The Absinthe Ritual

One of the things on my to-be-achieved-in-this-life list is to partake in the Absinthe Ritual. And now I have done so. It has been duly checked off.

I’ve mentioned here once or twice that in my novel-in-progress, The Sleep of Reason, there are many rituals. An early one, one that sets the stage for the others that are to come and sets the tone of the tale, is the Absinthe Ritual. My protagonist and antagonist engage in this in the very first chapter and a couple of times later in the story.

Absinthe is, as you probably know, a spirit made from wormwood (at least originally). For many years it was illegal, having succumbed to (mostly) false allegations about the depravity it would induce in drinkers. Many artists at the turn of the last century were devotees of the Green Fairy (Degas, for example) and plenty of lurid dime novels were written about the effects of this “horrid” drink.

Absinthe has only been legal in the U.S. for about three years, but its former illegality would not have mattered to my characters had the story been set then.

There are several rituals for preparing absinthe, and we chose to observe the fire ritual. Absinthe in its pure form is a translucent green liquid. You start by pouring a measure of it in a glass. There are specially made glasses for this, but the upscale restaurant where I went didn’t have them, so I settled for a small brandy snifter. Across the rim of the glass you place a special slotted spoon, and on this you put a sugar cube. If you are observing the fire ritual, you have the barkeep sprinkle some additional absinthe on the sugar. Then it is set aflame. It burns a deep blue color, caramelizing the sugar.

After this you begin to drip cold water onto the cube, slowly putting out the flame and dissolving the sugar, which drips along with the water into the absinthe below. When the sugar is all gone, the absinthe has turned a pearly white, and your drink is ready to be enjoyed.

I didn’t enjoy it. First of all, anything beyond a cold beer or an occasional glass of wine is far too exotic for my palate or experience. I undertook this Absinthe Ritual purely for research purposes you understand. Second, though, is that it has the flavor of black licorice, which I have never liked. And third, the man seemed to put too much absinthe in my glass to begin with. My drink was far stronger than my wife’s, and it burned at the back of my throat.

I did find, however, that my dinner conversation was far more witty and convivial than ever before.

For more than you may ever want to know about absinthe, go here.

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One Comment on “The Absinthe Ritual”

  1. Brian Keaney Says:

    Now that’s what I call dedication


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