We’ve all heard the rumors about absinthe liquor. Some say it’s made from wormwood, others that it has hallucinogenic properties. None of this is true, but what is?
Absinthe is a distilled spirit made with alcohol and flavored with herbs, including green anise and wormwood. Its production was banned in many countries more than 100 years ago, but it’s now legal in the U.S., Europe, and many other parts of the world as long as it contains less than ten parts per million of thujone. This is a chemical found in wormwood linked to convulsive disorders.
The myths surrounding Absinthe liquor are almost as old as the drink itself — it was invented in Switzerland in 1792 — and were used by those trying to ban its production. Let’s look at some of the biggest:
Biggest myths about Absinthe Liquor
- Absinthe is a hallucinogen and makes you see fairies.
This is, in fact, false. Absinthe is not a hallucinogen, and it will not make you see fairies.
The reason it’s thought to be a hallucinogen is because of thujone, which was thought to be present in the plant wormwood. However, recent research has shown that wormwood doesn’t contain enough thujone to make Absinthe hallucinogenic. Absinthe has so little thujone that governments can’t even agree on what counts as “too much.”
- Absinthe is illegal everywhere.
The biggest myth of all is that the liquor called Absinthe is illegal. Technically, it’s not. It’s banned in the United States and some other countries because thujone, a chemical compound found in wormwood, was once considered dangerous. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows a small amount of thujone to be present in certain alcoholic beverages (under ten parts per million), so Absinthe is now legal here as long as it falls within those limits.
- Absinthe makes you crazy drunk.
Absinthe has a lower percentage concentration of alcohol than most wines and beers — between 10% and 36%. Vodka and whiskey have alcohol concentrations between 30% and 95%. Even though you might feel like you’re getting drunk, you probably won’t be anywhere near intoxicated. The effects take longer than strong spirits like whiskey and vodka. And unlike booze, which tastes awful once it gets going, absinthes taste great when they’re fresh out of the glass.
- Absinthe will give you stronger hangovers.
Absinthe is a strong spirit, so it is associated with strong hangovers. But in fact, you don’t have to worry about harsher hangovers from Absinthe, even though it’s one of the few alcoholic drinks to contain wormwood.
The alcohol in Absinthe is not the culprit behind your hangover; that would be the ethanol. The ethanol content of Absinthe will be the same or similar to other spirits of the same proof.
The myth about severe absinthe hangovers may stem from Absinthe’s reputation as a hallucinogenic drink that can cause you to go crazy and wreck your life. In the trending era, as COVID-19 is at its peak of popularity, myths have arisen that drink alcohol after the COVID-19 vaccine can increase immunity.
- Absinthe will make you go blind.
Absinthe is often referred to as “the green fairy,” but according to the myth, she’s not very nice. She’s said to make you hallucinate and go blind, but that’s not true. The only thing absinthe does is get you drunk – like other types of liquor. It was even used medicinally in the 1800s due to its high alcohol content, which was believed to help fight infection and kill germs.
- You can set fire to Absinthe and drink it like that.
You can do this with any high-proof spirit, from 151-proof rum to Everclear 190-proof grain alcohol — not just Absinthe. It’s dangerous and stupid to do this because it’s easy to get burned when you’re pouring alcohol over an open flame (that’s why restaurants won’t let you order drinks with flaming Bacardi 151). The “flaming” drinks at frat parties are done with low-proof alcohol like Blue Curacao or sambuca, which is safe because it doesn’t have enough alcohol content to ignite.
- There’s no difference between Absinth and Absinthe.
Many people believe there’s just one type of Absinthe, but there are two very distinct types. French-style “absinthe” or “absinth” (as they spell it) is made with grande wormwood and contains a high concentration of thujone. It tastes like black licorice liquor and is usually drunk with water poured over a spoonful of sugar. It’s based on a traditional recipe dating back to 1797, when Henri-Louis Pernod opened his first distillery near Pontarlier, France.
The second type of Absinthe is Bohemian-style “absinth,” which contains no grande wormwood — or any other type of wormwood, for that matter. Instead, this style is distilled with aniseed and uses sweet fennel as its primary flavoring agent. Like French Absinthe, it’s usually drunk with water poured over a spoonful of sugar. However, it tastes more like Italian sambuca than black licorice liquor.
So, is Absinthe the misunderstood liquor of the late 19th century, or is it simply a mind-altering drug? As it stands today, several myths regarding the nature of this drink have been laid to rest. Absinthe remains a mysterious beverage, and some of its myths will probably never be dispelled; nevertheless, with modern-day science and technology at our disposal, one thing is certain: Absinthe isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.