Absinthe, that vibrant green drink of artists and writers and rumored fuel that caused Van Gogh to chop off his ear, has enjoyed a mysterious reputation for decades. A distilled spirit infused with several herbs – including anise, fennel and other medicinal herbs – absinthe was created in the 18th century in Switzerland and quickly gained a cult-like following, famously from creative types including the afore-mentioned Van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway and Oscar Wilde. Absinthe was also known as the “Green Fairy,” due to the presence of thujone, a chemical compound that, although found in only trace amounts, allegedly had harmful effects. By the early 20th century, absinthe was banned in the United States and several other countries, though it was still produced in Europe.
However, a revival of the spirit in the early 21st century has helped its popularity grow in both the U.S. and Europe. In 2007, a French distillery received permission to import absinthe into the United States. Also, in 2007, St. George Spirits in Alameda, Calif., began producing its own absinthe. Since then, small distilleries are once again producing the bright green drink, and it is popping up in boutique bars across the nation.
Though absinthe is used in various cocktails, the traditional table-side service involves suspending a spoon holding an absinthe-soaked sugar cube over a glass of absinthe, igniting the cube and allowing a fountain of filtered water to drip down over the sugar cube, infusing the absinthe with the smoky sugar flavor. Norman’s Local offers this tableside service, generally with a variety of three to four absinthes to choose among.
“It’s the traditional way of serving absinthe. It’s certainly a show,” says Melissa Scaramucci, co-owner of Local. “Absinthe is made for sipping and relaxing. It’s a really cool, unique kind of experience and a great way to end a meal.”