Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Five Absinthe Myths Debunked

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Scared to meet the Green Fairy after a pour of absinthe? Don’t be. Though absinthe is the subject of many nicknames and stories, it’s essentially just an aromatic, high-proof alcohol that has been redistilled with plants and herbs including anise, common wormwood, and fennel.

With a little help from research scientist and absinthe expert Ted Breaux, we’ve compiled the five biggest myths about absinthe – and why they aren’t true.

1. Absinthe is hallucinogenic.

Despite the hype from Hollywood and some brands’ marketing campaigns, absinthe isn’t hallucinogenic. This misconception began in the 19th century when absinthe production wasn’t regulated. Since absinthe was so popular, some producers used industrial-grade non-potable alcohol and flavored it with commercial oil extracts, says Breaux.

Both the oils and the spirits were clear, so the color and clouding effects were artificially created with copper sulfate and antimony trichloride, respectively. When consumed regularly, this mixture could cause copper toxicity and antimony poisoning—both of which can cause hallucinations.

The low price point of the resulting product meant that it was mainly imbibed by the lower class. When the effects of long-term consumption kicked in, these individuals would be sent to sanitariums for their symptoms. Though millions of others drank unadulterated absinthe every day, accounts of hallucinations and violence were treated as being the case for any and all absinthe available. Since wormwood isn’t used in many other products, it was an easy target.

Fourteen years ago, Ted Breaux began testing samples of all the vintage and newly distilled absinthes he could find. Using gas chromatography and a mass spectrometer, Breaux and partners tested for any and all known hallucinogenic compounds. At the time, the reigning theory was that thujone, a naturally occurring compound in wormwood, caused hallucinations. After a thorough battery of tests, no hallucinogenic compounds were found in any significant amount in any of the absinthe.

2. Countries banned absinthe because it’s hallucinogenic.

Absinthe isn’t hallucinogenic, so why was it banned? Short answer: its popularity. As the most popular spirit in France at the time, it became a target for both the temperance movement and for producers of other spirits who feared for their sales. After decades of lobbying, absinthe was banned for its new status as the root of all societal problems.

3. Absinthe should be served with a flaming sugar cube.

As Breaux puts it, “You’ll never find any description, image, or painting from the past showing a flaming sugar cube.” This myth is a more recent concoction. In Eastern Europe, artificially green—or blue(ish)—colored vodkas were being marketed and sold as absinthe. Since these products don’t louche, they “had to create theatrics to hide it.”

4. Absinthe originated in Eastern Europe.

Despite the number of tourists flocking to Eastern Europe to drink whatever green liquid they could find, absinthe is originally Swiss. The historical record indicates that absinthe originated in this area around the turn of the 19th century. In fact, Switzerland and France combined to produce at least 95 percent of the world’s absinthe by the time it reached its peak popularity.

5. Real absinthe isn’t available within the US.

Since 2007, absinthe made with Artemisia absinthium, also known as grande wormwood, has been available legally within the US. Though thujone levels are closely regulated, the absinthe sold commercially is close to what you could get before the absinthe ban went into effect. After all, “the United States banned absinthe as more of a preventative measure than anything else,” says Breaux.

Hit the Lab

The Brain Duster has existed at different bars under various names throughout cocktail history.

The Brain Duster

1 dash Angostura bitters
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 oz absinthe
1 oz rye whiskey

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir vigorously for 20-25 seconds or until chilled through and diluted to taste. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

What's the Right Way to Make a Sazerac?

If you pronounce New Orleans "New Or-leens," or if you can’t get enough of those Big Ass Beers sold on Bourbon Street, you’re probably not actually from New Orleans. But if you’re feeling adventurous and missing the Big Easy, a Sazerac might be just what the doctor ordered. 

‘Tails and Stories

A few hundred years ago, you might have actually gotten a doctor’s order for a Sazerac. One of the drink's origin stories claims that it was invented by New Orleans apothecary Antoine Amedie Peychaud. According to this tale, Mr. Peychaud mixed up the drink with his eponymous bitters and served it in an egg coupe in his shop. 

A more likely origin story states that the drink was invented by a different New Orleans resident (though in the same neighborhood). Around 1850, Sewell T. Taylor sold his bar to Aaron Bird and went into the import business. One of his products happened to be Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils brandy. While Taylor was importing, Bird renamed his bar the Sazerac House and began serving a house cocktail that featured Taylor’s brandy and, as the story goes, bitters made by his neighborhood apothecary, Mr. Peychaud.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Europe's grape crops were decimated by an infestation of American aphids. In just four years, French wine production was cut by 67 percent, and even the most dedicated cognac drinkers switched to whiskey. For New Orleans, that meant switching to rye whiskey that was shipped to the city down the Ohio River and through the Mississippi. Thomas Handy, who owned the Sazerac Bar during that time period, likely switched the drink's main ingredient. This take on the signature cocktail is the one that found its way into the 1908 edition of The World's Drinks and How To Mix Them, with the recipe calling for "good whiskey," not Sazerac cognac. 

The origins of the Sazerac’s name is vague. It’s possible that it was a nod to the fact that it was the bar's house cocktail, but it’s also possible that it’s a reference to the brand of brandy. In those days, “cocktail” referred to a specific alcoholic drink format. As put forth by The Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806, a “cock-tail” is “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” If you wanted this type of drink with whiskey in it, you would ask for a Whiskey Cocktail. If you wanted Sazerac brandy (until the aphid plague, at least), you'd ask for a Sazerac cocktail.

Hit the Lab

Sazerac Recipe:

2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
.25 oz simple syrup (or a sugar cube)
2 oz good rye whiskey (use the good stuff)
lemon peel for garnish

Place the sugar cube into an absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Dash the bitters onto the cube and muddle. Add whiskey and one large ice cube and stir to combine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
What’s the Right Way to Make a Caipirinha?
Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0

The Rio Olympics start in just a few weeks, and all eyes are on Brazil. To celebrate, we decided to focus on the country’s most famous cocktail creation: the Caipirinha.

In form, the Caipirinha is pretty much a Brazilian Daiquiri. It’s made from sugar, lime, and cachaça. Cachaça could be considered a cousin to rum, but it is altogether unique. While most rum is made from molasses, cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice.

Unlike rum, which can be made anywhere, cachaça can only be made in Brazil. Though it’s often sold unaged, it is usually matured in woods that are native to Brazil, like peanut and balm. As with wine, beer, and whiskey, different kinds of wood affect the product inside differently.

The classifications of cachaça aren’t based on the type of cask in which it’s aged. It can get a bit confusing: Spirit that is not stored in wood or is kept in stainless steel vats before it’s bottled is often called branca (white). But cachaça aged in wood that doesn’t color the liquor may also be labeled as branca. This category goes under several other names, including prata (silver) and clássica (classic).

Cachaça that’s stored or aged in wood is usually labeled as amarela (yellow), in reference to its color. These may also be labeled as ouro (gold). Envelhecida (aged) cachaça, a subtype of amarela, is a bit more involved: it’s considered aged if more than 50 percent of the content of the bottle has been aged for at least a year in a barrel that’s 700 liters or smaller.

Cachaça is the “third most produced distilled drink in the world,” according to Alcohol In Latin America: A Social and Cultural History. Though more than 5000 brands existed in 2008, it was relatively ignored outside of Brazil until the recent resurgence of craft cocktails. In fact, until 2013, it had to be labeled “Brazilian rum” to be imported into the U.S. As a result, it’s often mistaken by many people for being a type of rum.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know anything definite about the origins of the Caipirinha. Like the Mojito and the Old Fashioned, the formula was perhaps first used in folk medicine. Carlos Lima, the executive director of IBRAC (the Brazilian Institute of Cachaça) told Casa e Jardim that a mix of lime, garlic, and honey with a pour of cachaça was probably used in São Paulo around 1918 as a remedy for the Spanish Flu.

As the story goes, someone eventually decided to skip the garlic and honey. Then, to balance the acidity of the lime, sugar was added. Over time, the drink spread into bars, ice entered the equation, and it became the Caipirinha we know today.


Like the Mojito, the classic Caipirinha recipe is quite simple, but it’s also been the subject of many, many variations. We’ve included the International Bartenders Association (IBA) recipe as well as a modern take on the drink.

Modified from the IBA website.

2 ounces Cachaça
1/2 of a lime
1 tablespoon sugar

Muddle lime and sugar in an Old Fashioned glass. Fill with ice and pour cachaça over it. Stir and enjoy.

Prata B. (Puerto Rico Asta Ah Brazil)
Recipe by Luis Ramos, bar manager of Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco.

1 3/4 ounces Avua Prata Cachaça
3/4 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce pineapple gomme syrup
1/2 ounce Pedro Ximenez sherry
1/4 ounce Punt e Mes
Grated nutmeg, lime zest, lime wheel for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a Collins glass. Add crushed ice and stir until glass frosts. Top glass with grated nutmeg, lime zest, and lime wheel.


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