Boveresse Val-De-Travers
These are special Absinthe spoons. You place a piece of sugar on them and adjust the glass so the sugar is right under the water tap
Now you open the tap – but only a bit so the water drips over the sugar into the Absinthe
A drop every 1 or 2 seconds will do the trick
Slowly the Absinthe gets milky from the bottom up
It is quite relaxing to view this very old fountain creating a perfect drink
There you go! Stop the water – remove the spoon and enjoy!
“So there it is. Absinthe provides you with a surfboard (thujone) and a wave (alcohol) on which to ride. That is the singular appeal of absinthe over normal alcohol. While alcohol provides a valuable escape, a vacation from one’s self, if you will, absinthe offers the same journey (on a fast, high-powered aircraft, I might add) with the promise of a window seat with a superior view. For the drunkard, it’s a fast ride with a twist. For the writer? It’s the alcoholic muse on a leash.”
-Frank Kelly Rich
A few more pictures from Movellier
Unteraha at the Black Forrest. We stopped on the way from Stuttgart for a beer.
Perfect Beer ‘o clock in Movelier
New family member
He will grow fast
Not sure who passes here to read this …