by Carrie Soderberg
It was reputed to induce insanity, criminal behaviour and even provoke epilepsy. While the myths surrounding absinthe, known as the Green Fairy, are many, this highly alcoholic beverage, favoured by the rich and famous in the late 19th century, is making a comeback. As part of the Sydney Fringe Festival 2012, a small group joined the Absinthe Masterclass at the Enmore Theatre in Newtown to find out more about this often controversial drink.
Transformed into an absinthe den for the afternoon, the café at the theatre featured retro posters, Czech-style absinthe and special reservoir glasses, silver spoons, pipes and old-style water fountains. Dressed in a top hat, vest and tie for the event, absinthe master Gee David, from spirits and liquors importer South Trade International, set about changing “the perception of absinthe through education and clever bartending”.
Gee David discovered absinthe as a bar manager in London in the 1990s and has been passionate about it ever since. He says absinthe is great on its own, but “it is also excellent in drinks, particularly old school cocktails and punch”.
But despite its recent revival, absinthe is a spirit with a chequered history. By the mid-19th century, this popular tincture of wormwood, aniseed and fennel favoured by such European artists like Manet, Degas and Van Gogh, was so widely consumed in France that it threatened wine production.
“Its popularity was its downfall,” says Gee David. By 1914, it was banned in France, and many other countries soon followed. The spirit received a reputation for having a hallucinogenic effect, not uncommon to that of cannabis. Today, research into absinthe shows no such links.
“Yes, if you drink enough absinthe you are going to see green fairies but that is the case with most alcohol,” Mr David says.
Among those attending the masterclass was Christina Sands who was visiting from Scotland. She said she had been eager to find out about the green drink for some time.
“The only Green Fairy I had ever heard of before I came here was Kylie Minogue in Moulin Rouge. Now that I have tried it, I really like the taste, it has a strong aniseed flavour but I would only ever have one it is so strong.”
Bohemian-style absinthe was the main focus of the class with several varieties for tasting, from a milder Czech Koruna to an Absinthe Superieur in the French style. Using an absinthe fountain, Gee David slowly dripped cool water into a glass of traditional-style Green Fairy Absinthe. A small sugar cube on a slotted silver spoon over the glass slowly dissolved into the spirits creating a louche, as it is called. A taste of the louchearrived for everyone in a tiny glass teapot. And the room got noisier by the sip – with about 60 per cent alcohol, absinthe is not for the faint of heart.
Hjordi Russell attended the absinthe class last year and was excited to be part of another session “I just love it, both the history, taste and the experience of absinthe, it is so much fun,” she said.
The class departed after a tangy Green Fairy sorbet with a goodie bag containing an absinthe starter kit.