Absinthe at Eleven

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Europe downed a good deal of absinthe during the second half of the 19th century, and the Belle Epoque's bohemian renaissance would've been rather tame without the infamous licorice-tinged liquor.

Oscar Wilde might've been shy. Vincent van Gogh might've kept his ear. Art of all kinds would've suffered.

The Green Fairy eventually made her way across the ocean, though she was banned in 1912 by United States Department of Agriculture killjoys. Prohibitions remained in effect nationally until 2007 and in Ohio until 2008.

Today, the spirit has seeped back into American culture, and a handful of local bars offer traditional absinthe service. Bartender Todd Adam, pouring at Eleven in the Short North, took us through the best way to prepare a lovely and aromatic nip.

1. Absinthe is potent, so most drinks start with about 1.5 ounces in a pedestal glass with an indented ring and a wide mouth. Eleven chooses Lucid Absinthe Superieure, which is crafted in a French distillery designed by Gustave Eiffel. It clocks in at 124 proof.

2. A sugar cube is placed atop a slotted spoon that sits over the rim of the glass. Sugar balances the liquor's potency and peculiar taste. Absinthe's flavors come from herbs like anise, fennel and the infamous wormwood, which contains a purportedly psychedelic ingredient called thujone.

3. Opt for the bohemian presentation, in which the bartender douses the sugar cube with absinthe and lights it on fire. This method might be a more recent invention, but it's a vibrant visual treat compared to the no-flame French style.

4. Once the sugar's ablaze, chilled water begins to drip slowly from an absinthe tower, essentially a small ornate water-cooler. The liquid extinguishes the flame, dissolves the cube and begins to fill the glass. It also causes the absinthe to become cloudy, or "louche," and opens its rich, complex aromas.

5. Though it smells like black licorice, absinthe is more bitter than sweet. Ask your bartender to leave the tower nearby, so you can adjust the strength of the drink. In most cases, you'll want to sip slowly. Then paint.