I had two major motivations for writing my new book, Absinthe and Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously. First, I wanted to provide readers with the logical arguments behind living a slightly dangerous life; and second, I wanted to research and document some interesting ideas for getting started. One easy idea is sampling absinthe. Now, it's true there is no real danger involved in imbibing any of the fine, modern absinthes now on the market, if done in moderation. But when living dangerously, reputation and history very important.
Maybe the most well known absintheur is Vincent Van Gogh. Long unknown and impoverished, he became famous and successful only posthumously. Van Gogh was a clinically depressed epileptic, and a social outcast who also happened to drink a whole lot of absinthe. Famously, he shared rooms with Paul Gauguin in Provence for several weeks until he sliced off his ear in a fit of rage. In 1889 the townspeople of Arles forcibly sent him to a mental hospital to rid themselves of their frightening, alcoholic neighbor.
Was Van Gogh truly plunged into madness by absinthe? Maybe, but probably not because of any psychotropic chemical contained in the wormwood from which absinthe is distilled. Some researchers say it was the drink's extremely high alcohol content required to keep the natural oils in suspension that made it dangerous. Others claim it was the way the drink was manufactured. According to Scientific American, low-cost, low-grade absinthe, accounted for the majority consumed at the turn of the 19th century. And this was true rot-gut, often adulterated by cheap, poisonous chemicals such as antimony salts and copper sulphate.
The ban on absinthe was lifted a few years ago and absinthe distillation has reemerged as a boutique industry with several small distillers turning out handmade, small batches of the stuff. My personal favorite is called Taboo and it comes from, of all places, Canada! It's intensely anise flavored and the wormwood bitterness is pleasingly apparent at the start. Lucid is a well known brand and is similarly intense. Interestingly, both of these are considerably paler in color than typical French and Swiss absinthes but they do produce the well known "louche" or milky colored opalescence when water is added.
I'm glad it's Friday. I can hardly wait until 5 O'clock for my cocktail. A votre santé!