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What is Absinthe?

Absinthe is a spirit formed by the essence of three primary ingredients, green anise, florence fennel, and grand wormwood. Among other various mountain herbs, some other key herbs called for in many recipes for absinthe to add color and flavor are star anise, lemon balm, hyssop, and petite wormwood. The ingredients are dried in preparation for the maceration, or soaking in spirit to form an aromatic sweet mix of dry herbs.

The maceration of absinthe is where the herbs previously mentioned meet an alcoholic spirit and are allowed to soak for the time called for by the distiller's recipe. In the maceration the essence of the herbs is driven into the spirit to give the mixture one of the most pleasing smells imaginable to one's nose, but an equally potent harsh bitter taste, rendering the maceration undrinkable. With the maceration holding the essence of absinthe's herbs, the mixture is soon moved to a still to become a basic spirit that may finally be called absinthe.

Being taken straight from the alembic, absinthe left plain is commonly known as blanche, or la bleue. This raw absinthe, a spirit of about eighty-two percent alcohol by volume, may undergo further treatment to enhance color or flavor by steeping petite wormwood, lemon balm, and hyssop, in the raw spirit to bring out the chlorophyl that gives many varieties of absinthe their distinct emerald color. In addition to green varieties, some rarer absinthes may obtain a ruby red color, known as rouge, naturally from hibiscus, but as varieties go, it is not uncommon to see many poor quality substitutes. New forms of Bohemian absinthe, also known Czech absinth with the E purposefully omitted, are commonly made from mixes of essential oils of which do not undergo the distillation process after maceration, leading to a foul bitter taste. Consumed in large quantity, these high thujone spirits are difficult for the human body to process, and the many artificial chemicals are harmful to one's health.

Traditionally, after production most absinthe would be assigned a grade. The five common grades of absinthe are, in ascending order of strength and quality, ordinaire, demi-fine, fine, supérieure and Suisse. It was not uncommon for, prior to the widespread ban on absinthe, low grade absinthes to be produced at a very low standard to meet wide demand among the masses, commonly incorporating chemicals such as copper sulfate and antimony trichloride which have been found to be poisons in modern times.

Absinthe production has seen a massive resurgence in modern times since it's ban being lifted by European countries (2000-2006) and the United States (2007). In a time when many of the old recipes for absinthe have been lost, one must use common knowledge to differentiate the traditional quality absinthes from those that are false, or potentially harmful to one's being. As a general rule, absinthe is best found in its home regions of France and Switzerland. Hopefully, as time passes on, the profiteers will lose their business to traditional absinthe producers.