It has long been rumored that consuming absinthe induces hallucinations (ahem, Vincent van Gogh), but today’s spirit is far tamer than what was served in 19th-century France. Modern-day absinthe doesn’t contain enough wormwood or its active chemical, thujone, to produce visions, according to bartender Allison Widdecombe of LoHi’s Williams & Graham. “It is, however, very high in proof, which can lend to a particular type of drunkenness,” Widdecombe says. Consider yourself warned as you head out to sample Denver’s flirtations with the green fairy.
MAX’s Wine Dive
You might not expect to find absinthe at a wine bar, but you can sip it in Max’s Wine Dive’s Corpse Reviver. The bar’s unique combo is made by rinsing a coupe glass with Leopold Bros. Absinthe Verte and then filling it with a rousing elixir of grapefruit vodka, Cointreau, Lillet Rosé, and lemon juice. 696 Sherman St., 303-593-2554
Union Lodge No.1
This downtown bar serves absinthe in a more traditional manner. The spirit is poured through a spoon with mint leaves, lemon, rhu-barb bitters, and sugar cubes then topped with green Chartreuse and lit on fire. 1543 Champa St., 720-389-0447
Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox
The sweet and tart Emporium cocktail combines Leopold Bros. Absinthe Verte with basil-infused vermouth and house-infused rosemary Vanjak vodka. Lemon and raspberry provide balance in this herb-spiked concoction. 1215 20th St., 303-993-8023
Although there’s no official cocktail menu at Star Bar, barman Les Baker will shake (or stir) an absinthe cocktail on the spot. Baker shares his recipe (at right) for the smoky and herbaceous Dancing Chupacabra. “Absinthe will stand up to mezcal,” Baker says. “The licorice and tarragon flavors pair perfectly with the spice and smoked almond flavors of mezcal.” 2137 Larimer St.,720-328-2420
Dancing Chupacabra (makes 1)
1 ½ ounces Mezcal Vago Elote
½ ounce St. George Absinthe
¾ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ ounce honey syrup (3 parts honey, 1 part water)
2 drops Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters
3 drops Bittermens Hellfire Habanero Shrub
Combine all ingredients except the Bittermens Hellfire Habanero Shrub in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Double-strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with the shrub and burst a flamed orange peel over the top.