Message in a Bottle: Absinthe

Kate Hoolu

The cocaine of the 19th Century? Madness in a bottle? There are all sorts of nicknames and myths associated with this drink- like all ‘banned’ things; it has acquired a cachet over the years that may be only partly deserved. Search for it on the web and you get 95,000 hits (and that’s just on one spelling- it can be Absinthe or Absinth). Aleister Crowley wrote one of his better poems about the stuff, Van Gogh was apparently a drinker, as was Edgar Allan Poe. Ernest Hemingway was supposed to drink it with Brandy and Champagne... for breakfast... and if you do that you’ll understand why he used to shoot big guns at things in the afternoon...and a lot of the literary circle of Yeats, he of the Order of the Golden Dawn, were consumers. Note the weirdness of some of these people before you drink it! And it is rumoured that the French army were so hammered on it in the First World War that they couldn’t fight. More recently it’s cropped up in the films Moulin Rouge and Dracula.

The entrepreneur in Britain who first discovered that it had never actually been banned here, and so started importing it again was on to a good thing the moment his fledgling business was mentioned in Parliament- the MP who said it should be banned as it’s effects were like a combination of very strong vodka, a pipe of cannabis and a large dose of LSD was perhaps the best advertisement it could ever have had. People flocked to buy it.

You can buy the stuff on the web; these are just 2 companies who sell it (and I should mention that we’ve not had any inducements from either of these…. more’s the pity)- and the sites have some educational info on them too, well worth a read



...or you can buy it from larger branches of Tesco and Waitrose supermarkets, and probably others. Alternately, if you happen to be in Spain at any time, you can pick up a decent-sized bottle in the airport on the way back for about £8 and it out-performs many of the brands you can get in the UK. The number of trendy bars who sell it as a cocktail ingredient is also growing, especially in London and Brighton, but it’s very pricey when drunk that way. Pint for pint Absinthe is still about the most expensive ‘common’ spirit, unless you’re downing vintage cognac or an extremely well aged and select single malt whisky.

One recipe that I have to leave you with: for two versions of a drink that bring on almost instant insanity - in an entertaining fashion:

The VAT: in one shot glass, mix 1/3rd Vodka, 1/3rd Absinthe, 1/3rd Tequila. Slam and drink.

The VALT: for those who wish to remain sane for just a few moments longer- one small glass (1/4 pint or so). Mix ingredients as above, but add ½ the volume of Lemonade. Drink quickly.

Health Warning: It’s serious shit, and you will have no legal or moral redress against this site if anything weird happens to you. Absinthe is a very strong alcohol, so has all of the potential longer term effects of that- liver damage, headaches, digestive problems etc. Short-term it’s got one of the more persistent hangovers you are likely to experience, and if you drink it a lot without mixers expect to get a stomach ulcer in a few months. Don’t drive a vehicle or operate machinery on even one shot. Also it has hallucinogenic properties, so unless you’ve been there before, be careful, and drink it with someone who has. The traditional way to drink it involves sugar, water and a flame (the process is rather like watching junkies cooking up, but the way) and be aware that is VERY flammable if you drink it this way.

The non-physiological side-effects can also be odd swirling emotions and mutable attitudes, and I’ve seen two straight blokes who were drinking it alternately snogging with each other and fighting. It’s an odd experience indeed, and some sensible health advice can be found at

Having said all of that, used sensibly it’s an experience that is pretty impressive. Cheers!