Home > london food, Restaurant Reviews > Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder

Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder

A little drip

An anti-malaria ‘drug’ in the 1840s, a favoured drink of artists and bohemians in Paris in the early 1900s, absinthe was banned in France in 1915 for reasons that vary. Some say it was because it was seen as containing dangerous hallucinogens, others that the powerful wine growers didn’t like its popularity – at the time of banning the French were drinking 36 million litres of absinthe per year, about six times their consumption of wine.

Whatever the reason, Pastis took over, it doesn’t contain wormwood, Artemisia absinthium, the bitter element and so was legal. Absinthe carried on being produced in Spain but the demand wasn’t enough and in 1960 they gave up.

It was never banned in the UK, mainly because we didn’t drink it anyway, but a kind of mystique grew up in the late 1980s as people brought back bottles of absinthe from the Czech republic and enjoyed the thrill of drinking, what many still supposed, was a daring, illegal quasi-drug.

And then in the 1990s it was imported properly and today it’s made once again in France by Pernod Fils, the big boys of pastis and the original makers in France of absinthe.

So what of today? Well I went to meet the Pernod people in the new, rather decadent, private Little B bar at Raymond Blanc Brasserie to find out.

If dear old Oscar Wilde were alive today he’d probably approve of the Little B bar, hidden away in the structure of the old Covent Garden market it’s small and bijou and has hand-painted murals decorating the walls and velvet and silk cushions bright colours. Here we grabbed a Green Dragon cocktail and watched a little movie about absinthe’s origins.

Green for go

More fun was making the drink the classic way; dripping ice-cold water from double-tapped table fountain through a sugar cube balanced on a slotted spoon and into the absinthe to create a 1 part absinthe and 3-5 parts water mix. As the water hits the absinthe it turns opaque and the botanical aromas are released. This ritual rather fascinated people like Oscar and Toulouse Lautrec (the latter sneakily kept top-up absinthe in a phial concealed in his walking stick) and helped create its image amongst bohemians.

It is strong stuff, 68% ABV, and may have been stronger back in the day when it was known as La Fee Verte or The Green Fairy for the fun filled times it delivered. Today we all drink responsibly of course, so an absinthe cocktail or a plain absinthe and water should not lead to debauchery and actually absinthe is a good pre-dinner drink as it does genuinely aid digestion.

Try a Pernod Absinthe ‘Death in the Afternoon’ (absinthe and champagne) at Blanc’s along with a greatrange of absinthe cocktails from the largest range of Absinthes in the UK.. Or make your own with a bottle of Pernod Absinthe

Brasserie Blanc 35 The Market, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 8RF www.brasserieblanc.com

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