I can't BELIEVE I let my husband and brother light absinthe on fire. In my poor Mother's kitchen. More on that down the page, but first, all about this scintillating libation. A very brief history of the notorious green elixir, and how to have yourself a little mixer. Follow me down, if you dare.
Question: What is absinthe?
ANSWER: Green, highly potent alcohol that will get you dancing with Lucy in the sky with diamonds. Okay, okay. You'll need to add a little more to your absinthe for THAT kind of experience (and I don't recommend it). To learn how to set your absinthe on fire with sass and class, jump to this.
The makings of a true wormwood spirit
In all seriousness, absinthe is a liquor distilled from whole herbs in alcohol, namely grande wormwood (artemisia absinthium) and often sweet fennel and anise seeds. An authentic absinthe is naturally green and VERY strong.
We're talking 60% to 70% alcohol by volume. Not quite Everclear territory, but pretty damn close. This is why you add water! Or in a global pandemic, just add aloe and you've got yourself an effective, if not very expensive hand sanitizer.
The origins of absinthe
If you believe Google and Wikipedia, a 19th century Swiss physician developed the spirit as a preventative treatment for malaria and variety of other ailments. Perhaps one of which was boredom. A drink for the masses, by the late 19th century the French collectively kicked back 36 million gallons a year. Drinking six times more absinthe than wine.
Let's let that sink in a moment.
Hallucination is in the drinkers imagination
I fear this next bit may disappoint a fair few, but the legend of this silly spirit causing hallucinations is widely agreed upon to be myth. Perhaps the first partakers in absinthe also partook in some poppies.
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SHAMELESS PLUG: If you've had enough absinthe talk and are hungry, check out this easy recipe for a quick salad with lemon poppy seed dressing.
Absinthe on fire...?
Long, long ago in the Sunshine State, two of my male relations decided to open a bottle of absinthe one of them acquired in Paris. He apparently learned a thing or two in France, hence the sugar cube on fire. What he didn't learn, proved their downfall.
First, what not to do
The sugar cubes proved feisty staying lit (no big surprise), so the Good Idea Fairy suggested simply lighting the absinthe on fire. This is not appropriate. And also makes an old fashioned glass VERY hot.
WARNING: Don't try this anywhere, especially at home.
Because given the spirit's alcohol content you most likely will succeed in fire. But you won't be able to drink the scalding hot liquor. And you'll have to add ice. And get a new glass.
How to safely light absinthe on fire (or try)
If you're dying to light it up, try this:
- Briefly dip the sugar cube in the absinthe, or drizzle a bit of the spirit on the cube.
- Using an absinthe spoon or similar slotted utensil, set the soaked cube over a glass of absinthe.
- With a lighter or carefully with a match, light the absinthe-soaked sugar cube on fire.
- Once the flame burns out, slowly drizzle cold water over the cube so it drips into your glass of absinthe.
Truth be told, the sugar cube may light for a short moment, but the flame will quickly subside. To skip sipping an absinthe with an essence of burnt sugar, keep reading.
How to serve absinthe in proper, historic fashion
- #1. Lay a sugar cube on a slotted spoon over your glass of absinthe.
- #2. Do not try and light the cube on fire (it won't work).
- #3. Slowly trickle very cold water over the sugar cube into the glass until the absinthe turns cloudy.
If you reach the top of the glass, and the liquid doesn't turn cloudy, unfortunately it means you bought an imposter.
MORAL OF THE STORY: Carefully procure your absinthe. And don't listen to the Good Idea Fairy. Some things are just better in France, and like in Vegas, should stay there.
Yours in green elixir,Print
- 1 ounce of absinthe
- 1 to 2 sugar cubes
- 3 to 5 ounces of ice-cold water
- Absinthe spoon, slotted silver/metal spoon, or mesh strainer
- Traditional absinthe glass or rocks glass
Traditional Absinthe Ritual
- Measure the absinthe into the glass. Measure the absinthe into your glass. If you have traditional absinthe glass, simply fill the reservoir at the bottom with absinthe.
- Set up the sugar cube. Set a slotted spoon over the glass and place one or two sugar cubes on top.
- Create the signature louche with a water drip. Fill a measuring glass or small pitcher with ice-cold water. Then slowly trickle it over the sugar cube until you add between three and five ounces of water to the glass. As you drizzle the louche will form (meaning the absinthe will turn cloudy).
- Rest the cocktail and tip in the remaining sugar. Let the cloudy cocktail rest for a few moments to allow the herbal aromas to bloom. If the water didn't fully dissolve all of the sugar, tip it into the glass and stir to dissolve it. Enjoy carefully!
- Set up your fire station. Choose a sturdy glass and measure a serving of absinthe into it. Set an absinthe spoon or flat metal (heatproof) slotted spoon on top of it.
- Soak or dip the sugar cube in the absinthe. Briefly dip the sugar cube in the absinthe or drizzle a bit of the spirit on the cube. Then place the soaked sugar cube in the center of the spoon.
- Carefully add fire. I recommend a lighter with a long-reach barrel as opposed to a shorter lighter or match.
- Slowly drip the water over the cube. Once the flame subsides, slowly drip cold water over the cube so it trickles into the glass. Let the cocktail rest for a few minutes, and stir in any sugar that didn't dissolve.
- The louche, or cloudiness that forms when you drizzle in the water, is the essence of the proper absinthe ritual. Go as slowly as possible when drizzling the water. And if the absinthe doesn't become cloudy, the bottle was not true absinthe.
- Unless you're hell-bent on a flaming cocktail, enjoy absinthe in true traditional fashion. A nice slow drip of frigid water and a couple of sugar cubes make the green fairy happy.
You can order absinthe glasses and spoons from online retailers. A rocks glass or stemmed cocktail or beer glass makes a great substitution for a traditional absinthe glass.
- Prep Time: 2 minutes
- Cook Time: 5 minutes
- Category: Drinks
- Method: Mixology
- Cuisine: French
- Diet: Vegetarian
Keywords: how to drink absinthe, absinthe cocktail, setting absinthe on fire