Part of the modern appeal of absinthe involves its somewhat ritualistic traditional preparation, but really it's no more complicated than making a common cup of tea.
First: Under no circumstances should fire have any part in the absinthe ritual. This is a pointless innovation created in the 1990's and promoted by the purveyors of imitation absinth to make their products seem more interesting and to reinforce the illicit drug image.
Likewise, absinthe being in the 106 - 148 proof range, it is not intended to be drunk neat or in shots, but should be tempered with water, making it about the strength of a glass of wine.
The glass. There are dozens of styles of absinthe glasses currently available, ranging from antiques that cost hundreds of dollars to modern reproductions costing less than ten dollars. Many absinthe glasses have special "reservoirs" at their base that indicate how much absinthe should be served. If you don't have an absinthe glass, an ordinary wine glass or footed water glass will work just fine.
The spoon. This is probably one of the most unique features of absinthe preparation. An absinthe spoon consists of a flat, perforated trowel-like tool at the one end with a notch in the handle to hold it in place on the edge of the glass.
The sugar. Ordinary sugar cubes obtained from any grocery store will work perfectly when preparing your absinthe. Some dissolve more readily than others, so you may want to try several brands.
The water. Ideally, you'll want to use ice cold water, poured in a thin stream either from a water carafe, absinthe fountain, or a special dish called a brouilleur which fits over the top of the glass. Filtered tap water or bottled water are both acceptable. Soda water and tonic are not usually recommended.
Step 1: Pour a small amount of absinthe into your glass. One ounce (30ml) is generally considered one drink.
Step 2: Place the spoon across the top of the glass, and place the sugar over the perforations in the spoon.
Step 3: Slowly drip a thin stream of water over the sugar cube. The water will dissolve the sugar, which will then fall through the slots and into the absinthe.
Some absinthes will require more water than others, based on flavor profiles and alcohol strength. A good rule of thumb is to add three parts water to begin with. If it's still too strong, continue to add more. Some absinthes hit their "sweet spot" with ratios as high as 5:1.
As the water begins to dilute the absinthe, you will notice the color change, turning from clear to milky and opaque. This is called the louche (pronounced "loosh") and is caused by the essential oils in the absinthe coming out of solution with the alcohol and becoming suspended in the water.
Step 4: After the absinthe has reached your preferred dilution ratio, use the spoon to stir the absinthe to help dissolve any sugar crystals that may remain at the bottom of the glass.
Step 5: Sit back and enjoy! When you're ready to kick it up a notch and start evaluating and scoring absinthes, you can find the evaluation instructions at the Wormwood Society, here.
Contributed by Brian Robinson, Review Editor, Wormwood Society
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