Enjoying absinthe is really a ritual. The tools to prepare absinthe consist of a wide range of options, and they are crucial to enjoying the drink in its entirety. I prefer a fountain and a Pontarlier glass as a starting point. Sugar is optional, however, I rarely add it. While absinthe is classified as a bitter on its own, once you dilute it with water it becomes palatable. So let’s observe how to prepare absinthe.
You only add ice water in here. Absinthe absolutely does not go into the fountain. This is a rare misunderstanding, but the errors have sadly been made before. A fountain is comprised of a base (typically metal or glass), a glass reservoir, a lid, and spigots where water can be dispensed from either at a slow drip, or a constant stream.
While I prefer Pontarlier glasses (Originally named after the glass that appeared in an advertisement for the absinthe producer Pernod Fils, which featured it’s hometown newspaper from Pontarlier. It has a 1 oz reservoir at the base to simplify measuring your absinthe), any stemmed glass will work. I’ve seen restaurants use bourbon snifters to French wine glasses. Whatever the glass, you just want to make sure that it is stemmed so that your hand doesn’t warm the beverage up.
Spoons and Sugar Cubes
(optional): These are a specific tool used to hold a sugar cube over the glass. These come in a wide variety of designs, and are generally the one tool that becomes the “collectible.”
As far as sugar cubes go, the brand, shape, and size are up to you. Generally, the Domino sugar cubes suffice.
I won’t go into sourcing tips too much here. Suffice it to say that you should certainly do some research on which absinthes in the market today are rated among the top. The best countries absinthe comes from are France, Switzerland, and the USA.
Preparation and Service
1. Add ice to your fountain. I personally like to make sure that the water is as cold as possible. Generally, I will fill the globe about ⅖ to ½ way full of ice depending on how many people I’m serving. The more people the less ice, because you want more water. Be sure that your spigots are in their closed positions before adding water… I’ve learned the hard way…
2. Slowly add cold water to the fountain. As the water begins to push the ice up, use a bar spoon or any similar tool to stir the ice around as to chill the water as much as possible. Fill the fountain, leaving about an inch from the top. (You don’t want to run out of water mid-preparation… but if you do, there is no shame in refilling.)
3. Set the table by centering the fountain. Be prepared for some water to drip on the surface of your table. It is going to happen. It can’t be avoided. I keep a white cloth nearby to clean as I go. Gather the appropriate number of glasses for those who will be drinking.
4. Pour 1 oz of absinthe into each glass. Measuring absinthe can be done several ways. Some like to be very precise, using a small measuring cup, or a jigger. While you don’t need to be too precise here, you want to be approximate. If you have a Pontarlier glass, the guesswork and need for extra tools aren’t required. (So… seriously think about getting those glasses. They’re awesome, look great, and add to the aesthetic.)
1. Sugar prep. For those who have never had absinthe before, asking them if they would like sugar in their absinthe is a very confusing question to answer. Simply ask “Do you prefer sugar in your coffee/tea?” This is a much easier question for them to answer.
2. For those who have requested sugar, place the absinthe spoon on top of the glass. Absinthe should already be measured in your glass. Most of these spoons have a noticeable notch on the stem, so there is little guesswork as to where it should go or how it should rest. Place 1 sugar cube on the slotted area of the spoon.
3. Move each glass below the spigots. For the sugar cubes, position them directly below the drip. You want the water to slowly drip over them so that they dissolve.
4. Slowly turn your spigots on to create a drip. 1 drip per second is the rate I’ll use for sugar, 2 drips per second is fine for glasses without sugar. Keeping the drip slow allows the absinthe to louche, which brings me to the next step.
5. Louche. (looSH). This transition from solution to suspension is really the climax of the ceremony. In chemistry, when practicing titration, adding one liquid to another solution creates a suspension. Chemicals coming out of the original solution (in this case absinthe) cause a cloudy (louche) appearance. Eventually, chemicals will separate and you’ll see precipitation. This is where absinthe separates itself from physics (almost). After absinthe becomes louched, it will take months for the water and absinthe to separate. The ethanol, essential oils and water behave in such a way to create the beautiful, opalescent appearance that will last through the course of your enjoyment. So, watch closely as ice water drips into the glass… it really is captivating as absinthe transforms. (After the louche has come about, it is fine to increase the flow of the spigot.)
6. As you wait for the glasses to fill, you will notice that absinthe fills the room with a wonderful aroma. It will be noticeable, refreshing, and therapeutic. Take the time to appreciate this.
7. Proportions: Generally, I prefer about 4-5 parts water for every 1 part absinthe. This varies on the absinthe ABV. If it is lower than 60% I go with 4, if it is in the upper 60% range I go with 5 parts water. By the time you’ve finished the dilution, a glass of absinthe is about equal to a glass of wine in terms of alcohol.
8. When your glasses are filled proportionally, turn off each spigot.
9. Start with the glasses that had spoons, and dip the spoon into the glass. Give it a stir to incorporate the sugar.
10. Serve and enjoy!