From the latin, Artemisia Absinthium. No other drink has managed to acquire such a fearsome reputation. In 1792, Dr Pierre Ordinaire wrote a recipe for a drink containing a variety of essential oils, including an extract of wormwood (Artemisia absinthium).
The undiluted product contained anywhere between 60 - 85% alcohol, and the obvious effect of this potency was compounded by the presence of a chemical in the wormwood, called thujone. There have been various studies of this peculiar substance over the years, and it is generally agreed that it does possess certain psychoactive qualities. Whether these manifest themselves after one sip of the drink or not until one has become a hardened enthusiast is somewhat contentious, but it is safe to say that the intoxication the drink encourages is certainly unusual.
Pernod Opens First Absinthe Distillery.
Henri-Louis Pernod was the first to open an Absinthe distillery in Switzerland and then moved production to Pontarlier, France in 1805. In these early days was the l'heure verte (the green hour) where one or two absinthe were drunk as an aperitif and was said to be both an aphrodisiac and a narcotic. Authors and artists were proponents for inducing creativity. It's popularity soared from 1880 onward through advertisements touting it as being healthy. It was exported to New Orleans and reached the same acclaim in the United States. It was one of the few drinks considered ladylike and women freely enjoyed it in the coffee houses where it was most commonly served. Victorian era men however, found women freely enjoying absinthe distasteful!
The Culture Connection.
By the end of the 1900's there was a following amongst the artisan crowd with the most notable being Gaugin and Van Gogh that helped grow the mystique and publicity around the green fairy drink and became headline news when Van Gogh cut off his own ear after an eventful night out!
The artist Degas painted l'Absinthe depicting a shoddy woman drinking her absinthe whilst sat in a French cafe. Author Hemmingway was famously quoted as saying "Got tight last night on absinthe. Did knife tricks."
The Reputation and the Ban.
A famous 'absinthe murder' trial of 1905 details Jean Lanfray, whilst drunk on absinthe, murdered his wife and absinthe was found to be the cause of Jean's 'mad' behaviour and was eventually banned in France from 1915 and thereby acrosss Europe. Pernod would soon produce a wormwood-free absinthe.
Much later in 1990 saw the beginnings of the resurgence in absinthe when Czech distiller, Radomil Hill began production once again.