Get a taste of the green fairy
December 10, 2009
The “holy trinity” of alcohol has reached the High Country.
The Green Fairy opens in Copper Mountain’s main village tonight with an abundant selection of authentic absinthe. The Feds just legalized the formerly taboo adult beverage in 2007. Though skeptics argue absinthe sold in the U.S. isn’t “the real thing,” which is rumored to induce hallucinations and convulsions, true absinthe is simply a distilled, highly alcoholic beverage containing green anise, Florence fennel and grand wormwood – otherwise known as the “holy trinity.”
Green Fairy owners Eric Turner and Alfonso Natarelli saw a perfect business opportunity in absinthe. The two met in the early 1990s while working at Club Med – the definition of a good time at Copper Mountain in those days. Needless to say, these guys know how to throw a party. After managing nightclubs in Europe and the States, they’ve decided to bring their expertise to Copper’s scene.
“(We asked ourselves) ‘What’s got that element of danger to bring people in?'” Turner said. “Fortunately for us, there’s a bunch of myths surrounding absinthe.”
But Turner, who has researched absinthe extensively, is happy to dispel any myths.
For instance, it’s not a psychedelic or narcotic. True – absinthe is made of grand wormwood, which contains thujone, which studies have shown causes convulsions in massive doses. But juniper, sage and some species of mint also contain thujone.
Turner said a person would die of alcohol poisoning a hundred times over before they could consume enough thujone in absinthe to cause convulsions. Absinthe sold in the U.S. has less than 10 parts per million of thujone.
Interestingly enough, recent studies show thujone acts as a GABA receptor antagonist, which, in layman’s terms means that it may allow neurons to fire more easily. As a result, it doesn’t cause drowsiness, like other alcoholic beverages can.
“The feeling experienced by many after drinking absinthe has been described as a ‘lucid drink'” Turner said. “They are intoxicated from the high level of alcohol; however their senses seem to be heightened.”
People have long associated absinthe with seeing green fairies (hence the bar’s name). As Turner explains, drinking absinthe could have enabled artists to find their muse in the green fairy by allowing them to remain lucid and uninhibited enough to let their internal creativity flow.
Absinthe has a rich, convoluted history, including a lot of propaganda.
It became popular after the French army rationed it to soldiers stationed in North Africa, in order to prevent malaria and “purify” the water. They returned home with a taste for the anise spirit, and by the 1850s, it became the drink of choice for artists and writers in Paris. In fact, the tradition of happy hour originated with drinks of absinthe after work. In 1863, a plague decimated French wine crops, causing the price of wine to skyrocket and absinthe to become even more popular.
Around the turn-of-the-century, an unlikely pairing occurred: Wine producers joined Prohibitionists in Europe and the United States to spread harmful lies about how dangerous absinthe was. A Swiss farmer, Jean Lanfray, fueled the fire against absinthe when he murdered his wife and two daughters after drinking a variety of alcohol, including absinthe. Between 1910 and 1915, France, Switzerland and the U.S. banned the drink.
It wasn’t until 2006 that a group of absinthe historians and producers began lobbying the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. On March 5, 2007, the bureau allowed the import of absinthe into the States for the first time in more than 95 years. Now, 75 varieties are legal in the U.S., and more are emerging on the market every week.
At The Green Fairy, people can watch as bartenders serve absinthe in the traditional manner: Special glasses sit under spouts emerging from a large fountain full of ice water. After pouring absinthe, the water drips over a sugar cube, placed over the glass. The sugar mitigates the bitterness, while the water causes the oils of the holy trinity herbs to release.
The main level of the bar vibrates with house, techno and trance music on weekends, while weeknights feature theme nights, ranging from Caribbean music (with rum specials) to Latin beats (with tequila specials). On the lower level, a quieter atmosphere offers high quality spirits. In addition to several varieties of absinthe, The Green Fairy carries a full selection of liquors and five of the top 25 beers selected by Beer Advocate Magazine.
“It’s stuff you won’t find anywhere else,” Natarelli said.