This seems to be a debate that isn’t solved as easy as one thinks. Especially people new to absinthe can be overwhelmed by the variety of opinions and ideas of how to prepare a glass of absinthe.
Perhaps it’s best I list a few different variations of what is actually one ritual. They all work the same.
What you need to prepare a glass of absinthe
First, a list of what you need:
– Fresh, still water, as chilled as possible
– A glass large enough to hold roughly 100ml of liquid
Tip: Just put the water bottle in the freezer for a while and the water will be chilled enough to create a delicious absinthe drink.
The (traditional) absinthe ritual, or how to prepare absinthe
Why absinthe is only enjoyable with water
First of all, you need to know that absinthe is always diluted with water, we don’t drink this stuff straight. It’s too strong, and most aromas only develop when water is added!
Also, we use an absinthe-water ratio of roughly 1:3. That’s one part absinthe, and two to three parts water. Not the other way around!
Why the water needs to be added slowly
There is a whole article on why you need to pour the water in slowly, however the gist of it is that the many different herbs (or correctly, their essential oils) develop or reveal their aroma at an individual absinthe-water ratio. If you add the water too fast, most aromas won’t develop and the absinthe won’t taste nice, it’ll taste light and water-y. If you add the water slowly, you get to see the louche-effect (the absinthe drink turning cloudy) and taste more aniseed afterwards.
This is the essence of how to prepare an absinthe – no matter which „ritual“people choose to make their absinthe with, the basics remain the same. So let’s look at the absinthe rituals, chronologically.
The Original Absinthe Ritual
1) The Swiss Absinthe Ritual
This is the traditional ritual of preparing an absinthe the way I explained earlier. Since absinthe was invented in Switzerland, the first real ritual originated there. You add about 2-3cl of absinthe into your absinthe glass. Then, you use an absinthe carafe or an absinthe fountain to slowly drip the iced water into the absinthe, allowing it to turn cloudy and develop aromas. Once you reach a ratio of 1:3, the absinthe is ready.
Watch one of the most popular Swiss absinthes, Absinthe La Clandestine, turn cloudy through the addition of water:
Note: This video was shot in time lapse so the water drip may look faster than it actually is. The absinthe glass used is called “Bubble” and is an exact historic replica of popular absinthe glasses from the Belle Époque.
2) The French Absinthe Ritual
This ritual is the exact same ritual as the Swiss one, just with sugar. While many absinthes from Switzerland are clear absinthes, called „Bleues“, which tend to be less strong and have an average abv. of 53%, most French absinthes used to be green absinthes, called „Vertes“, which are much stronger and have an average abv. of 72% and tend to taste more herbal and earthy. Naturally, their complex and sometimes spicy taste invites you to add some sugar to create a balance. So the French place an absinthe spoon on the rim of their absinthe glass, place a sugar cube there and drip the water over the cube to slowly dissolve while the absinthe is turning cloudy.
You can watch a video of the French Absinthe Roquette 1797 being prepared with sugar here:
3) The Czech Absinthe Ritual / Fire Ritual / Bohemian Ritual
This marketing gag has many names, yet is it the most well-known absinthe ritual in the world, and especially people from younger generations only know this one. It was actually invented in the 90’s somewhere in the Czech Republic where bar owners tried to think of ways to make this old fashioned drink everyone had forgotten about more interesting. That is all there is to say about the origins of this particular ritual. As you can see, taste is what they had in mind last when coming up with this.
When you prepare an absinthe with the fire ritual, you dip a sugar cube into the pure absinthe, place it onto an absinthe spoon that already sits on an absinthe glass and light the cube with matches or a lighter. The cube burns, there’s a flame, it looks amazing. The melted cube drips into the remaining absinthe inside the glass, then water is added and (usually) you’re forced to drink the mix in one go.
Let me tell you a few of the many things that are wrong with this ritual:
1) By burning the cube and allowing the fiery-melted-sugar drip into the glass, you burn the alcohol of the absinthe. I bet that’s not what you wanted.
2) By burning the sugar, your whole drink will taste of caramel. All other, beautiful aromas are overpowered. So, if you buy an absinthe bottle at a price of $60, is that worth it?
3) There is no reason absinthe should be drunk in one go. This is a very strong drink, it used to be served as an aperitif which you’re meant to enjoy slowly.
So, if you’ve ever had a bad experience with absinthe, I guarantee it’s because nobody told you about this.
After all, drinking absinthe and the way it’s prepared is entirely up to you, and depends completely on your personal taste. If you like to light the sugar, you keep on doing it.
Can you drink absinthe straight?
You can, but you really shouldn’t. As mentioned earlier, it’s too strong and it will taste just spicy. The alcohol content is so high that your throat will burn and hurt a lot. Please refer to other classic drinks like Vodka if you fancy a shot.
Are there other ways to enjoy absinthe?
Of course there are many other ways of preparing absinthe or enjoying an absinthe drink. For example, there are quite a few absinthe cocktail recipes.
There are a few light and minty absinthe brands that go well with Club Mate (for example, Absinthe Corvus).
However, absinthe is a difficult cocktail ingredient because it’s licorice flavors overpower most other flavors. Especially green absinthes are usually too herbal to add a nice touch to a cocktail – I suggest practicing with a clear absinthe first (Absinthe Blanche Neige for example)!
All you need to know about the absinthe ritual
Now that we’ve established some general knowledge, here are a few more related articles I’d like to recommend:
Why should I pour the water slowly into a glass of absinthe?
Absinthe with or without sugar? Here’s an explanation
Should I have my absinthe with ice cubes?
The history of absinthe spoons
The 6 kinds of absinthe spoons
The 3 main kinds of absinthe glasses
Absinthe Fountains and their history
Absinthe and Thujone
How absinthe is made