Absinthe is a fabled drink, shrouded in mystery, with a storied past.
Originating in Switzerland in the 1800s, this light green, anise-flavored beverage gained popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Paris, especially among famous writers like Edgar Allen Poe and Ernest Hemmingway.
Known for its high alcohol content – often nearly twice the amount of vodka or whiskey – absinthe was commonly misunderstood to have a dangerous, almost hallucinogenic effect. Absinthe was banned in the United States in the early 1900s but has gained popularity since the ban was lifted in 2007. Ohio was cleared for absinthe sales in 2008.
Some describe it as having a strong licorice flavor, while others find it bitter. Its main ingredients are anise, wormwood and botanical herbs. Chad Kessler, chief distiller at 451 Spirits, a Columbus-based craft distillery, concocts a version known as Midsommers Night Absinthe. He blends Ohio apple brandy with 14 different herbs, including anise, fennel, wormwood, cardamom, coriander, lemon verbena, and spearmint. “I saw an opportunity to make things that people weren’t making in the industry,” Kessler says. “It’s a nice, slow, refreshing drink, meant to be sipped at a café while watching the world go by.”
Kessler says bartenders enjoy educating patrons on the best ways to enjoy absinthe. The traditional serving is three to five parts ice water to one part absinthe. It’s often served using the “louching” technique, using a short-stemmed flute with a slotted spoon and sugar cube resting on top. Ice-cold water is slowly poured over the sugar cube, draining into the glass and creating a milky green cocktail.
Jeanne Osborne-Felberg, general manager of Jekyll’s Kitchen in Chagrin Falls, says absinthe creates curiosity at her bar, whether it is served louching-style or blended into a Sazerac cocktail. “A lot of people are really intrigued about it. It really is something special,” Osborne-Felberg says.
The next time you feel like ordering something different, give absinthe a try – but only if you enjoy licorice flavor. In absinthe, it’s not a subtle taste.