Believe it or not, there's been a recent resurgence in this once popular poor man's drink.  That's right.  Back in the day, many artists and writers couldn't afford to drink wine, so they turned to absinthe in order to, apparently, liberate their minds.  Ernest Hemingway, Vincent van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec were some of this spirit's biggest - if not poorest - fans.  Their fondness for this drink can also be credited for its surge in popularity.

Historically, there has been a lot of misinformation in circulation about absinthe for quite some time - with thanks, in part, to the temperance movement and European wine associations as far back as the Victorian age.  During the 1800s, when wine producers realized absinthe was taking up a fair chunk of their market, they were only too glad to spread rumours and crazy talk about it.  Some years later, the temperance movement in the States took the misinformation and ran with it.

Many compared absinthe to nasty psychedelic drugs if for no other reason than because it was made from botanicals.  Others described absinthe as being a hallucinogenic, but this myth was merely manifested, if not celebrated, by a growing fan base of artsy types because they could afford to drink a heckuva lot more absinthe vs. wine.  Naturally, because they could afford to drink more, they'd become a whole lot tipsier.  By drinking larger doses of this cheaper booze, they were more prone to alcoholism, thus a change in temperament and their ability to function.  They'd be more prone to delusions and outrageous behaviour as the disease progressed.  

Others became frantic over absinthe's high alcohol content without acknowledging it was meant to be diluted before it was consumed.  Absinthe is typically mixed with a combination of sugar and water.  In Hemingway's case, he'd mix one jigger (1 - 2 ounces or 30 to 30 millilitres) of this spirit with champagne instead.  It wasn't uncommon for Hemingway to toss back 3 - 5 of his so-called "Death in the Afternoon" cocktails per sitting.  Again, was he delusional?  Was he hallucinating?  You try pounding back five glasses of champagne, with or without the other added ingredients, and walking a straight line.  Absinthe eventually became so popular its sales surpassed wine's.
A sign of the times?  Above, Edgar Degas's painting, L'Absinthe (1876), was simply a portrait he'd painted of friends at the Café de la Nouvelle-Athenes in Paris.  The café was frequented by the likes of Degas, Matisse, and Van Gogh.  After showing the painting, Ellen Andrée, an actress friend of Degas's known to pose for a number of artists (including Degas, Manet and Renoir - you can see their Ellen paintings HERE), was labelled a "whore" simply for appearing on a canvas with a glass of the green stuff.  

Can you imagine what damage rumours like any of the above in this day and age could do to a product via the likes of Facebook, YouTube or Twitter?  Today we can easily track back information to its source online and set the record straight.  These guys couldn't do that.  The majority believed most everything they heard or read.  They embraced the absurd.  This was an age when folks were still bloodletting, burning witches and could legally own people.  

Still, the popularity of absinthe sent some wine producers to chemists who tried to alter the appearance of their red wines so they'd look more like their growing green rival.  You know, a la if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.  In 1862, Angelo Mariani mixed a batch of Bordeaux with cocoa leaves to give the wine a green tint and Vin Mariani was born.  So, in an effort to eliminate absinthe, a rumoured psychedelic/hallucinogenic from the market, Mariani's mix extracted cocaine from the cocoa leaves and made it especially potent.  That's right.  They were producing a mix spiked with coke.  (Apparently, a predecessor of today's Coca-Cola.)  Pope Leo XIII awarded the brew a gold medal via the Vatican - and he even endorsed it!  

A more recent rumour in circulation post absinthe ban is this spirit is apparently an aphrodisiac.  The likely source of this information is rumoured to be a Playboy article, circa 1971.  There's really no scientific evidence on record to prove this claim anywhere, but it's been further fostered by absinthe fans online and, allegedly, some of its producers.  Funny thing about absinthe today?  Instead of slagging its rival like the wines of days gone by, all of its new sexy talk is spreading the love.  Another surprise for the record?  This once celebrated cheaper drink is now twice if not ten times more expensive today than your average bottle of wine.  Go figure.

Regardless of what you make of this apparently potent little drink, keep in mind everything you've heard about it in the past likely doesn't ring true.  I'd take it all with a grain of salt.  No - wait.  That's tequila.  Wrong drink. :^)


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