Mysterious and misunderstood, like the writers and painters known to partake, absinthe’s history is a rocky one. The green-tinted spirit rose to prominence in the early 1900s before lawmakers, believing it to induce madness and hallucinations, had it banned in America in 1912. It wasn’t until March 5, 2007 that the ban was lifted, the anniversary of which is now celebrated as National Absinthe Day. Though captivating on its own, absinthe, with its signature botanical bite, adds a burst of dimensionality when added to the right recipe. So next time you grab one of these razor-sharp cocktails, raise a glass to the liberation of la fée verte (the green fairy).
The Green Fairy
The Arbour’s cocktail takes inspiration from one of absinthe’s most ardent admirers, Ernest Hemingway. In his version, Death in the Afternoon, absinthe is mixed with champagne and served with strict instructions to drink three to five in one sitting. The Arbour adds a touch of class to the author’s version (and recommends drinking responsibly) with mint leaves, fresh lemon juice, and house-made rhubarb cocktail pearls perched precariously on a shave of lemon peel. The absinthe and lemon juice certainly make for a potent cocktail, but the mellow pearls of rhubarb level out the electric flavors as they burst between your teeth. 527 S. Lake Ave., Ste. 120, Pasadena
Absinthe has never felt more at home then in the subterranean cocktail bar, Der Rathskeller. The dimly lit space, the haunting murals adorning the walls, and the welcome isolation of no cellphone service all align perfectly with the Old World mystique of absinthe. So next time you visit, ask for the Perfect Pear. For this cocktail, a half shot of absinthe is poured into a coupe champagne glass and swirled to coat the edges before being ignited, the sapphire blue flame just slightly caramelizing the sugars in the alcohol. A chilled glass of the remaining ingredients, scotch, both sweet and dry vermouth, and a spicy pear liqueur are poured in to extinguish the flame. The result is a strong, fennel-forward concoction kept in check by the sweet pear flavors, perfect for sipping. 72 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena
White Horse Lounge
Bartenders have been mixing Sazeracs as early as the 1800s when a New Orleans pharmacist first stirred up the ingredients in the back of his shop. It’s been a hit ever since. When absinthe was banned, the drink soldiered on with an herbal substitute standing in, but it wasn’t quite the same. Now the real deal is back and you can sip this iconic drink at the White Horse Lounge, where it’s made with Old Forester 100 Proof Rye Whisky and St. George Absinthe. The scent from a pierced lemon peel garnish proves indispensable, hovering over the brandy snifter and balancing out the richness with a slight accent of fresh acidity. The result is a strong cocktail of unexpected depth and fullness. 41 S. De Lacey Ave., Pasadena