Chasing the green fairy

Back in the 1990’s, absinthe was all the underground rage. You couldn’t buy the stuff legally, mind you. Like marijuana and raw milk cheese, it was only available if you knew a guy who knew a guy who was willing to sell some to you at ridiculously high prices. You could even get busted for possessing the stuff. But oh, when you got some it was heaven. Except when it tasted like paint thinner. Which was most of the time.

Oh sure, there was the knockoff stuff that was a horrid shade of green and tasted like licorice. Goth kids drank it like water. Club kids mixed it with XTC. But it lacked the punch of wormwood–the fabled hallucinogenic ingredient that is rumored to have made the likes of Van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec and countless drunken Parisians go completely loopy. Ah, the allure of the green fairy.

Around 1912, the US, along with several other European nations banned absinthe after its devotees started wreaking havoc. The scapegoat for all sorts of death, destruction and general bad behavior, the government turned off the spigot to much lamenting. Ah well, there’s always gin.

Turns out, however, wormwood (and its active ingredient, thujone) wasn’t what was responsible for all the problems. It was the cheap alcohol and other nasty stuff they used to put in inexpensive bottles of absinthe that made people crazy.

After much investigation and years of whining devotees, the US finally reversed its ban on absinthe in 2007–as long as the thujone levels were nearly undetectable. Tastes great. Less insanity.

Working up a thirst? You’re in luck. St. George Spirits Absinthe Verte is one of the first true absinthe spirits to be available in the US, and is made right here in the Bay Area. In fact, it’s distilled by the same folks who make Hangar One Vodka (which, I can personally attest, has crazy-making powers of its own). Filled with all sorts of herbal goodness, St. George has a base of brandy, infused with star anise, mint, wormwood, lemon balm, hyssop, meadowsweet, basil, fennel, tarragon and stinging nettles. And though it’s not for the chocotini crowd, it has a certain je ne sais quoi that appeals to the darker minds among us.

If you’ve got deep pockets, Traverso’s in Santa Rosa carries it. Hey, legend has its price. Could raw milk cheese be next?

St. George Spirits Absinthe Verte, $79.95 (limited supplied, more coming end of January) at Traverso’s, 3rd and B St., Santa Rosa, 542.2530. Also available French Lucid, $67.95.

Read more about absinthe’s return in the New York Times.

Absinthe Cocktail Recipe: Death in the Afternoon
(From the St. George folks)This month’s cocktail recipe is a classic, said to be one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorites when he was in Paris. This is also how we celebrated when the government approved our label.
Death in the Afternoon
1 oz. St. George Spirits Absinthe Verte
5 oz. Chilled Champagne
Pour Absinthe Verte into a champagne flute, top with chilled champagne.