Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The forbidden fruit

It "makes one crazy and criminal, provokes epilepsy and tuberculosis, and has killed thousands of French people. It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant, it disorganizes and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country."

Sounds intriguing, doesn't it? Yes, we are talking about absinthe, which is experiencing a revival. Although much maligned, but poorly understood, absinthe liquor is now available from a few reputable sources.

Most of the stuff on the market today is garbage. It is usually cheap alcohol which is mixed in with extracts and flavorings. It is bitter and harsh. However, when distilled properly, absinthe loses much of the bitterness. Furthermore, the distilling process eliminates almost all of the toxin thujone, which people erroneously associated with the uniquely intoxicating feel of absinthe.

Absinthe is drunk by performing an elaborate ritual - almost like the Japanese Tea ceremony. A special glass holds a "dose" of absinthe. A perforated spoon with a sugar cube is put over the glass, and water is poured over the spoon into the glass. When the water hits the liquor, it releases herbal oils which cause the liquid to "louche" or turn cloudy, distinctive green.

Although it is illegal to purchase absinthe in the US or import it into this country, it is not illegal to possess it. Why would anyone try it? Well, Oscar Wilde said - “After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”

For about 55 GBP (about $95 USD) you can order a bottle of the good stuff on the Internet. For another 15 pounds you can buy the fancy spoon. It would be quite an experience except I am 99.98% sure that it is not kosher. The base for absinthe is grape alcohol and I cannot see how it could possibly be kosher. C'est la vie :(


Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

Well, if people used kosher grape alcohol for it, it could be made kosher, theoretically. Someone told me it's quite good. Someone else told me it's quite disgusting. Sounds intriguing, but I really don't think it's my thing.

March 21, 2006 9:31 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

I've always wanted to try it.

March 22, 2006 6:43 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Irina, I didn't mean to imply that one couldn't make kosher absinthe, just that the odds of finding one are slim to none, and slim just left the room.

I think the reason why you've heard such different opinions about it is the thing I mentioned in the post. There is a lot of junk out there, but also serious producers are coming out with authentic high quality absinthe. Absinthe is made out of wormwood, which is the second most bitter substance on earth, and if it isn't distilled correctly, you can make some real nasty sh*t.

March 22, 2006 7:30 AM  
Blogger Tobie said...

Sorry- what about this thing sounds anything close to appealing? I mean, I'm in general anti-alcohol, but this sounds even more apalling. I really don't think that one achieves clarity through this thing any more than one who on any sort of LSD high. I mean, how exactly is this different from any other sort of hallucinatory drug?

March 22, 2006 10:58 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


It is my understanding that the hallucinogenic effects of absinthe have been greatly exaggerated. However, there is a sort of "clear headed drunkenness" effect that most people report. It would be an interesting experience. As far as anyone can tell, unlike LSD and many of the other hallucinogenic substances, absinthe is actually harmless, unless abused.

And of course, there is the ritual aspect to it, which as Orthodox Jews we should really appreciate (especially around seder time :)) and it would make a hell of a conversation piece at parties :)

March 22, 2006 2:16 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

>As far as anyone can tell, unlike LSD and many of the other hallucinogenic substances, absinthe is actually harmless, unless abused.

March 24, 2006 4:59 AM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

I meant to say, that as far as I can tell LSD is also harmless unless abused (or unless you are driving).

The swiss scientist who created LSD is alive and kicking at 100 years old.

March 24, 2006 5:00 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


I am not sure how harmful LSD is. It is my understanding that prolonged use can cause permanent changes in the brain, especially impairing memory and attention.

Other hallucinogens, especially opiates have much more pronounced negative effects.

March 24, 2006 7:49 AM  

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