Read the complete Associated Press article in the Mercury News.
SAN FRANCISCO—Green fairy, opalescent muse, bottled madness, the essence of life: absinthe has answered to many names over the centuries, feeding inspiration and insanity in equal measures to artists from Baudelaire to Degas before facing a ban that lasted nearly a century.
Now the emerald witch is stepping out of the shadows.
Since its approval by the federal government in May, two brands of the high-proof liquor, Lucid and Kubler, have been introduced to the U.S. market. Both made according to original recipes, they are fueling a revival among the inquisitive and quenching the thirst of cultish devotees.
Drawn out by the dissolution of national barriers in the European Union, absinthe is also newly legal in its birthplace, Switzerland, and in France, whose fin-de-siecle painters and writers enshrined its allure in masterpieces that survived the drink's prohibition on the eve of the first World War, and ensured its reputation.
"I'd read about it in Henry Miller and Anais Nin, and I was curious," said Stephanie Palmer, who works in software sales, sipping Kubler absinthe on the night it was launched in San Francisco. "It has this mystique—all the stories about wormwood."
Wormwood, an herb that grows wild on the slopes of Val-de-Travers, in the Swiss Alps, is absinthe's key ingredient, and counterbalances the mouth-numbing sweetness of the dominant flavor, anise. A relative of tarragon and mugwort, it imbues the drink with bitter undertones and, reputedly, the drinker with a clarity of vision that made it both beloved and banned.
"After the first glass you see things as you wish they were," Oscar Wilde once said of absinthe. "After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world."