As with all drugs, the ritual is part of the fun. And absinthe has a particularly elaborate set-up. Pour your “dose” into the bottom of a glass. If you want it sweet, use a special little slotted spoon filled with sugar that balances across the rim of the glass. Trickle cold water over the top, and let the sweetened water drip through the holes. (Lighting a sugar cube on fire over absinthe is a poseur’s recent invention.) If you’re drinking it without the sugar, slowly drip cold water into the glass. Either way, diluting your drink to a palatable level causes the herbal oils in the liquor to come out of suspension and release their aromas and flavors. The clear green liquid turns milky, a state referred to in absinthe lingo as the louche.
In Belle Époque France, fancy absinthe paraphernalia was often marketed by the distillers themselves, in an effort to clean up the drink’s reputation as a madness-inducing intoxicant. Crystal glasses, jewel-like silver spoons, and fountains were intended to appeal to elegant women of leisure, and they did.
Today, absinthe revivalists are not only re-creating the spirit precisely as it was, over a century ago, but also commissioning replicas of the paraphernalia. The drink itself is for all intents and purposes illegal —no commercial domestic distiller makes real absinthe with the allegedly mind-altering wormwood. And there are laws against importing it. (The neutered version is legally sold.) But the gear’s unquestionably legal. Which doesn’t stop me from enjoying it.
BROUILLE GLASS SET
By Cristalerias San Miguel, $28, Liqueurs de France
A nifty way to dilute your absinthe is to use a two-piece Brouille glass set. It looks like an old-fashioned ice cream sundae glass with a short highball glass fitted on top. The bottom of the upper glass is actually a dripper.
Here’s how it works: A one-shot dose of absinthe is poured into the bottom glass; then the smaller glass is packed with ice and placed on top. When the drinker pours water into the top glass, it’s chilled by the ice and drips through the pinhole to the absinthe below.
Out of all the Brouille glass set replicas, the Cristalerias San Miguel version is the best. The 150-year-old cooperative of artisan glassblowers, based in Barcelona, has been hand-blowing the sets since the early 20th century. Seamless and gorgeous, they’re also well designed. A slight bulge at the base of the bottom glass measures a single dose so that there’s no guesswork, as with many other sets. The glass is also roomy enough to swirl your drink and breathe in that licorice-y smell.
By Frenchman SARL, $10, The Absinthe Spoon
The most common absinthe spoon during the drink’s heyday was flat and spade-shaped. But fanciful variations abounded, including one shaped like the Eiffel Tower. Most are available today in replica. My favorite is the “Cards” model, with dripping holes shaped like spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs. Its bowl is rounded, not flat, which is better for stirring, if you care to. The longer handle prevents your spoon from falling into larger-rimmed glasses.
LADY 4 SPOUT FOUNTAIN
By Frenchman SARL, $255, La Maison d’Absinthe
A fountain is the ultimate accessory for the absintheur, dispensing drops of water, not absinthe. Originally the fountains contained asbestos filters, which have been discontinued. One of my faves, La Maison d’Absinthe’s Lady 4 Spout Fountain, is shaped like a bubblegum machine with metal spigots (some modern fountains use plastic). Its nickel alloy base is in the shape of a lithe female figure holding the water reservoir. She’s likely La Fée Verte, or the Green Fairy, absinthe’s nickname allegedly referring to its genesis as an herbal health tonic. You can see the inspiration of Edgar Degas, a hard-core absinthe drinker. But of course art, like a taste for sugar in your absinthe, is subjective.