Serving Absinthe: La Louche
Artemisia absinthium, commonly known as wormwood, is the defining ingredient in the production of absinthe. Although wormwood leaves soaked in wine were used as medicinal remedies by ancient Egyptians, absinthe wasn’t patented until 1797. Major Dubied purchased the formula from two sisters who lived in Couvet, Switzerland, and who manufactured it in their home as a medicinal elixir. Dubied founded the first absinthe distillery with his son-in-law, Henry Louse Pernod and his son Marcellin, in Couvet. In 1805 they created a second distillery in Pontarlier, France.
Absinthe is high in alcohol content and can have a strong, bitter flavor reminiscent of black licorice. Since most people find the taste of straight absinthe to be unpalatable, several different ways of serving it have been created. The traditional way to serve absinthe is the original Parisian method, which is called La Louche. La Louche involves sugar cubes, a specialized glass and a slotted spoon. An entire ritual involving the creation of an absinthe cocktail is observed by absinthe lovers and is said to hold as much importance as the actual drinking of the cocktail itself.
The first glass specifically designed for the consumption of absinthe was a reservoir glass, named so because it had a bulge at the bottom which served as a measuring tool for the proper amount of absinthe to be poured into it. Slotted absinthe spoons were developed to hold the sugar cubes while water is poured over them. The spoon is placed horizontally over the glass and three sugar cubes are places above the slots. Ice-cold water is then poured extremely slowly over the sugar cubes, allowing them to fully dissolve. Pouring the water very slowly over the sugar cubes is essential to the ritual of La Louche.
What La Louche does is to liberate the essential oils of the herbs from which absinthe is made. While this process is occurring, the liquid undergoes a lovely transformation of colour from its original deep, emerald green to a shimmering, lustrous light green. The ritual of La Louche has an important symbolic aspect to the absinthe lover: The liberation of the oils from the herbs is representative of the liberation of the mind that one experiences while drinking an absinthe cocktail.
A more modern way of preparing absinthe for consumption was developed in Czechoslovakia. In this method, the sugar cubes are places on the spoon, soaked in absinthe and set on fire. The flaming cubes are then allowed to caramelize and to drip into the absinthe before the cold water is added. Caution is required with this method, and only spoons made from stainless steel or chrome should be used, since others will be damaged by the heat.