Absinthe Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

The once forbidden, mystery-shrouded potion finds a growing fan base in Southwest Florida.

Legend and mystique stir intrigue for cocktails spiked with absinthe. The green fairy, as the spirit became known, is associated with Hemingway, psychedelic spells and madness, as evidenced by the story of Van Gogh’s missing ear (many believe he was under the influence when the incident occurred). Truth is, the strong drink originated in Switzerland, and the emerald hue is related to the use of green anise. France popularized it back in Hemingway’s days in Paris, and New Orleans made it famous in the United States with the invention of the so-called first American cocktail, the Sazerac. The early mental health propaganda stems mainly from French winemakers miffed by the competition. Eventually, absinthe was banned in France and the U.S. “Absinthe became the poster child for the evils of imbibing,” Ky Belk, bartender at The French Brasserie Rustique in Naples, says, adding that the bad rap is due to its high alcohol content and one of its ingredients. “Wormwood­—that has some psychedelic properties when consumed in extreme concentrations.” Belk brings absinthe, which was again legalized here in 2007, out of the shadows and into the modern-day tropical light with the invention of his absinthe colada at The French. “It’s a nod to our proximity to the beach,” Belk says. “We still use a little rum, but we had to go with a bold Jamaican style that could stand up to the absinthe.” He calls the spirit “a bit of a bully,” as it can easily overpower. Wit
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