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Absinthe is a potent, emerald-green liquor flavored with several herbs, the most significant of which is wormwood. Wormwood contains a chemical called thujone, which structurally resembles THC, the active ingrediant in cannabis. Because of its reputed deletarious effects, absinthe was made illegal in most Western countries around the First World War (although it remains legal in Spain and the Czech Republic). Before this, however, it was a popular drink, especially among artists such as Ernest Hemingway, who praised it for its ‘opaque, bitter, tongue-numbing, brain-warming, stomach-warming, idea-changing liquid alchemy.’
Absinthe was seldom drank straight up; rather, it was diluted through an elaborate, almost ritual process (incidentally demonstrated in a scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula). A special perforated spoon would be placed on top of a glass of absinthe, and a sugar cube placed on the spoon. Cool water would then be slowly poured over the sugar, melting it and turning the absinthe from its original emerald into a milky-green color.
Absinthe is still sold in the United States, sans wormwood. It is called anise and the most famous brand is Pernod Fils. It has a minty, licorice taste.
‘The first stage is like ordinary drinking, the second when you begin to see monstrous and cruel things, but if you persevere you will enter in upon the third stage where you see things that you want to see, wonderful curious things. One night I was left sitting, drinking alone, and very late in the Cafe Royal, and I had just got into the third stage when a waiter came in with a green apron and began to pile the chairs on the tables, ‘Time to go, sir,’ he called to me. Then he brought in a watering can and began to water the floor. ‘Time’s up, sir. I’m afraid you must go now, sir.’
‘Waiter, are you watering the flowers’ I asked but he didn’t answer.
‘What are your favorite flowers, waiter’ I asked again. ‘Now, sir, I must really ask you to go now, time’s up,’ he said firmly. ‘I’m sure that tulips are your favorite flowers,’ I said, and as I got up and passed out into the street I felt the heavy tulip heads brushing against my shins.”
-Oscar Wilde in John Fothergill, My Three Inns, 1921