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Thursday
Dec082005

The Green Fairy

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One glass and you're pear-shaped!
My mate went to Disneyland last week and ended up speaking Braille.

Let me explain. We were sitting in an Irish bar in Montmartre, just up the road from le Moulin Rouge, solving the world's problems, as you do. We'd already had a few beers but my mate, who's a bit of a pisshead, decided he wanted to try some Absinthe. He spied a bottle of it on the top shelf.231239-225183-thumbnail.jpg I was gonna stick to the beer but after seeing the rigmarole the barman went through preparing the Absinthe I decided to give it a shot too.

But first, some history. Absinthe is a strong alcoholic drink. How strong? Try 70% Proof. Sometimes more. So it's a drink you need to treat with respect. It's called "The Green Fairy" but there's nothing pantywaist about this drink - it's Rocketfuel, make no mistake.

It was around in Greek and Roman times but it didn't appear in Europe until the end of the 18th century. It's said to have been re-invented by a Docteur Ordinaire - Doctor Ordinary which is funny because there is nothing ordinary about this drink at all. In fact it's rather extraordinary. It's known in France as "La Fée Verte" - "The Green Fairy" for obvious reasons and the cocktail hour is called "L'Heure Verte - "The Green Hour".

Absinthe didn't really take off until another Frenchman, Monsieur Pernod started flogging it in 1805. Its popularity increased with the Algerian War as it was given to the troops to ward off malaria or chicken disease (just my little joke). Then you had, in France, successive failures of the grape harvest and as the price of wine went up, the Fairy went down (ha ha). Voila! Soon the frogs were well-green. It became a bit of a problem (just like Gin in the U.K. at one stage) and Temperance leagues were formed to fight the rampant alcoholism that was embracing the hoi polloi. The loudest objections came, of course, from the church and the wine-makers.

By the turn of the last century opposition to absinthe strengthened as the asylums filled with people whose mental condition was blamed on The Green Fairy. The final straw came when a Swiss farmer shot his entire family after being on Absinthe all day. He'd also polished off several bottles of wine, brandy and creme de menthe but the poor old Fairy copped the rap.

Belgium was the first country to ban Absinthe in 1905 followed by Switzerland in 1908, USA 1912 and France in 1914 - two weeks after the beginning of the First World War. It was not made legal again until 1990 when a Czech distiller started making it again. (See the ad. in the Navigation Bar for Extreme Absinthe.)

So what is Absinthe? Its made by soaking dried wormwood in ethanol alcohol along with some other herbs to hide its bitter taste. Aniseed is the dominant flavour (like in Pernod and Ouzo) although fennel, hyssop and lemon balm are also added. But the most important ingredient is the wormwood. Funnily enough, the Russian word for wormwood is "Chernobyl" and its mainly used as a stomach medicine to kill worms. Research has shown that wormwood releases a chemical called thujone which has a similar molecular structure to cannabis. But the jury is still out whether the effects are the same. For mine, they're not. But my mate definitely went to Disneyland after five glasses of the stuff. I stopped at one and it didn't do a lot for me. Think I'll stick to the 1664 thanks.

How to drink Absinthe You can always drink it neat but the proper way is to pour some into a glass and place a slotted spoon over it with a sugar cube or two. You dip the sugar into the Absinthe, then light it. The melted sugar drips into the Absinthe, which catches fire. Then water is added. Say your prayers, drink and say Hello to Mickey...or Goofy. One glass will get you there. Five will have you talking in Braille.

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Absinthe spoons
postscript: Kylie Minogue played The Green Fairy in Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge.

This is a very interesting and informative site on Absinthe, particularly on the hysteria surrounding its so-called ill-effects and the subsequent experiments with guinea-pigs inhaling wormwood fumes. Go Oxygenee.com

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Reader Comments (4)

This entry is nothing short of paid-for-editorial; 'Extreme Absinthe' is an advertiser on your blog, Mr Lambe.
I put it to you that you are a scoundrel, sir.
This is blogging in its lowest form...
You have basically reprinted the label off an 'Extreme Absinthe' bottle and fabricated the whole Irish bar/Montmarte/friend bit as an introduction for this blatant piece of commercialism.
I don't even believe there is an Irish bar in Montmarte.
BTW...I think there is a guy down here by the name of Mountjoy, who is ripping stuff off your blog. You might want to look into it...
December 9, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterfingers
If you ever come here Fingers I'll personally give you a tour of Montmartre's Irish bars. There's at least six that I know of. They used to be the "flavour of the month" in Paris. Then it was Aussie bars. Now it seems to be Canadian bars. I went to "The Beaver" at Ile St Louis the other. Owned by an Australian and staffed by Australians. The guy who had the 5 Absinthes then tried to get into a Club, fell down some stairs and banged his head, slept in his clothes on the floor of his office and had absolutely no recollection of anything the next day. He stills drinks the stuff. As for "Extreme Absinthe" - I thought it funny. If you buy a bottle I make an Euro.
December 9, 2005 | Registered CommenterMalcolm Lambe
Actually, an ex-girlfriend of mine imports Czech Absinthe into Australia; has been for about 5 years.
I remember hooking into a bottle at the product lauch in 1999. After about 1/3 of a litre, I developed an irresistable urge to cut off one of my ears and paint flowers for a living...
December 12, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterfingers
This is weird. I just drank a green fairy last night, and then read this today. That thing tasted pretty horrid. This morning was not pretty.
December 13, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

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