SKA House was gearing up for its St. Patty’s Day kegger. Okay, technically it wasn’t a kegger, since (A) we didn’t have enough people we’d actually want to spend an evening with to constitute buying a single keg, let alone several (B) none of us really liked beer. Instead, to make the evening more magical, Sluggy and I decided to make absinthe.
Absinthe, which you recognize from cinematic masterpieces such as Eurotrip, is a highly potent European spirit made from anise with a trademark green color. Lots of historically batshit crazy brilliant people like Vincent Van Gogh and Oscar Wilde dug the absinthe. Lots of historical douchebags then vilified it because they thought wormwood, one of the key ingredients, caused hallucinations which led to madness. The public opinion against absinthe was already building when one famous incident fucked it up for everyone.
A Swiss guy named Jean Lanfray drank absinthe before shooting his pregnant wife and two daughters before trying to off himself. The media of the day, much like the media of today, locked onto this one piece of information and ran with it to prove the vile effects of absinthe-drinking. However, they failed to report a few things. The wormwood in absinthe isn’t quite as bad as the, oh, the150-proof’s worth of alcohol in it. And Mr. Lanfray was no stranger to the hooch, as he reportedly drank around five liters of wine a day. Needless to say there were a few other things floating around in his stomach the night of the murder beyond a few shots of absinthe: a cr?me de menthe, cognac, brandy, and almost two liters of wine. Instead of reporting that a seasoned alcoholic lost his cool, the media portrayed absinthe as a cursed drink that would turn even the kindest soul into a blood-thirsty fiend. This story as well as a few local incidents led to the ban of absinthe in Europe and the US. Switzerland even wrote the ban into their constitution.
Today in the US it is illegal to produce and sell absinthe. It is perfectly legal, however, to possess and consume absinthe. There are several countries now where absinthe is legal, like the UK, Spain, and the Netherlands, and a US citizen with an absinthe craving can import a bottle distilled in one of these countries through a private-sector parcel company. Unless you’re willing to pay upward of eighty bucks for one bottle, though, you’d be better off DIY. Distilling liquor is illegal, but infusing legally purchased alcohol with herbs is perfectly kosher (although absinthe snobs will say that isn’t real absinthe, kind of like when people say you’re not a “real” punk or making “real” art).
Sluggy and I used a pitcher that normally housed Kool-Aid to steep our evil brew. We combined the appropriate herbs with a bottle of vodka and a bottle of Everclear and let it sit in a dark corner of the pantry for about two week. At the halfway point, we filter the brew and added some more herbs. Absinthe Day arrived, and after a few rounds of micro filtration, we had close to a gallon of the most hallowed of boozes.
We had to try it out before the party to make sure it wasn’t toxic. Sure I’d like to be on the news someday, but not for killing off my party guests. Sluggy prepared impressive Bohemian-style shots by soaking a sugar cube in the absinthe and setting it ablaze. We poured the sugary slush into crappy plastic wine goblets filled with the green menace and clinked glasses like snobby French socialites. I held the glass near my face and prepared myself. The smell was overwhelming and made my eyes tear up. Like a cowboy in so many spaghetti westerns, I downed the mixture like a shot of whiskey and slammed the glass down. Then I choked and nearly spit it all out.
Imagine a bottle of Jagermeister walking up to you in a dark alley and kicking you in the nuts. When you’re down on the ground, some Ricola cough drops on steroids wearing steel-toed boots start kicking you in the ribs. This is what my mouth was going though. The aftertaste was just as bad. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why people romanticized the drink so much.
‘This sucks!” I could feel the shot rolling around in my stomach. “I better be seeing some fairies ‘n shit soon or I’m switching to SoCo toni….” And BOOM! It hits me. I’m already tipsy! I physically felt myself going from straight to woozy in the course of three minutes. This one vile shot did what normally took at least a few hours.
And… well, I’m very sorry to disappoint you. Absinthe does not make you hallucinate. It does, however, make horrible dollar bin movies wildly entertaining. I had prepared myself to have some horribly artsy indie flick trip, and instead I found myself falling off the couch laughing at Abraxas, an abortion of a sci-fi film starring Jesse Ventura as an intergalactic space policeman sent to fight another alien who impregnated a woman with some indecipherable creature – cone maker? clone taker? Who knows what the hell they’re saying! (and look for James Belushi’s cameo as a sexist high school principal!)
The next morning, the thick licorice smell overpowering the kitchen made me want to vomit. However, the fact that I’d woken up the next morning with enough motor function to want to vomit meant our experiment was a success. Therefore, we felt no shame in exposing our party guests to the same torment a week later. They expressed a na?ve sense of wonder and novelty at the prospect, and we chuckled villainously.
As it turns out, the Green Fairy was not as fair a lady as we’d expected. Still, the experience making it was a blast, and now SKA House has some sort of weird indie cred to our name.
If you’re interested in absinthe, here are a few sites to check out:
La Fee Verte Absinthe House
The Virtual Absinthe Museum
The Wormwood Society
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Alexis Stewart is a thief and a shitkicker living in Huntington, WV. She edits the zine the Rhododendron Reader (a collection of Appalachian culture and weirdness) as well as the occasional one-shot. When she's not wielding a gluestick, she's making movies, working at her college radio station, collecting records, or stalking Ben Folds. Her column explores the weird nuances of the West Virginia underground scene from her command post in a fake fraternity called SKA House.