by Brad Cohen for USA TODAY 10Best

Absinthe 101: Here's what you need to know

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve heard a thing or two about absinthe. And chances are, if you’re reading this, almost everything you’ve heard about absinthe is wrong.

The Green Fairy – as it’s famously called – has been romanticized as the muse of la belle époque. It’s been villainized as the spirit that drove Van Gogh insane.

And, above all, it’s notorious for being the liquor that caused people to run around the streets of Paris hallucinating like Alice down the rabbit hole. But this is false. Here's the real deal about absinthe.

Real absinthe is not illegal

There is no such thing as 'real’ absinthe, so it can't be illegal. Absinthe is just brandy macerated with herbs, the most common of which are wormwood, fennel and star anise. And the recipe for absinthe is generally unregulated.

The recipe hasn't changed

You can buy absinthe today that is ingredient-for-ingredient identical to the absinthe they used to make back when Van Gogh sliced his ear off.

Does absinthe make you hallucinate?

No. Absinthe’s hallucinogenic properties are mostly just an urban legend. Wormwood, the plant that gives absinthe its name, does contain a chemical compound called thujone that allegedly has hallucinogenic properties.

But didn’t the 'original' absinthe used to make people hallucinate?

No. Most old-school recipes are in the neighborhood of 68% to 72% alcohol (your average gin by comparison is about 40%), which meant people were getting completely wasted.

Add to that the liquor’s popularity among all those tortured artists of the era – many of whom were also smoking opium – and you've got a perfect recipe for an urban legend.

You can only get real absinthe in Europe, right?

Wrong. Again, the definition of 'real absinthe' is non-existent, but in the U.S., absinthe was never even technically illegal. While you couldn’t call it absinthe, it could have been sold under a different name.

Real absinthe is green

In most cases you shouldn’t judge the spirit by its color, but color may provide some clues as to what you're drinking. Most artisanally made absinthes range in color from chartreuse yellow to chartreuse green, but they can also be clear.

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