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Happy National Absinthe Day!

National Absinthe Day is celebrated on March 5 each year to commemorate the date the absinthe ban was lifted in the United States in 2007.

StGeorge_AbsintheFrappe_ElliottClarkAbsinthe Frappé photo credit: Elliott Clark/Apartment Bartender

What is absinthe?

Absinthe is a potent distilled spirit made with green anise, fennel, and wormwood. It’s also called the Green Fairy, or la fée verte, due to its emerald hue that is derived from the chlorophyll of the aromatic herbs that are added after the distillation process.

It is believed to have originated in the late 18th century when a French doctor in Switzerland created it as an elixir and cure for malaria.

Due to the toxic chemical compound called thujone found in wormwood, many people believed that drinking large quantities of the spirit caused hallucinations! Absinthe was considered to be such a dangerous psychoactive drug that it was eventually banned in many countries, including the United States in 1912.

During the ban, an anise-flavored liqueur called pastis gained popularity as a substitute for absinthe. The difference between pastis and absinthe? Pastis is produced without wormwood and sugar is added to it, making pastis a liqueur, not a spirit.

“This one time, at workcamp…”

I had my first taste of pastis in France during some free time at my workcamp (the commonly used term for international volunteer projects like the one I participated in.)

After watching a marionette show, my group and I went out for drinks. I can still recall the strong licorice flavor of the pastis. Not sure I loved it, but I must admit, I did enjoy how it made me feel: sans souci (carefree)!

Over the years, I’ve often wondered: Would I have a similar experience with absinthe?*

What better time for me to find out than on the occasion of National Absinthe Day!

American-made Absinthe

When pandemic-related travel restrictions are lifted, I’d love the chance to sip absinthe in France or Switzerland! But until then, I’m happy to stay put and get some American-made absinthe that happens to be locally produced (but widely available!)

St. George Spirits master distiller Lance Winters and head distiller/blender Dave Smith
photo credit: Andria Lo

St. George Spirits, located in Alameda, California (about 10 miles/ 16 km east of San Francisco) has been making single malt whiskey, gin, rum, brandy, vodka, and liqueurs since the distillery was founded in 1982 by Jörg Rupf, who retired in 2010.

Fun Fact: Their St. George Absinthe Verte was the first legal American absinthe released after the U.S. ban was lifted in 2007!

St. George Absinthe Verte (200ml)
photo credit: Jason Tinacci

Due to its high alcohol content, absinthe is usually sweetened and diluted with ice cold water before it’s served. But according to St. George Spirits, their St. George Absinthe Verte is one you can “savor over ice — no sugar needed.”

St. George Spirits master distiller Lance Winters
photo credit: Laurel Dailey

St. George Spirits master distiller, Lance Winters joined Sarah of Chateau Sonoma for cocktail hour on Instagram Live on March 5, 2021. ICYMI, check it out: Instagram Live @chateausonoma

St. George Spirits stills
photo credit: Ben Krantz
Thanks to Ellie Winters, St. George Spirits communications director, for permission to use the photos shown in this post.

*Updated March 8, 2021

I finally tried absinthe! I diluted one ounce of absinthe with about a half-ounce of ice water. It developed a nice cloudy louche, indicating a strong presence of star anise, which I could smell as I gently swirled my glass. I can confirm: no hallucinations (not that I was expecting any), but I did get a cool numbing sensation on my tongue with each sip.🥃

Have you had absinthe? Tell me about your experience in the comments below!