A: To put it concisely: Absinthe is an anise and wormwood flavored distilled spirit, made from aniseed, fennel andwormwood. Absinthe takes its name from the main adjunct flavoring aside from anise, Artemisia absinthium. The common French name for this species is “grande absinthe”.
Although it is often referred to as a “liqueur”, this isn’t really accurate today, since according to the modern definition of liqueurs they are pre-sweetened; absinthe is not. Technically, absinthe is an aperitif spirit, a before-meal tipple. Pre-sweetened absinthe was known as crème d’absinthe and was of considerably lower proof.
Although wormwood-infused drinks have been used as medicine and beverages for thousands of years, when we speak of “absinthe” we are evoking this very specific distilled spirit that rose to popularity in France and Switzerland beginning in the 18th century.
There are many traditional drinks from around the world that contain Artemisia absinthium wormwood—vermouth, Scandinavian besk, Polish piolunowka, some aquavits, etc.—and yet they are not absinthe. It takes more than simply including wormwood as an ingredient to be able to be justifiably categorize a spirit as absinthe. Authentic, pre-ban style absinthe will have these characteristics:
• Contains Artemisia absinthium wormwood as a primary ingredient.
• Has a main characteristic flavor of aniseed and absinthium wormwood.
• Does not contain sugar or other sweeteners. (it will not bear the term “liqueur” on the label)
• May have a mildly, but not exceptionally bitter taste.
• Colored by infusion of natural herbs, although there are also clear, uncolored types. Does not contain artificial or FD&C colors.
Other traditional absinthe ingredients include petite wormwood (Artemisia pontica), melissa (Melissa officinalis) and hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis).
Absinthe is very high in alcohol content, usually in the 55% to 72% range (110 to 144 proof); for comparison, whisky is generally around 40%, or 80 proof. Absinthe, a high-proof concentrate, is intended to be served diluted with iced water at a ratio of approximately three to five parts water to one part absinthe. Alternatively it is used in small proportions as a cocktail ingredient, much like bitters.
Source: The Wormwood Society