Absinthe (or la fee verte) quickly gained popularity among artists and writers in France during the late 1800s, becoming known for both its inspiring effects as well as its undesirable side-effects – convulsions and foaming at the mouth were both said to result from too much thujone present in Artemisia absinthium, a herb said to contain hallucinogen-like properties – though in reality not enough of this chemical existed for any profound mind-altering effects to occur.
To remove the toxic thujone, authentic absinthe is often redistilled with various botanicals combined into an herbal liqueur, usually grand wormwood, green anise (not to be confused with star anise) and fennel – often known collectively as the holy trinity – while lesser amounts of hyssop, melissa and lemon balm may also be included to increase flavor, aroma and produce the sought-after emerald shade that absinthe advocates valued. Today most producers also add natural coloring made from hibiscus flowers in order to produce and maintain this classic color.
Traditional French absinthe preparation involves placing a sugar cube in a specially designed absinthe spoon and slowly pouring ice-cold water over it, known as louching, until it melts while also slowly pouring a small amount of alcohol onto it. Louching brings out its botanical and sweet notes while making such an high-proof spirit much simpler to enjoy.