"Thy secret pleasure turns to open shame, thy sugred tongue to bitter wormwood taste." Shakespeare's Lucrece. 1593.

Absinthe Drinks

According to some authorities, absinthe as a drink originated in Algeria, and French soldiers serving in the Franco-Algerian war (1830-47) introduced the green spirits to Paris upon their return from the North African country where the drink found strong favor along the boulevards. In time the spectacle of bearded men and demi-mondes dripping their absinthes became one of the sights of Paris. Naturally, so fashionable a drink was not long in finding its way to the Little Paris of North America -- New Orleans.

The drink which was spelled absynthe in New Orleans liquor advertisements in 1837, when it was apparently first imported from France and Switzerland, was a liquor distilled from a large number of various herbs, roots, seeds, leaves, and barks steeped in anise. It also included Artemisia Absinthium a herb known as "wormwood" abroad, but called Herbe Sainte by the French-speaking population of Lousiana. In recent years wormwood has been condemned as harmful and habit-forming, and laws have been enacted forbidding its use in the United States and other countries. In addition to banning wormwood from manufactured liquor, the use of the word "absinthe" on bottles of concoctions which do not contain wormwood is also banned. As a consequence, manufacturers of absinthe substitutes have been forced to adopt trade names.

Old Absinthe House Today

Old Absinthe House

Of all the ancient buildings in New Orleans' famed Vieux Carré, none has been more glorified in story and picture than a square, plastered-brick building at the corner of Bourbon and Bienville streets, known as "The Old Absinthe House."

Hoary legend has long set forth that the building was erected in 1752, 1774, 1786, 1792, but as a matter of fact it was actually built in 1806 for the importing and commission firm of Juncadella & Font, Catalonians from Barcelona, Spain. In 1820, after Francisco Juncadella died and Pedro Font returned to his native land, the place continued as a commission house for the barter of foodstuffs, tobacco, shoes, clothing, as well as liquids in bulk from Spain, and it was conducted by relatives of the builders. Later it became an epicerie, or grocery shop; for several years it was a cordonnerie, or boot and shoe store, and not until 1846 did the ground floor corner room become a coffee-house, as saloons were then called.

This initial liquid-refreshment establishment was run by Jacinto Aleix, a nephew of Seňora Juncadella, and was known as "Aleix's Coffee-House." In 1869, Cayetano Ferrér, a Catalan from Barcelona, who had been a bar-keeper at the French Opera House, transferred his talents to the old Juncadella casa and became the principal drink-mixer for the Aleix brothers. In 1874, Cayetano himself leased the place, calling it the "Absinthe Room" because of the potent dropped absinthe he served in the Parisian manner. His drink became so popular that it won fame not only for Cayetano, but for the balance of his family as well -- papa, mama, Uncle Leon, and three sons Felix, Paul and Jacinto, who helped to attend the wants of all and sundry who crowded the place. What the customers came for mainly was the emerald liquor into which, tiny drop by tiny drop, fell water from the brass faucets of the pair of fountains that decorated the long cypress bar. These old fountains, relics of a romantic past, remained in Casa Juncadella for many years. Came prohibition when the doors of "The Old Absinthe House" were padlocked by a United States Marshall, and the contents of the place went under the hammer. Pierre Cazebonne purchased the prized antiques, together with the old bar and set them up in another liquid refreshment parlor a block further down Bourbon Street, where signs now inform the tourist that therein is to be found the original "Old Absinthe Bar" and antique fountains, and we find the marble bases pitted from the water which fell, drop by drop, from the faucets over the many years they served their mission. 

In these modern years (1937) the tourist yearning for an old flavor of the Old New Orleans to carry back as a memory of his visit, goes to 400 Bourbon street, not only to see the venerable fountains and bar, but to be served absinthe Frappé by a son of Cayetano Ferrér, the Spaniard who established the "Old Absinthe House." Jacinto Ferrér (we who know him call him Josh) should indeed know how to prepare the drink properly for he has been at it for 65 years. Josh served his apprenticeship in his father's celebrated "Absinthe Room" in 1872 and today at three-score-years-and-ten, carries on with an air the profession at which he began his apprenticeship as a five-year-old boy.

Dripped Absinthe Française

  • 1 lump sugar

  • 1 jigger absinthe substitute (Herbsaint)

  • 1 glass cracked ice

Pour the jigger of Herbsaint into a barglass filled with cracked ice. Over it suspend a lump of sugar in a special absinthe glass which has a small hole in the bottom and allow the water to drip, drop by drop, slowly into the sugar. When the desired color which indicates its strength has been reached and most of the sugar dissolved, stir with a spoon to frappé. Strain into a serving glass.

This recipe is for the original dripped absinthe that made famous Cayetano Ferrér's "Old Absinthe House" when he introduced the Parisian drink to New Orleans -- the drink containing oil of wormwood which instigated the banning of the word "Absinthe" from bottle labels. It is the same dripped absinthe, the Fairy with Green Eyes," described in Marie Corelli's famous book "Wormwood."

Today, the absinthe substitutes are free of the harmful extract of the herb , and entirely safe when imbibed (in moderation) at any bar.

New Olreans DRINKS and how to mix 'em by Stanley Clisby Arthur. HARMANSON, Publisher Nouvelle Orleans 333 rue Royale; 1937

Arthur is out of date as far as laws and modern research into the pharmacological effects of  Artemisia Absinthium. If you care; see the modern sites on the Internet discussing these issues.

In New Orleans the water came from a fountain and the "special absinthe glass which has a small hole in the bottom" is used to hold the lump of sugar. Water is run from the fountain through the absinthe glass and into a mixing glass holding absinthe and ice. As soon as the correct color is achieved, the cocktail is poured into a serving glass with no ice.

Professor Jerry Thomas published his classic work on "How to Mix Drinks" in 1862. He does not use sugar in his "French method" recipe. The absinthe glass is filled with ice and water and is held a foot above a "Champagne glass standing in a bowl". The champagne glass is nearly filled with absinthe and cold water is dripped in drop by drop from the absinthe glass until the champagne glass begins to overflow.

Neither author mentions the use of an absinthe spoon. Crillon Imports sells a modern legal version of absinthe that they call absente. Click here to see how they suggest serving absente in the traditional manner.

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