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The Green Fairy: The history of Absinthe



Banned in many countries for decades, Absinthe has only just come back onto the market in recent years, and often in a watered down version of the mysterious, addictive and mind-altering drink that the Victorians so loved. Adored by artists and the bohemians of yester-year, the drink is often portrayed as a glowing green colour, set on fire before drinking. The media adores it for the apparently extravagant hallucinations it causes, thus receiving the name la fée verte, the green fairy.


Although hitting a maximum of about 90% vol alcohol (consider most whiskeys are around 40%), it is advised to stick between 40-60% absinthe, dilute with water and sip over time in order to enjoy the taste without becoming overwhelmed by the strength!



The exact origin of Absinthe remains unclear; medical use of the key ingredient, wormwood, dates back to Egypt in 1550 BC and a wormwood-flavoured wine known as absinthites oinos was drunk in ancient Greece. Absinthe in the modern sense, also containing green anise and fennel, dates back to the 18th century, and another attempt at medical history.


In 1792 Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor living in Switzerland, attempted to create a cure-all from wormwood. While the healing aspects of the green drink were questionable, it soon became all the rage and the recipe made its way to Major Dubied and his son-in-law Henry-Louis Pernod. In 1797 they opened the first absinthe distillery, and another in 1805 under the company name Maison Pernod Fils, which became one of the most popular brands of absinthe up until the drink was banned in France in 1914.


Popularity for the green fairy grew steadily, and it soon became the favourite drink of both the aristocracy and working class. By the 1860s many bars, cafes and cabarets declared the hour of 5pm the l’heure verte (the green hour) and the bohemian crowd of famous artisans often turned to the drink for inspiration.


The popularity was not to last; the temperance movement and likeminded groups spread the idea that absinthe caused illness, death and caused one to commit violent crimes. The drink was banned as early as 1898 in the colony of the Congo Free State, and then in 1906 in Belgium and Brazil, the United States in 1912 and France in 1914.


Many countries did not ban absinthe (such as Britain – hooray!) due to its lack of popularity in the past. The hallucinogenic effects of the drink are also questionable, and were generally brought about by mistaken scientific papers. Such accounts were embraced by the bohemians, who in turn helped encourage the controversy. Vincent van Gogh and Oscar Wilde were among the most famous of those popularizing the notion – Wilde described the feeling of having tulips on his legs after drinking absinthe.  


Some say that the reports of hallucinogenic effects may have been due to poisonous chemicals being added to cheap absinthe in the 19th century in order to give a more vivid colour. We now know that drinking absinthe does not result in one seeing fairies, but instead acts as any other alcohol – drink a lot of it and the floor just will not stay still.



At Playful Promises we do enjoy a bit of a tipple, and how lucky we are to have the one-and-only Pernod supplying us with some of their absinthe for our new boutique launch! Not only will you have the chance to learn how to prepare your own absinthe, but you can also shop whilst sipping on the world-famous punch, The Green Beast!

Join us at our new Carnaby Street boutique on the 20th of October from 6pm until 9pm for our absinthe-soaked evening of shopping and primping goodness, with 20% off all purchases from us and treatments from the Powder Puff Girls!


(Yesterday I photographed our gorgeous green fairy Amanda in an absinthe inspired outfit featuring our peacock nipple pasties, which match perfectly with the Outta This World set and black satin waspie! Makeup by Sarah Jane Ellis.)