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National Absinthe Day: A Spirited Interview with an Enthusiast Bartender

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Photo of the absinthe cocktail from the Thirsty Crow courtesy of The 1933 Group
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A dark and dreary day like today is the perfect time to trip out on some halicinatory spirits. Unfortunately, absinthe no longer has those whacky powers. But that doesn't mean it's a useless beverage. Bartenders have been crafting cocktails with the green fairy for years, adding an anise/licorice note -- and a unique chartreuse color -- to their classic cocktails. And the tradition continutes today with National Absinthe Day.

Cooper Gillespie, general manager and head bartender at Thirsty Crow, is one such fan. Honoring the end of absinthe’s long prohibition in the states, the 1933 Group bars --- which includes the Crow and several others -- will feature $5 Absinthe cocktails throughout the night on Tuesday, Mar. 5th. The cocktails that will be on offer include: Sazeracs made with rye, a dash of simple syrup, Peychaud's bitters and Pernod Absinthe rinse at Bigfoot Lodge; an Absinthe 43 at Bigfoot West made of absinthe, Liquor 43, and a float of champagne; Absinthe Cocktail from Thirsty Crow made with Mata Hari Absinthe, Water, dash simple syrup, dash Angostura bitters, shaken and served up; and the Attention Cocktail, which dates to 1916, at Oldfield's Liquor Room, made with gin, sweet vermouth, Fernet and absinthe.

Of course, all of that might seem a bit much if you don't know a thing about the green fairy. So we decided to have a chat with Gillespie. Here's what she had to say about this historic spirit.

What is it about absinthe that's so attractive to bartenders? Is it the history or the flavor profile?

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I think it's both. There's an intoxicating romance and a ceremony to absinthe that no other liquor has.

Please help us debunk this once and for all: This stuff doesn't make you hallucinate, right?

No. It doesn't make you hallucinate. There are many odd falsehoods floating around about absinthe. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries unscrupulous absinthe makers used copper in order to make their absinthe green. Copper poisoning can make you go blind, hallucinate, etc. However, today's absinthe contains no copper. You won't hallucinate, but you will get a nice body buzz. It's a different high than any other liquor.

What's the proper way to consume absinthe on its own?

I like the absinthe drip. [This apparatus is a boozer's tea jug, which slowly allows absinthe to flow out of a spout and onto a slotted spoon. On top of the spoon there's a sugar cube, and as the absinthe drips it dissolves the sugar into the cup underneath. You then top it with soda water and enjoy.]

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For an at-home enthusiast, what's a great recipe they could make using absinthe that isn't too involved?

When I was in New Orleans one of the bartenders there turned me on to an easy absinthe drink. Mix 1 1/2 oz absinthe with coca cola over ice. It tastes like root beer.

Any good value / off-the-radar brands out there that you'd recommend?

I like Mata Hari. Mansinthe is yummy too.

And there you have it, folks. Happy National Absinthe Day! Just don't get too crazy. An ear would be a precious thing to lose.