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For Mother’s Day, I was given the gift of “the Green Fairy.” That’s right. My husband bought me a beautiful bottle of authentic French Grande Absenthe, complete with a gorgeous traditional absinthe spoon and a box of sugar cubes, to make the drink that apparently summons the little mystical green muse of the Belle Epoque.

Truth be told, I am not a drinker. Red wine is my limit, and that, only with food. But I’ve been long intrigued by the allure of absinth in the lives of many writers and artists. I’m not at all sure I’ll even like this metamorphic green elixir — licorice flavor and I are not on speaking terms — but I figure trying it once has some historical and cultural value, and since I’ve only recently discovered that the heroine of my novel will at some point be given a soporific blue potion by the story’s villain, I suppose there is some literary value, as well.

It was in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, by Francis Ford Coppola, that the beauty of the absinthe ritual first caught my eye. This scene is simply gorgeous…and Gary Oldman talking about the little green fairy’s mischievous impulses makes it that much more appealing.

It appears that, similar to ouzo, the absinthe changes from a clear emerald green color to an opalescent fairy green when mixed with water. The recipe for my French absinthe is one of the oldest traditional recipes from the south of France. From the box:

In the late 19th century during the Belle Epoque era in Paris, the renowned Absinthe culture was at its height of infamy. To evoke this glorious time, Grande Absente, Absinthe Originale recalls one of the oldest traditional Absinthe recipes from the south of France. Hand crafted in Forcalquier, located in the Alps of Haute Provence, Grande Absente is made exclusively with the highest quality spirits and botanicals including a full measure of the legendary botanical Wormwood, also known as Artemesia Absinthium. Grande Absente is 138 proof so please drink with extreme caution!

To make the drink is a refined and simple elegance and ritual enhanced the enjoyment of drinking absinthe in the last century. Simply pour 2 oz absinthe into a glass. Place the absinthe spoon across the top and position a sugar cube on the spoon. Slowly dissolve the sugar cube with 3 oz. cold water. Stir and enjoy.

Photo credit: Eric Litton

The verdict?

Hard to say…..it’s quite syrupy — the legs on this stuff would put a nice, rich red wine to shame — and you can really smell the anise even if the glass is removed a bit. Lots of fumes! The color looks a bit like Mountain Dew, but it turns opalescent as you add the sugar and water, and this was truly lovely. (Note: The pictures above don’t do the color justice at all.) The drink is strong, and very sweet, better up front on the tongue than taken towards the back. I sipped tiny bits and was overwhelmed a bit by how sweet it was. I am amazed that people could sit and drink this stuff so seriously in the Belle Epoque and beyond. The recommended portion is way, way too much for this lightweight. I recommend cutting that in half and sharing it with a good friend….or two. The ritual is quite beautiful and I have never had any other drink that comes close to this sort of “event”. That alone seems enough to warrant the popular “Green Hours” held in cafes in Europe when absinthe was in its prime. It seems to me quite a lot of work to “summon the muse”, if that is in fact what enough of it might do to any random soul……I think I’d rather just sit down and write, without the green fairy’s help. When all is said and done, this writer won’t be trading in her glasses of red wine for trips to the local absinthe bar anytime soon. But I’m glad to say I’ve tried it, and I’m none the worse for wear.