Absinthe's Great Comeback


January 4, 2010 – Green seems to be the buzzword on everyone’s lips these days, but this kind of green has been surmised to provide a very different kind of buzz! An ancient taboo returned to vogue, absinthe is quickly becoming the drink of predilection among the 5 à 7 crowds across Montréal.

Absinthe is a potent, alcoholic drink renowned for its emerald green colour and hallucinogenic properties. Made primarily from a plant known as grand wormwood, plus a range of other herbs such as fennel, anise, melissa and hyssop, its actual recipes differ by country and by manufacturer. 

The popularity of this powerful, mind-altering elixir hit a fever pitch at the end of the 19th century. Known as the “Green Fairy” and taken at the “Green Hour” (happy hour), absinthe was enjoyed by all social classes and was the iconic drink for the literary and artistic bohemian crowd, who routinely rendered homage to la féé verte in their artistic works.

The absinthe ritual – or la louche - is integral to the taste experience. The bitter spirit is poured into a special absinthe glass with a special slotted spoon placed on top.  Next, a sugar cube is placed on the spoon and ice water is dripped into the glass. Like pastis, absinthe is diluted three to five times its volume. The water is said to release delicate flavours that would otherwise be overpowered by the strong taste of anise.

Originally concocted for medicinal purposes, absinthe soon became a global phenomenon and was ultimately banned by many countries for its contribution to various social problems. A hundred or so years later, absinthe is once again legal and is making a comeback (with certain modifications to the recipe). 

So now that you know what it is and how to drink it, the only question that remains is: where? There’s the Intercontinental Hotel’s Sarah B. bar – named after the great French queen of tragedy herself - where you can sip the green elixir and ask yourself whether you really did hear the spirit of Sarah Bernhardt as she wanders the hotel vault or was it just the absinthe talking?

Or you can head over to Bily Kùn, a popular Czechoslovakian bar inspired by an establishment of the same name visited by the owners while traveling around Czechoslovakia. There’s also L’Absynthe resto-bar on Saint-Denis Street, where you can sample several different varieties of the “dangerous” drink and enjoy a live show at the same time.

Le Sarah B.

Bily Kùn