WAS THE HATTER TRULY MAD? OR WAS HE JUST ABSINTHE-MINDED?


This story will take you down a rabbit hole, through the looking glass, to the cafes of Paris in the 1800s, will have you feeling "curiouser and curiouser" about green fairies, and will end with a madly marvelous cocktail ~ and that's no Jabberwocky. 

I was enchanted with Agatha Christie's great detective Hercule Poirot from the very first time I read a story featuring the famous Belgian detective.  And thus began my romance with many of the earliest "criminal psychologists" in literature; among them, Edgar Allen Poe's Auguste Dupin and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.

"What?'" says you.  "Surely you have the wrong story!  The wrong author!  Everyone knows that Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland!." 

 I ask that you please bear with me, gentle reader. 

It wasn't long after adopting a nightly routine of reading Poirot mysteries by flashlight, in my eighth-grade year, that I also became intrigued by the mention of the "Green Fairy", the mysterious, ritualistic, otherworldly spirit (in the truest sense) known as Absinthe. 


What is Absinthe?  It is a distilled, highly alcoholic anise-flavoured spirit derived from herbs, including the flowers and leaves of the herb Artemisia Absinthium, commonly referred to as "grande wormwood". Absinthe is typically a natural green color but can also be colorless. It was purportedly invented by Dr. Pierre Ordinaire in 1792 as an all-purpose remedy. Used as a cure-all, it was nicknamed "La Fée Verte" ("The Green Fairy") and quickly gained popularity throughout Europe and America. 



It is not difficult to see why so many in the 1800s were seduced by Absinthe once you read the a description of the Absinthe ritual: 

An elegantly apportioned silver spoon, long, flat and slotted with baroque cut-outs, was first suspended over a tall glass filled with a shot of luminous green absinthe.  A solitary sugar cube was placed atop the spoon, and then, daintily, water was dripped over the spoon and allowed to fall in beads into the glass.  With each drip, the absinthe slowly transformed from green, to a light citrine, and finally to a milky opalescent.  It is said that seeing the drink metamorphize as such, drip by drip, "surely resembled alchemy."


At the end of the nineteenth century, absinthe was embraced by the literary bohemian crowd who gathered in European cafes and claimed the Green Fairy (La Fee Verte) as their muse and inspiration.  Absinthe played a large role in the Impressionist art movement, both as inspiration and as subject matter.  It is featured in such works as:  Van Gogh's-”Still Life with Absinthe", Degas'-”The Absinthe Drinker” (L’absinthe), Edouard Manet's-”The Absinthe Drinker”, and Toulouse-Lautrec's- “portait of Vincent Van Gogh”.  Absinthe makes its appearance throughout literature: from the aforementioned Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle tales, to Oscar Wilde and Hemmingway.  The once legendary Absinthe Room in New Orleans attracted an impressive list of visitors, including presidents William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Aaron Burr. 


It has long been speculated that Lewis Carroll partook in Laudanum, opium, or some other form of mind-altering substance when writing his Wonderland stories, but these suspicions have never been substantiated.  It is known, however that Carroll made use of homeopathic remedies, and had several books on the subject in his private library.  Given that he was writing at the height of the Absinthe fervor in Europe, it may not be unreasonable to imagine that he was acquainted with the Green Fairy.  And if not Carroll, why then certainly the Mad Hatter. 


From the time of the 1840’s through the 1880’s, absinthe was – much like wine had been and is today – the drink of choice for French people of all classes. Around 1912 the French winemakers, in an effort to win their customers away from absinthe, joined forces with the temperance movement to discredit the enjoyment of absinthe. “The Green Lady” became the “Green Curse.” The psychoactive pleasures of absinthe were now classified as toxic side-effects and, worse, the result of MADNESS. And at last, dear reader, (Oh frabjous day!  Callooh, Callay!)  we arrive at my POINT.  As promised ~  the cocktail at the end of the long and winding adventure.  Please, sit back, rest your weary self, and enjoy this creation, in tribute to the Mad Hatter, Lewis Carroll, and the fairy in the bottle:


The Mad Hatter ~ a magical elixir

1 oz Absinthe
6 oz Proseco, chilled
1 maraschino cherry and a splash of cherry juice
2 splashes Midori melon liqueur
1 splash Rose's Lime

Place 1 oz Absinthe in a martini glass.  Set your absinthe spoon (you may use a slotted serving spoon) over the martini glass, and the maraschino cherry atop the spoon.  Pour the chilled Proseco over the cherry and in to the glass and let the magic begin!  The absinthe will turn from green to milky white (ah, there's your white rabbit!).  Remove absinthe spoon, dropping cherry to the bottom of the glass.  Top off with two splashes of Midori and one splash of Rose's Lime.  The drink will appear to phosphoresce in the light.  Add a splash of the maraschino cherry juice.  The cherry juice will settle to the bottom creating a glowing red layer beneath the shimmering chartreuse.

Serve with oysters.  Curious, young oysters.

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