Absinthe 101 for Bartenders

I have to do this, enough is enough.

I know that right after telling craft distillers “how to do their job” that I’m coming off as shoulder-chip-lecture-man but I just can’t help it anymore.

Let’s say you’re a bartender, and you don’t know shit about absinthe. You don’t want a lecture either, all you want is a short guide on what to do with it behind the bar. This post is for you.

How to Correctly Serve Absinthe

First you need to make sure that what’s behind your bar is actually absinthe and not some fake product. For that see my Absinthe Crash Course. However, unless you’re the General Manager, Head Bartender, or Owner you probably don’t get to stock the bar.

Here’s what to do with what you’ve got.

1. First make some ice-water. Fill up either a water carafe, shaker, bar glass, or a fountain with ice and water. For each glass of absinthe you’ll need 3-5 ounces of cold water, depending on proof. More on that later but for now chill some water.

2. In a 6 ounce glass, or absinthe glass, pour AN OUNCE of absinthe. If your bar has you pouring more just adjust the following ratios accordingly.

3. Sugar and spoon. Unless the customer requests otherwise, put a sugar cube on a slotted spoon and wet it with a few drops of water. This pre-soak will help the sugar dissolve easier.

4. Pour the ice water (without the ice) over the sugar until you are at three to five ounces of water per ounce of absinthe. Absinthes with a lower proof (90-120) require less water and higher proof (120-160) require more. If you want details head over to this handy tool.

Van_Gogh_Vincent_Glass_of_Absinthe_and_Carafe
Just like in the old days, thanks Vincent Van Gogh!

Ta-da! The original method. This is necessary to do as absinthe was, and still is, bottled at a high proof to preserve the botanical content. All those good flavors are trapped in ethanol, and are meant to be diluted and released. Which brings me to my next point.

How to Fuck Up Absinthe

Here’s what most of you are doing. It could be apathy, ignorance, a combo of both or whatever. I don’t care what your excuse is but you are fucking it up and people think they dislike absinthe all because you can’t serve it correctly.

1. Serving it straight or as a shot. It’s high proof so this burns out tastebuds for whatever comes next as well as not releasing all the flavors of the absinthe. If people say that it tastes like nail polish remover, then this is usually why.

2. Lighting it on fire. The fire ritual, or bohemian style, was invented in Europe as a way to attract attention to fake absinthe at tourist traps (see this post for evidence). All those flavors trapped in ethanol you now burn off. Once again, it tastes horrible.

3. Just lighting the sugar on fire. I doubt you can pull this off without also lighting the absinthe on fire, so this is never really an excuse but once again you are adding that burnt absinthe nail-polish flavor as well as burnt caramel to absinthe. No fire, ever, got that?

No Fire!
Seriously.

4. Under or over-watering. Too strong and you shortchange the absinthe of its full potential. Too diluted and it tastes weak. If you are worried and want stability stick to three parts water to one part absinthe, and give the patron a glass of ice water, which they should already have.

But…

1. “In bartending school…” Stop right there. Half of what you learned is bullshit meant to promote specific products, and not just the absinthe section either. I’m BARSmarts certified and they just glossed over absinthe, horribly. Screw the school, you’d be better off barbacking and learning the ropes the old-fashoined way.

2. “I went to Europe and…” You went to Europe and got conned, get over it. I have Historical and Scientific proof to your tourist trap and frat house rumors. I was conned once too, now I know better.

3. “Absinthe huffing like in Vegas!” Seriously? You really didn’t think before blurting that one out, did you? They took your paycheck and revealed your idiocy. Twice over most likely.

Cocktails!

I’d give you a list or something but Drinkboy teaches better, and you’re not getting all my secrets.

Sante!

… and many thanks to those who treat the Green Goddess with the respect she deserves!

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4 thoughts on “Absinthe 101 for Bartenders

  1. “I know that right after telling craft distillers “how to do their job” that I’m coming off as shoulder-chip-lecture-man but I just can’t help it anymore.”

    Hey… if you’ve found your style!

    Thanx again for another informative and entertaining post. Straight to the point, as usual. I especially got a kick out of the “But in bartending school” segment, having just completed a 5 week course that should have been titled “Slapdash Bartending 100.5” that took itself far more seriously than that. I guess all in all it was worth the investment of time and money since I walked away with one of the alcohol service responsibility certifications. And I did learn to make a bunch of drinks that I’m hoping to never work in a place someone would order one of those. But hey, that’s why I did it; To make me pay some attention to some things I would never be inclined to pay attention to on my own. And even though I always knew that many of the retrograde practices i see all the time in bars are being taught to newcomers by people they consider to be an authority, having seen it first hand will give me cause to be a little more sympathetic in the future.

    Keep ’em coming.

  2. Well-said, sir. I was planning on doing a video entry on this very subject.

    If I had a nickle for every time I have had to explain to people why absinthe should not be taken as a shot or set ablaze, I would be able to buy my own distillery. Some people don’t understand the proper appreciation of an artfully-created drink and hide behind the excuse of “well, people only drink it to get drunk.”

    Bullshit. I never drink it to get drunk. I never drink enough of it to GET drunk. I drink it in utter moderation and respect.

    Cheers, mate!

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