Why You Should Add Absinthe to Your Home Bar and 10 Recipes to Try


Absinthe by Kjn91 (CC BY-SA)

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Absinthe by Kjn91 (CC BY-SA)

The Green Fairy

When it comes to absinthe — the mythical green-hued spirit — there’s plenty of history, lore, and plenty of enticing cocktail recipes to go around. There are also quite a few misconceptions surrounding the vibrantly verdant, high-proof spirit — also known as The Green Fairy or Le Fée Verte in French. To dispel some of the misunderstandings and show why you should add a bottle to your home bar, we're serving up the fascinating history of this potent liquor, along with a few recipes for absinthe cocktails and even some food recipes.

Related: Spirits and Mixers Every Home Bar Should Have

Absinthe bottle
Absinthe bottle by Silar (CC BY-SA)

What is absinthe?

An anise-flavored spirit that is derived from several plants including Artemisia absinthium (wormwood), absinthe also features green anise and sweet fennel along with medicinal and culinary herbs. One of its most striking features is its highly alcoholic spirit, which these days clocks in between 90 and 110 proof and in some cases closer to 140.

Related: 15 Drinking Pilgrimages Worth Taking

Bar in Switzerland
Bar in Switzerland by Rama (CC BY-SA)

Why was absinthe banned?

Modern absinthe traces its roots back to 18th-century Switzerland, eventually making its way to France and becoming favored by Parisian writers and artists in the late 19th and early 20th century, as it was believed to fuel their creativity. Its high alcohol content — and subsequent activities of those who indulged — led to it being banned by several countries in the following decades, which only added to its mystique. The American ban, enacted in 1912, was lifted in 2007.

Related: Bizarre Alcohol Laws From Around the World

Absinthe bottles
Absinthe bottles by Adam Rice (CC BY-NC-SA)

Does absinthe make you hallucinate?

Despite its storied history, absinthe will not cause hallucinations. According to Men’s Journal, the distilling process is designed to remove thujone. That toxic chemical compound is found in wormwood and was long believed – incorrectly – to cause hallucinations. Absinthe’s high alcoholic content, though, as Men’s Journal continues, “can get you really drunk.”

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Pablo Picasso
Wikimedia Commons

Who drank absinthe?

Artists including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Édouard Manet, Vincent van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso, as well as writers like Ernest Hemingway and Oscar Wilde, were among the beverage’s many fans. Though the provenance of this famous absinthe-related quote is not crystal clear (it was perhaps written by Ada Levenson), it’s often said that Wilde noted, “After the first glass of absinthe you see things as you wish they were. After the second you see them as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”

Fennel by Ruth Hartnup (CC BY)

Why is absinthe green?

The Bartender Spirits Awards also notes that, in a nod to its distinctive hue, absinthe has sported numerous nicknames ranging from The Green Goddess to The Green Fairy to The Green Lady. The signature hue is a result of the distilling process, from the chlorophyll extracted from the herbs that go into the drink and give it a vivid green that will eventually fade to a yellow then brown.

Absinthe Bohemian Ritual (burning the sugar)
Absinthe Bohemian Ritual (burning the sugar) by Jeff Nelson (CC BY-SA)

How do you drink absinthe?

One of the more traditional ways to drink absinthe is to dilute it with chilled water, though even that seemingly simple act is filled with plenty of ritual. Absinthe fountains, popularized in France, feature a glass reservoir of water perched upon a tall base with taps that allow water to slowly trickle into a glass of absinthe, helping to dilute the high-proof spirit. As water is added, the bright green and translucent absinthe will turn a pale cloudy green — known as the louche effect — a chemical reaction that also releases more of the spirit’s subtle flavors. Often a perforated absinthe spoon is placed on top of the glass with a sugar cube, which helps to sweeten the beverage as the water drips down through the sugar. (One technique involves lighting the absinthe-soaked sugar cube on fire.)

The Old Absinthe House, New Orleans
Skip Bolen/Getty

A Big Day in the Big Easy

Raise a glass to absinthe on March 5, National Absinthe Day. Consider a trip to New Orleans, the lively Southern city with strong connections to absinthe. Visitors can check out The Old Absinthe House, thought to be the originator of the absinthe frappé, as well as the historical collections within La Galerie de l’Absinthe at The Southern Food and Beverage Museum.

Sazerac Glass
Sazerac Glass by Infrogmation of New Orleans (CC BY)

The Sazerac

Billed as “America’s first cocktail,” the Sazerac was created in 1838 in New Orleans and featured a cognac named Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils, its recipe eventually morphing to include absinthe (or in some cases, Herbsaint, a popular New Orleans absinthe-substitute). Today, the official drink of New Orleans most popularly features cognac, rye whiskey, absinthe, a sugar cube, and Peychaud’s bitters.

Recipe: The Spruce Eats

The Corpse Reviver No. 2
The Corpse Reviver No. 2 by Seth Anderson (CC BY-NC-SA)

The Corpse Reviver No. 2

The Corpse Reviver No. 2 — what a name! — is one of the pre-Prohibition era’s most notable drinks, gaining new life in today’s craft cocktail era. As described by Liquor.com, “This pick-me-up features gin, Lillet blanc (a French aperitif), orange liqueur, and fresh lemon juice. That delicately balanced combination is doled out in equal parts, shaken with ice, and served in a glass that has been rinsed with absinthe, a technique that adds aromatics and only a hint of anise flavor to the drink.”

Recipe: Liquor.com

Ernest Hemingway
Bettmann / Getty

Death in the Afternoon

Said to be invented by fabled author Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon is named in honor of one of his seminal works. Gastronom, a blog dedicated to “libations and spirited travel,” shares his purported recipe. As per Papa, “Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”

Recipe: Gastronom Blog

French Quarter, New Orleans

La Louisiane

A bit more obscure, according to the blog A Couple Cooks, La Louisiane is a classic 19th-century absinthe cocktail said to be “a lot like a Sazerac but better” thanks to more complex flavors. It came to prominence as the house cocktail of the Restaurant La Louisiane in New Orleans and features rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, absinthe, and Peychaud’s bitters.

Recipe: A Couple Cooks

Absinthe by Kjn91 (CC BY-SA)


The Chrysanthemum, according to Liquor.com, is a century-old classic featured in Harry Craddock’s famed 1930 publication “The Savoy Cocktail Book.” The cocktail “gives dry vermouth the lead with Benedictine and absinthe taking a backseat.” But that touch of absinthe is added, it further notes, to “sharpen the edges.”

Recipe: Liquor.com

Absinthe by Carlos Lorenzo (CC BY-NC-ND)


Yes, absinthe has a bit of a ghoulish reputation – and this cocktail’s name makes that abundantly clear. But the Necromancer, which is said to “wake one from the dead” (or at least a bad hangover), is surprisingly “herbal, tart, and refreshing,” according to Liquor.com. Advanced Mixology’s spin features absinthe joined by elderflower liqueur, Lillet blanc, London dry gin, and touches of lemon.

Recipe: Liquor.com

An absinthe frappé
An absinthe frappé by Will Shenton (CC BY-SA)

Absinthe Frappé

Billed as a warm-weather favorite, the Absinthe Frappé is a straightforward cooler featuring the spirit along with sugar, anisette, and chilled soda water. 

Recipe: Serious Eats

Hot Chocolate with Cinnamon

Bring Me Back Something French

For chillier weather, consider “Bring Me Back Something French,” an absinthe-spiked hot chocolate that’s said to capitalize on the combination of the distinctive flavors of anise and chocolate.

Recipe: Liquor.com

Seared salmon
Seared salmon by James (CC BY-NC-ND)

Spicy Salmon with Absinthe and Tarragon Beurre Blanc

Absinthe isn’t just for sipping, as this recipe proves. Seared salmon filets are topped with a beurre blanc that integrates a few tablespoons of absinthe with white wine vinegar, shallots, spices, and anise seeds.

Recipe: Honest Cooking

Absinthe Ice Cream
Absinthe Ice Cream by Mike Gifford (CC BY-NC-SA)

Absinthe Ice Cream

Cream, sugar, and absinthe are just a few of the ingredients that go into this unexpected treat, a recipe designed to “pretty much guarantee there are no leftovers.”

Recipe: Perfectly Provence