As many of you know, I once had a bit of a bad time with some Absinthe. Most of the better hostels in Europe have a bar downstairs, and the one I stayed at in Prague was no exception. I started drinking $0.50 Budweiser (the Czech beer whose name was purloined by some bad American brewers), and noticed that everyone was drinking this blue stuff. I ascertained that it was called absinthe, and ordered a glass. There, the locals drink it by taking a spoonful of sugar, dipping it into the absinthe, igniting it (absinthe is often up to 160 proof, so it burns readily) and letting the sugar carmalize. The next step is mighty important– you must extinguish the fire BEFORE dropping your burning sugar into the glass of absinthe, otherwise a pretty nasty explosion results. Finally, you stir in the sugar, and drink. I don’t recall it tasting like much except vaguely sweet and very strong. I had two, and honestly don’t remember the rest of the night only glimpses of a night club, an older, argumentative Jew, and girl with fake red, almost copper-coloured hair. I woke up in the many-bed dorm room very sick and stayed that way most of the next day. While lying in bed, I thumbed through my guidebook and discovered that Absinthe, in its original state, is illegal pretty much everywhere except the Czech republic.

Anyway, today I stumbled across this Scientific American reprint and thought I’d share. It was reprinted online because this recent New York Times article about how absinthe is making a comeback referenced the earlier SciAm article.

Some quick Wikipediaing reveals facts slightly different than I had previously thought. It turns out that while it was illegal in the US, the ban on Absinthe was lifted shortly after WWII. There are still debates about just how much of the hallucinogen Thujone is actually contained in properly-distilled absinthe– I suspect that in the late 19th century the answer varied a lot depending on who made it, and in cases was an awful lot. Also, according to the Wikipedia article, the absinth-sugar-fire ritual did originate in Prague in the 1990s, but whoever taught me didn’t do it quite right. It seems that you’re supposed to set the absinth on fire with the burning sugar, then add water until the fire goes out– which I certainly did not do.

In any case, my absinthe experience was such that it seems I was certainly affected in a way that was atypical of the way the way that alcohol affects me. My advice would be to stay away from the stuff:)

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