Make Your Own Absinthe
- Time Out New York, 03/31/2010

You won’t cut off your own ear—but you will take home your own bottle of the Green Fairy.

Amid the rust-flecked detritus found in the Madagascar Institute’s Gowanus, Brooklyn, metal-shop-cum-studio-space is a jet-engine-powered pony ride and a decapitated papier-mâché zebra. The Madagascar Institute (madagascarinstitute.com) is an art combine that was founded in 1999 by Brooklyn artists Chris Hackett, Eric Singer and Ryan O’Connor, who want to help people get creative, get dirty and build outrageous things. With that in mind, the Institute offers classes as eclectic as the contents of its backyard. “Make Your Own Absinthe” ($55) is a two-part series during which Lis Chere, a horticulturist and class coordinator for the Institute, teaches students to brew their own batch of the Green Fairy.

The bright-green cocktail has long been a source of intrigue—it was the beverage of choice for tortured artists of the 19th and early 20th centuries, who were lured by its reputation for having mood-altering properties. Absinthe-induced hallucinations were long thought to be caused by thujone, a chemical released by wormwood—the drink’s main herbal ingredient—but those theories have been largely discredited. Unlike the good ol’ days, commercial absinthe is now thujone-free. Those expecting a hallucination-riddled rager would do well to learn about the drink’s true effects. “At an absinthe party, instead of everybody getting drunk and passing out, people are usually sitting around playing word games,” says Chere. “It’s a more energetic and lucid feeling, which is why it would have been a favorite drink of people who are writing or making art.”

1 Absinthe 101
The first session functions as a primer on absinthe: Chere begins by delving into the history of the quaff, followed by a discussion of the herbs used to make the drink, as well as their cultivation process and medicinal uses (wormwood, for example, can help quell an upset tummy). Chere also goes into the seasonal aspect of the liquor. “In the winter months, I flavor it more heavily with nutmeg, orange peel and a hint of clove,” says Chere. “In the summer I prefer to use a few kinds of mint—spearmint, peppermint, orange mint, to name a few—and lemon peel, to make it more refreshing.”

2 Mix it up
The herbs are measured out and added into a 1.75-liter jug of Everclear, a noxious, 190-proof grain alcohol. “The purer the alcohol, the better the herbs are able to release the essential oils,” explains Chere. (Though, she cautions, “taking a shot of this would probably make you lose your vision for a second.”) She also teaches students how to make simple syrups to sweeten the absinthe with orange peel or mint for another layer of flavor.

3 Infusing
Over the next week, Chere gives the container an occasional shake, then adds double the amount of water. By the time the class reassembles for the second lesson, the herbal combination will have turned the alcohol the bright-green color that’s commonly associated with absinthe.

4 Tasting
The students place a sugar cube in a slotted spoon and pour warm water over it slowly, letting the sweetened liquid drip into a glass of the homemade beverage below. This dilutes not only the strength of the alcohol, but also the bitterness that wormwood can impart to the drink. And there’s definitely a perk of learning about absinthe-making in a metal shop: “If people bring spoons, we can drill a hole in them upstairs so they can have their own absinthe spoon,” Chere says. Each giddy, clearheaded student then leaves with a five-ounce bottle of absinthe. Depending on the day, Chere sometimes sits out on the imbibing. “The people in the class will ask, ‘Aren’t you drinking it?’ And I’ll have to say, ‘Sorry, I got stuff to do,’” she explains. But she’s not worried that her particular method of absinthe-making will turn out a bad product. “As far as I know, all absinthe students are still alive.”

BOTTOMS UP! “Make Your Own Absinthe”: The Madagascar Institute, 217 Butler St between Bond and Nevins Sts, Gowanus, Brooklyn (madagascarinstitute.com). Thu 1, Apr 8 7–8:30pm; $55.