Absinthe is a green liquor made of wormwood and anise. It was originally a medicinal tonic, but gained popularlity in the Belle Epoque first among French soldiers, then artists and writers, and finally among the general populace across Europe. It was so popular that it was eventually banned because its active ingredient, thujone (from the wormwood), was said to cause hallucinations, illness, and even death.
I used to grow wormwood and thought about brewing some absinthe of my own from recipes I found on the Internet, but I never did. So until last night, I'd never had a chance to try it. It's impossible to purchase absinthe made from old recipes--their thujone levels are too high for today's regulations. But you can find it in a less potent form (in terms of thujone content) in the UK and EU. But not in the US, where it remains banned.
At Le Cafe in Harajuku, I tasted two different kinds. The better (by far) was Absinthe Hapsburg. At 72.5% alcohol it was definitely not for drinking straight. Traditionally, drinkers mixed the strong, bitter tonic with water and sugar. Modern recipes are already sweet, so mine was served with water and ice. It was delicious--anise with an herbal undertone.
I felt very worldly sitting in a Tokyo bar, with absinthe in my hand and playing the part of a writer all dressed in black. What a kick!