Distilling The Myth – Absinthe’s Fire

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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. I mean disassociated. Take a top hat. You think you see it as it really is. But you don’t because you associate it with other things and ideas.If you had never heard of one before, and suddenly saw it alone, you’d be frightened, or you’d laugh. That is the effect absinthe has, and that is why it drives men mad. Three nights I sat up all night drinking absinthe, and thinking that I was singularly clear-headed and sane. The waiter came in and began watering the sawdust.The most wonderful flowers, tulips, lilies and roses, sprang up, and made a garden in the cafe. “Don’t you see them?” I said to him. “Mais non, monsieur, il n’y a rien.

Oscar Wilde

Paris is home to a variety of dedicated Absinthe bars, where we can all do an ‘Oscar’ in suitably surreal surroundings. I did it, couldn’t find my hotel afterwards, had French translation issues with a security guard who helped us get back and barely got back in time for our coach leaving at 10 the next morning (but that’s another story). However, if you, as I, have been to one of these decadent places you will know that the process is to whip out two glasses and a bottle with a tap on either side, place a gauze and a sugar cube over each glass then pour the green fairy liquid through the gauze then light the sugar until it melts then drip ice cold water through to dissolve the last remnants and mix the drink.

According to my own personal mythbuster (A little nymph sitting on my shoulder going by the name of tipplebell) this fire trick is a load of rubbish. There is no need for it, it’s an overblown pyrotechnic to awe the drinker and any real drinker of absinthe will forgo the lighting of the sugar because they know the real fireworks happen when the glass is put to lips. The myth may stem from the associations of Absinthe with fire and explosivity and its dangerous nature. It is well documented as an aphrodisiac (isn’t every alcoholic drink though?) and poison (same again?) so maybe the addition to the sacred process comes from these ideas. A quick trawl through Google reveals nothing. A bit more research is needed for this! Anyone have any ideas as to where this comes from? We’d love to know.

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3 thoughts on “Distilling The Myth – Absinthe’s Fire

    clinock said:
    September 11, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    First to say thank you for your visit and follow at art rat cafe – I am honoured. Next – Absinthe – as a connoisseur of mind altering substances I have long been fascinated by the stories of this mythic drink. Here, on Canada’s west coast, Absinthe has recently been appearing in our stores although at prices that are mind altering in themselves. I have been considering asking for this drink as a gift on special occasions but want to ask you first if you think the drink we can purchase here is the true original?

      Sam said:
      September 11, 2012 at 2:57 pm

      I return the compliment. I wouldn’t know for sure what the Canadian version is like, do you get european imports? I assume that with the sky high prices they would be, however in America the active ingredient isn’t legal so the drink is not proper absinthe. this article may help your research http://absinthe.msjekyll.com/ . As I know nothing about Canadian law I wonder if you could inform me as to the legality of thujone? If thujone is allowed, it is likely to be a bona-fide absinthe. How much are you talking for a bottle? I look forward to reading more of your blog.

        clinock said:
        September 12, 2012 at 4:45 am

        Thanks Sam – I’ll get back to you on this…John

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