by Angela Dauthi
illustration by Chris Sherman
It has come to the attention of Lollipop that many of our readers enjoy imbibing an alcoholic liquid every now and again (and again . . .). In public interest, we offer a Lollipop guide to Liquor. Please note: We are trained professionals and the "experiments" that follow were not attempted by "casual" or "social" drinkers. Lollipop assumes no responsibility for the actions of any drunk person, including its own staff. And ask Mom first, okay?
Absinthe. The drink of the Bohemians. Van Gogh, Verlaine, Baudelaire... Supporters said it inspired creativity. It wasn't just alcohol. There was something more, something special. The secret ingredient: Wormwood, a toxin that causes convulsions in high doses. Actually, it's a chemical called Thujone, the monoterpene found in the Wormwood plant that causes all the neat effects. It is believed that Thujone activates the same sites in the brain as Marijuana. However, in Absinthe it is said not to cause convulsions, but a high that is completely unique. It was legal, it got you high, and the Bohemians partook freely. Then the problems started. The artists started hallucinating, going into convulsions, freaking out. Panic set in. The public declared Absinthe "unsafe" and it was subsequently banned in the 1900s in most countries (although it's still made in Spain and Japan). But with all the hype, very little actual research was done, and now, thanks to the Web, the truth comes out.
Wormwood is a toxin, but the amount found in Absinthe is negligible. Because it's mixed with alcohol (typically 75%, or 150 proof), you would be blind drunk before even getting close to the amount of Wormwood needed to do any damage. Also, to make Absinthe that special, sickly green color (that turns milky white when poured over a cube of sugar, the typical way to drink it due to the fact that it tastes like shit), the makers used to use copper sulphate and antimony chloride, poisons themselves, not to mention sometimes even including wood alcohol (deadly). And Van Gogh ate his paints, which were lead-based. Furthermore, all the symptoms of Absinthism (the term for Absinthe poisoning) were identical to chronic alcoholism. Any trait associated with Absinthism has been found in alcoholics dangerously close to alcohol poisoning. The Bohemians were drunks, folks. They were drunks who liked drinking stuff with other poisons in it. The Wormwood didn't really do any damage. Public opinion of Bohemians also helped trash Absinthe's name. True, they're considered great artists now, but back then they were just as reprehensible as Hippies were in the '60s, or Beatniks in the '50s. Much like marijuana was banned not because there were any recorded deaths attributed to it, but rather in an effort to combat a lifestyle, Absinthe was vilified because of the people who drank it.
So, with only a little trepidation, I scouted along the Web for a good recipe. I found several. Some involved Vodka, some had Pernod (basically Absinthe without the Wormwood), but the one I went for used Port as a base (I like Port, and that would assure that the effects wouldn't be completely the result of the Vodka or Pernod). No, I'm not going to tell you. Find it yourselves (hint: Cat's Meow). The recipe involves about six herbs (including Wormwood), left in a bottle of Port for a week. Simple, huh? It's not really Absinthe, but I gather it's close. Now, the moment of truth. I strained it out and had a sip.
Ugh. Needs more sugar.
This has got to be the single most bitter thing I have ever tasted. My senses were overwhelmed. Even if the Wormwood had no effect, I was stunned by the taste of it.
As with any alcohol, if it tastes bad at first, keep drinking. Your body naturally acclimates itself. After the second glass, it wasn't as bad. Don't get me wrong, it was still as bitter as the chambers of a dead nun's heart (thanks, Nick). This is no gulping fluid. It's all you can do to sip it. I had a plate of bread, cheese and Calimata olives next to me, and they definitely came in handy. Anyway, after a few glasses, I began to feel... strange. It was certainly a drunk, but there was something else. I began to feel giddy. It wasn't like being stoned, it was... different. Fun. Not that sickly, room-swirling drunk that you usually get from too much alcohol, but a light, airy feeling that forces you into a good mood. No convulsions, no hallucinations (side note: one of our heavier drinkers on staff, "Uncle Joey," made some of his own and claimed that he was seeing trails after doing six shots in a row. Six Shots?). I had to go out and share my mood with others. Now everybody wants some. Maybe I should start charging.
Do you have an idea for a liquor that's either illegal or so damn expensive you have to sneak it off of Dad's shelf? Write in to Lollipop and we'll see if we can slide it into a future issue. Have fun, and remember to keep those glasses full!