Absinthe. It was the preferred drink of your favorite artists and writers—think Oscar Wilde, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh—as they sat sipping in French cafés in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Popularized by bohemian drinkers, the liquor was eventually adopted by the lower class as a cheap alternative to wine before being banned for decades because of unfounded fears that wormwood, one of the drink’s primary ingredients, caused madness and hallucinations.
Legalized in the U.S. in 2007, absinthe is finding a second life in American cocktail bars, including in Sarasota, where you can find it at Pangea Alchemy Lab. (A new absinthe-focused lounge is even planned for the room adjacent to Pangea.) You can also find absinthe at The Doctor’s Office on Anna Maria Island.
Absinthe is traditionally distilled with botanicals like wormwood, anise and fennel and ranges from 90 to 150 proof. Historically, people called the time of day when one drank absinthe the “green hour.” It fell around 5 to 7 p.m. One prepares absinthe by pouring it in a glass, balancing a slotted spoon with a sugar cube on top and dripping water over the sugar until it dissolves and the green absinthe “louches,” turning white and opaque in the glass.
How to tell the good from the bad? Quality absinthe must contain wormwood, which delivers the drink’s signature bitterness, says Brad Coburn, a co-owner at Pangea, who serves 13 different absinthes and uses the liquor in cocktails. Looking for an outré booze experience? Go green.