How To Drink Absinthe Without Sugar Cubes

Absinthe, also called "the Green Fairy,"  is a strong botanical spirit that has earned an enchanting reputation as the lifeblood of tortured artists and poets, with an equally tantalizing shifting legal status across Europe and the U.S. (It's legal again in America as of 2007). It famously fueled Verlaine, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Manet, Van Gogh, and Oscar Wilde. Yet, for an elixir popular among great thinkers, absinthe is astonishingly difficult to drink. Ernest Hemingway called absinthe "liquid alchemy," which is more observation than adulation. 

The absinthe-drinking ritual is an involved one. The "proper" way to drink it is via an absinthe drip — a specialized distiller that plinks individual drops of cold water into a glass of absinthe, with a single sugar cube suspended by a small slotted spoon across the rim of the glass. The water drops hit the sugar cube as they fall into the absinthe below, and the sugar cube slowly dissolves through the holes in the spoon into a cloudy green pool (aka the louche effect). 

If that sounds like a lot, that's because it is. Adding water and sugar makes absinthe palatable; in bartender lingo, it's referred to as "taming" the absinthe. Undiluted, it's a tongue-number that tastes like "part pepper, part licorice, part rot," as Poppy Z. Brite wrote in the 1989 story, "His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood." Absinthe is famous for its inaccessible bitterness, intense aroma, and Herculean potency, clocking in at around 45% to 74% alcohol by volume.  To give this old-school favorite a modern facelift, skip the rig and swap the sugar cubes for simple syrup. 

The Green Fairy strips down

Considering that the ideal ratio using the drip method is 1 part absinthe to 3 to 5 parts water, you can achieve the louche effect by using 1 part simple syrup to 4 parts absinthe. To do it, shake the syrup and absinthe in a cocktail shaker with a generous splash of water, enough to open up the absinthe, and strain the solution into a coupe glass to serve. Garnish it with a lemon twist. 

Alternatively, you could use a smaller splash of water and shake the ingredients over ice to chill and slightly dilute it. You can also use other flavorful sweetened syrups like grenadine, or add a few drops of Angostura bitters for a more dimensional profile. For best results, use rich simple syrup, which doubles the ratio of sugar to water (2 parts sugar to 1 part water), creating a sweeter and more viscous tool that can tame your absinthe in just a few drops. 

Brown or demerara sugars lend a sweet depth that can complement many spirits, but to let the flavor profile of the absinthe shine, opt for plain granulated sugar here. In an airtight container in the fridge, it'll keep for a full month. You'll achieve the same cloudy green hue — plus, pouring a dash of rich simple syrup into a glass of absinthe from a glass apothecary bottle brings all the old French poet vibes.