Absinthe, should you drink it neat?

First Published by Marie-Claude DELAHAYE on 16 June 2014 absinthemuseum.auvers.over-blog.com

Cartoon of man pouring water onto absinthe from a step ladder

© Collection Delahaye

Absinthe needs water to fully release its aromas and flavours.  These appear gradually, as it is diluted, where time is needed for the drink to give off aromas from each of its constituent plants. Once released, the different flavours combine giving absinthe its unique flavour.

After correct dilution, a well practised palate can separate out and recognised the perfumes of each plant.  An unbalanced absinthe is dominated by anise which masks the other, more subtle flavours.

Water also allows colour to develop in absinthe.   The amazing hues ranging from pale yellow, yellow green, green yellow, green almond and all their intermediate shades, according to the proportion of plants used, can't exist without water. Even Blanche absinthe is iridescent in countless different ways.

This almost magical transformation of a dark, translucide liquid into a clear, opaque one is due to the fact that water and essential plant oils do not mix.  This forms an emulsion which results in what is called the "louche".

2 victorian gentlemen drinking absinthe "My wife would give you a real telling off if she saw you make my absinthe so fast"

Cartoon by Sandy Hook,  Le Petit Illustré Amusant, 1899.

Appeared in L'Absinthe-Ses dessinateurs de Presse, 2004.

© Collection Delahaye

Water should be chilled

Absinthe is an aperitif which should always be enjoyed chilled, in contrast to quiquinas, wine based aperitifs equally fashionable at the period, which were drunk at room temperature.

Take fresh water, really cold

With a steady, secure hold

And drop by drop into the glass

Let it fall, little by little;

(Albert Morias Le Courrier Français, 1885. In response to Léo Trézenick)

How to pour the water?

To start with water was poured using a plain carafe, before branding really took off the 1880s and then they were marked with the various company names.

2 carafes

Marketing carafes © Private collections

Some cleverly designed carafes had a curved punt in the bottom.  The outside had a whitish coating, which gave the water a magnifying effect. These are commonly called Magnifying-glass Carafes.  Unbranded carafes with a beak were specially designed for absinthe.  The narrow neck allows a good grip while the small beak pours only a trickle of water.

2 Cafafes

Magnifying-glass and beak carafes © Private collections

At the end of the 19th century specially designed absinthe water jugs began to appear.  These were made of glazed stoneware to keep the water cool, and the top was often made in the shape of an animal head, the little hole in the spout allowing a fine flow of water onto the sugar. Some of these jugs are deliberately zoomorphic, as these by Delizy and Doisteau in the shape of a dog.

2 water jugs

Absinthe jugs. © Collection Delahaye

Stoneware jugs from Betschdorf in Alsace.
Variations of this jug were published in the Dictionary of Absinthe Brands, volume 3, 2007.

© Collection Delahaye

Art Deco water jug

Beautiful Art Nouveau jug.

© Collection Delahaye

Water Fountains

Incorrectly called "absinthe fountains" water and ice is held in the glass bowl.  The little taps allowed water to drop gently on to the sugar.  There are many different types of fountain: from 1, 2, 4 or 6 taps.

Highly decorative, the fountain is perfect for social use.  People gather round chatting as their absinthe is prepared.  It is this absinthe ritual which started the aperitif movement that is being enjoyed currently.

Metz and Ledger absinthe fountains

Fontaines engraved Henri Lanique and Legler Pernod

© Private collections

Variations on how to pour water


In 1878, Lucien Rigaud in the "Dictionary of modern slang", edition Paul Ollendorf, Paris suggests different definitions according to the gesture made.

Beat the absinthe: To let the water fall from a height, gently, with conviction, sometimes in the middle, sometimes at the edge of the glass.

Hit the absinthe, Louche the absinthe or even Surprise the absinthe: pour water drop by drop.

According to the poet, Pelloquet, he had the habit of making his absinthe talk! (making it splutter!)

[See the Dictionary of the Perfect Absinthe Drinker in Marie-Claude Delahaye's book "Absinthe, Art and History" edition Trame Way, 1990 where there are 105 definitions about absinthe.

Cartoon of man pouring water from a great height onto glass of absinthe

"The ideal absinthe" by Léonce Burret. Le Rire, 1901.

© Collection Delahaye

cartoon of a waiter sweating into glass of absinthe

"Absinthe season" by Félix Valloton.  Le Cri de Paris, 1898.

© Collection Delahaye

cartoon of umbrella dripping into absinthe

"Thank you!  It's nice of you to stand at the top of the page to make my absinthe !"  Cartoon by Raoul Thomen, Journal pour Tous, 1903.

All these cartoons are published in Marie-Claude's book Absinthe Cartoonists "L'Absinthe-Ses dessinateurs de presse edition Musée de L'Absinthe, 2004

With the return of absinthe, the ban of 16 March 1915 was abolished on 18th May 2011, and the fountain returned.  Reproductions of antique fountains as well as contemporary fountains, allow the resurgence of the social ritual surrounding the preparation of absinthe.

Absinthe fountain in musée de l'absinthe

Photo taken at the Café in the Absinthe Museum.

© Photo Jean-Pierre Garlatti


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