The Green Fairy

October 8th, 2012


Absinthe Green Hour at Pegasus Coffee House

3 pm – close.

For those of us who saw the movie “Midnight in Paris” and have dreamed about time travel to the Paris of old, sharing aperitifs with the like of Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, and Vincent Van Gogh, the Pegasus is offering an experience that just may get us there!  In starting an Absinthe Green Hour, Pegasus is introducing a drinking custom that has had a very colorful history.

Absinthe, a distilled and highly alcoholic beverage, was developed in Switzerland in the late 18th century.  It became popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, particularly among the Parisian bohemian culture of artists and writers.  It is derived from botanicals, mainly grande wormwood, green anise and sweet fennel.  It has a natural green color (but can also sometimes be clear).  It is both the green color and the colored history of the beverage that gives it the nickname “The Green Fairy”.

Absinthe first became known as an all-purpose patent remedy, created by a French doctor in Couvet Switzerland around 1792.  The healing properties are said to come from the botanical grande wormwood, which has a long history of use for stomach, and nervous disorders, along with use as a malaria preventative.  It is a component of wormwood (thujone) that was blamed (or credited) for the alleged psychotropic qualities of absinthe.  In the 19th century, as absinthe was becoming very popular, a French psychiatrist claimed that those who drank absinthe in excess suffered far worse effects than those who over-consumed other alcoholic beverages, including rapid-onset hallucinations.  This idea was immediately and cheerfully embraced by such artists and authors as Toulouse Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh, Hemingway and Oscar Wilde.  Other proponents of the drink included Mark Twain and Aleister Crowley.

While the imbibing of absinthe was rapidly rising, the temperance movement and the winemaker’s associations were pushing their point that absinthe was dangerous.  (Which could well be the only time those two entities were in bed together!)  Claims of its association with violent crimes and social disorder were supported by a grisly murder by a Swiss farmer.  In 1905 Jean Lanfray murdered his family and attempted to take his own life.  The blame for the murders was placed solely on the two glasses of absinthe that the farmer consumed just prior to the murders.  Seems the vast quantities of wine and brandy that farmer Lanfray drank before the absinthe allegedly had no effect on this tragic outcome.

By 1914 absinthe was banned in the United States (1912 – 8 years prior to Prohibition), Belgium, Brazil, Congo, the Netherlands and Switzerland and much of the rest of the world, with the exception of Great Britain.  In the 1990’s a British importer began the revival of absinthe that we are seeing today.  As it gained in popularity most of the bans were being lifted.  In the United States, the absinthe ban was lifted in 2007 (79 years after Prohibition was lifted), with the following guidelines:  the thujone levels must be less than 10 ppm, the word “absinthe” cannot be the brand name and the packaging cannot “project images of hallucinogenic, psychotropic or mind-altering effects”.

As the popularity of absinthe is again growing, so are the customs and ritual around it.  In Paris in the 1860’s the hour of 5 p.m. was known as “l’heure verte” – the Green Hour.  Café’s and pubs around the world are re-introducing the Green Hour.  The ritual of drinking absinthe is something that really sets it aside of other drinking experiences.  A shot of absinthe is placed in a special glass with a reservoir in the stem to measure the correct amount of absinthe.  Then a sugar cube is placed on a specially slotted spoon which is laid across the top of the glass.  As ice water is slowly poured over the sugar cube and combines with the clear green liquid, it interacts with the anise and fennel to change the clear liquid to a cloudy, opalescent white. The predominate flavor of absinthe is anise (licorice) and can be bitter – hence the sugar cube.  For more information about the history and customs of absinthe visit The Absinthe Buyers Guide website.

And – to experience the Green Hour yourself, visit Pegasus during the month of October.  They will be serving various kinds of authentic absinthe on a rotating basis.  You’ll have the opportunity to experience the entire ritual, the slowly dripping ice water, sugar cubes and slotted spoons.  And – just maybe, the ghost of Hemmingway will drop in for a visit.

One Response to “The Green Fairy”

  1. Click Here For More Says:

    I really like that. You’ve touched my heart!


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