You have certainly already noticed that there are various ways of spelling our favorite spirit from the Val-de-Travers (a small region in Switzerland where absinthe was first ‘discovered’). Absinthe, absinth, absynthe, absenta…which of these spellings then captures the real spirit of absinthe?! The following explanations shine some light on the various spellings of absinthe.
Absinthe is French for wormwood (artemisia absinthium), one of the main ingredients of our beloved green fairy. Because absinthe was first produced in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, the initial instinctual reaction was to simply name the drink after its main ingredient. For decades, absinthe was most European’s first impression of ‘absinthe’ (wormwood), this drink being the first wormwood-based product widely enjoyed. So absinthe became the definitive product of the wormwood plant. The Swiss and French have the most experience producing absinthe, having continually practiced this trade for the last 200 years and counting. For this reason, you can be sure that you are getting a pure and carefully-produced quality product when you buy a French or Swiss absinthe.
Absinth is simply a German version of the French name but is often used to discuss Absinthe produced in the Czech Republic or Austria. These products are actually just more-or-less modified versions of the original product and might better be described as wormwood-bitters. These ‘absinthes’ usually contain little to no anise, fennel, or other herbs that constitute the main ingredients of real absinthes. The method of production also varies from the traditional method, adding herbal essences, sugar, and coloring agents into alcohol rather than the traditional process of maceration and distillation. These wormwood-bitters usually also claim to have a high thujone content. The quality of these products is a far cry from traditional absinthes and should therefore be given their own title – but that’s a completely different discussion.
This in no way means that all Czech absinthes are low-quality products – the Zufanek distillery, for example, produces extremely refined absinthes with their own harvested herbs, strictly following the traditional methods of absinthe production.
Absenta is the Spanish term for absinthe, and most Spanish absinthes – like their Czech counterparts – have very little to do with the original drink.
Not everyone can clearly distinguish between the various degrees of quality of different absinthe products, but most English-speaking people are in fact used to absinthe being spelled with an ‘e’ at the end – however, the term Absinth without the ‘e’ is still unfortunately the most widely-used term in Germany and other parts of Europe, and doesn’t reflect the quality and class of most Absinthes that are commercially available today.