Absinthe with or without sugar? Here’s an explanation

You know just as well as I do, everyone has their own preferences and taste. However, some of those differences can be explained. That’s why I’m going to attempt to make it clear for you, why some people drink their absinthe with sugar and why others (the Swiss for example) find it exasperating to do such thing.

In order to do so, I’m going to have to go back time a little. However, I just want to point out a few important things that I think are important to remember:

  1. To burn sugar is part of the Bohemian ritual and is therefore not classic or traditional at all. It may look pretty, but it spoils the taste of absinthe by burning the alcohol and the aromas. So please, save this ritual for Czech absinthes!
  2. Just because you add sugar to your absinthe (burnt or not) doesn’t exempt you from adding water! Indeed, water makes the aromas expand (and will also prevent you from burning your throat and ending up by saying “wow absinthe’s too strong for me, I’m never touching this stuff again!”)
  3. If you drink your absinthe with sugar, use an absinthe spoon. Sugar doesn’t dissolve in alcohol, and you won’t get anywhere if you drop it straight into your absinthe.

Sugar and historic absinthe.

According to a number of texts and advertising material from back then, people used to drink absinthe with sugar in the 1850s, and perhaps even before that. There are three main reasons why this makes sense:

  • During the XIXth century, people used to enjoy their drinks sweet, whether liqueurs or other alcohols. It was the same with absinthe.
  • Most absinthes are bitter (due to the essential ingredients, such as grande wormwood). Sugar gives a nice balance to those bitter notes.
  • Sugar helps the aromas in absinthe to develop better.

French absinthes, Swiss absinthes: two different routes.

After absinthe was prohibited (1910 in Switzerland, 1915 in France), many Swiss producers continued to distill absinthe illegally, whereas in France, the production ceased completely. That’s why the absinthes from these two countries are quite easy to distinguish nowadays:

  • Swiss absinthes: their recipes have evolved in over a century of time, most times they have a lower alcohol level (often 53% to 55%), and are very smooth (they contain less grand wormwood on the one hand, more anise and fennel on the other hand)
  • French absinthes: their recipes are issued from old production manuals, they are bitter and their alcohol level varies for most of them between 68% and 75%.

That’s the reason why you might here people say (particularly in Switzerland) that absinthe spoons aren’t very useful anymore. It’s also the reason why Swiss absinthes require hardly any sugar.

You probably got it, the addition of sugar depends both on which absinthe you’re drinking, and on your personal preferences!

Suggestions, for you to experience the difference yourself.

The best way to experience the differences between two absinthes are (here between French and Swiss absinthes), is to try them both and to decide for yourself.

These are the two absinthes I recommend:

1. Absinthe La P’tite: a Swiss absinthe, to savour without any sugar.
2. Absinthe Roquette 1797: a French absinthe to savour with sugar.

Of course, many other absinthes would be perfect to show the difference. However, I think that you will have no more doubt after having tried these two.

Also, don’t forget that although absinthe is delicious, it should always be enjoyed moderately!

Santé!

7 thoughts on “Absinthe with or without sugar? Here’s an explanation

  1. I’ve read that those who seemed to suffer brain damage from absinthe were secretly adding opium to their drink. I wonder if this was done by lacing sugrar cubes with the opium and I also wonder if burning the opium-laced sugar was necessary to dissolve and distribute the opium in the drink.

    I know nothing about drugs except from what I learned in anti-drug messages in public school and what I’ve seen in movies. But it seems some of them need heat to dissolve into a solution. Any comments or insights?

  2. Nice article, but I would not go so far as to generalize that French absinthes are bitter!
    Some may have a stronger wormwood, and perhaps differing impressions due to different coloring herbs, but well made absinthe is rarely bitter to the point where I would qualify it with that word. It might in fact, deter someone new to absinthe from buying a French brand if they think of it as bitter! Cheers!

  3. Pretty great post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I’ve truly loved browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing on your rss feed and I’m hoping you write again very soon!

  4. Great post, have wondered over the years about Absinthe. Love the fountains they use as well. You have inspired me to try it out. Thanks

  5. I actually prefer the bitter absinthe without sugar – my local absinthe salon keeper is horrified, however I have always enjoyed bitter flavours.
    When I was a child I got addicted to the bitter ‘stop nail-biting’ stuff. I stopped biting, but kept on licking my fingers continually!

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