|The Absinthe Ritual
The correct way to prepare and drink an absinthe
Unlike many everyday aperitifs, absinthe was historically almost always prepared
and drunk in a highly specific way - this, the so-called "absinthe ritual" was part
of the reason for its popularity and for the unique position it's always held in the
pantheon of drinks.
While the elements of the basic ritual are well known - the sugar cube positioned
on a perforated spoon placed on top of the glass, iced water dripped on the cube,
slowly dissolving it and diluting the absinthe dose in the glass with the sugared
water - there are many refinements which both enhance the pleasure of preparing
the drink and subtly improve the taste of the finished absinthe. They're all
discussed in detail here, and illustrated with three streaming videos. There's also
a page devoted to an alternative preparation ritual - the little known, but
fascinating and historically sanctioned "glass-in-a-glass" method
The Classic French Absinthe Ritual
The classic French absinthe ritual involves placing a sugar cube on a flat perforated spoon, which
rests on the rim of the glass containing a measure or “dose” of absinthe. Iced water is then very
slowly dripped on to the sugar cube, which gradually dissolves and drips, along with the water, into
the absinthe, causing the green liquor to louche (“loosh”) into an opaque opalescent white as the
essential oils precipitate out of the alcoholic solution. Usually three to four parts water are added to
one part of 68% absinthe.
You'll find a comprehensive explanation of the nuances of the ritual here.
An Unusual Alternative - The "Glass-in-a-Glass" Method
The so-called "Glass in a Glass" method is cumbersome in practice, but fascinating to watch. It involves
placing the absinthe dose in a small stemmed glass inside a much larger glass, then slowly adding water
until all the absinthe in the small glass has been displaced and has overflowed into the larger glass. This
method was never widely used, but is historically authentic, and various source documents confirming this
are included here.
A full series of photographs shows the preparation of an absinthe using this method from start to finish.
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The Louche Effect and the Taste of Vintage Absinthe
The pictures here document the louche of a number of well preserved vintage absinthes. These absinthes
were naturally chlorophyllically coloured and have generally faded to a light brown or amber tint, just as
leaves turn in the fall. Interestingly though, when iced water is added and the absinthe begins to louche, a
hint of the original green colour often magically reappears.
The taste of vintage absinthe is varied - each marque had its own unique style, some rich and spicy, some
lighter and more floral. Very few show any pronounced bitterness.
Sugar and the Absinthe Ritual
Sugar use is a matter of taste and personal preference, and we have today a less sweet tooth in some
respects than was the case a century ago. But sugar is a time honoured and traditional addition to
absinthes of the highest quality, and it’s certainly worth trying any new absinthe both plain and with the
addition of a sugar cube, in order to fully appreciate its taste and potential.
The preponderance of evidence - including the contemporary photographs, postcards and posters shown
here - suggests that most absinthes during the Belle Époque, including all the finest brands, were mostly
drunk with sugar, or with one of the myriad of other sweeteners - anisette, orgeat etc - popular at the time.