“What difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset?”
I call this DIY green-gold herbal libation the Gold Fairy in homage to that notorious spirit of the fin de siècle period, absinthe, which was known as la fée verte (the green fairy) because of its luminescent color and mind-altering effects. This copycat version induces a similar languorous state of “lucid glow,” but I promise it won’t rot your brain. Quite the opposite. This Gold Fairy is a veritable life-enhancing elixir—consumed in moderation of course!
Absinthe is an intense dark-licorice-flavored drink traditionally made by infusing fennel, anise, and wormwood in distilled spirits, supplemented with herbs such as angelica, lemon balm, and peppermint. Originally a folk remedy and cure-all tonic, absinthe was first bottled and sold by an intrepid French entrepreneur in 1792. By the late 19th century it was so popular across Europe that the time between five and six p.m. was known as l’heure verte—the green hour.
Treasured by artists and writers from Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Édouard Manet, and Pablo Picasso for its inspirational qualities, it was banned in 1915 in most of Europe as addictive, hallucinogenic, and responsible for criminal behavior. While blame fell on the “brain damaging” chemical thujone found in the bitter herb wormwood, recent studies suggest the real culprit behind absinthe’s deleterious effects were the dyes, solvents, and chemicals often added to color cheap absinthe. Wormwood is a key ingredient in many herbal spirits and liqueurs (such as vermouth), all of which are commonly consumed without madness.
My Gold Fairy stays true to the flavors and herbs of the original but is more of an Absinthe Light. Normally created by infusing herbs in distilled spirits twice, the final alcohol content of absinthe can be as high as 85 percent. My Gold Fairy dials that down by skipping the distillation process altogether. I simply infuse roughly chopped herbs in vodka for a few days to extract enough flavor and chlorophyll to give it absinthe’s characteristic taste and light green color.
I start with plenty of fresh lush emerald fronds of wild fennel to give my Gold Fairy both color and flavor. This highly aromatic anise-flavored herb originates from the Mediterranean and has now naturalized as a weed across the world. Look for it growing in your neighborhood or in hot sunny spots at the seashore. I also add a few leaves of the garden herb sweet cicely, some leaves and chopped stems of angelica for floral perfume, peppermint and lemon balm leaves for herbal deliciousness, and of course a small sprig of wormwood to bring touch of bitter depth.
All these herbs are renowned as anti-inflammatory and hormone balancing, plus they support digestion and boost the immune system. So I infuse my mixture longer—two weeks total—to enhance the flavor and extract more of the plants’ medicinal qualities. This will darken the liquid to a deep gold color.
Since all the herbs in my Gold Fairy support digestion, it is an ideal aperitif or after-dinner digestif. And the herbs share another important quality: They are aromatics that possess both relaxing and stimulating properties. In other words, this Gold Fairy is the perfect relaxing tipple on sultry summer evenings. Just a few sips bring on that special glow—without putting you to sleep!
Most of these are common garden herbs that can be purchased at your local farmers’ market or herb store. Don’t worry if you don’t have them all, and feel free to throw in other aromatics that inspire you! You can use dried plant material, but I like herbs fresh-picked and glowing with all the magical viriditas of summer.
You can sip your Gold Fairy straight up, add a little water to dilute, even stir in a little sugar or honey to sweeten. It’s up to you. Salut!
1 750 ml bottle of vodka
1½ cups fennel, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon anise seeds
1 sprig wormwood or mugwort. How big is up to you—remember it’s bitter!
½ cup roughly chopped lemon balm
3 or 4 sprigs of peppermint
½ cup angelica leaves and stems,
Roughly chop your herbs.
Place chopped herbs in a large mason jar and pour in the bottle of vodka.
Press down on the herbs with a fork or spoon so they are fully submerged.
Cap and let sit in a dark spot for three to four days, or up to two weeks if you’d like the stronger version.
Strain the plant material with a sieve.
Then restrain through a coffee filter or fine muslin cloth to remove any remaining particulate.
Store in a dark place. When exposed to light, the chlorophyll will gradually oxidize, deepening the color to a darkish golden brown.