Real Absinthe

Absinthe is back. Dozens of European distillers are conjuring up the "green fairy" for new palates, its fresh, meadowy taste reminiscent of pastis. The drink was banned in America and much of Europe early last century after allegedly inducing acts of insanity, including Vincent van Gogh's decision to cut off his ear. Yet no one even knows for sure what it tasted like back then.

Now an environmental chemist from New Orleans named Ted Breaux claims to have re-created the original exactly, using a couple of hundred-year-old bottles of original Pernod absinthe to distill the recipe: a half-dozen-odd botanicals, including Spanish green anise, Alpine hyssop and absinthium. The result is Absinthe Edouard 72 (a staggering 144 proof) and Jade Verte Suisse 65 (130 proof), at $90 a bottle.

Every period detail is correct. Breaux, 39, chose Saumur's Combier distillery in France, with the very stills used by Pernod in the 1870s. Even the obsolete driven-in corks are accurate. And what about the psychosis? Breaux says that it's largely a myth: some of the old absinthe was toxic, but top brands like Pernod would have met modern European safety standards for thujone, the neurotoxin blamed for its hallucinations. Since thujone is still banned in the United States, tempted Americans will have to fly to Europe to sneak a taste of the original.

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