In both vintage and modern art, absinthe is often depicted being served in a set-up involving a silver fountain with a tiny tap, a sugar cube, a flat spoon, and a cup to catch it all. As if absinthe didn't have a bad enough reputation, the preparation ritual makes it all look quite illicit.
In reality, all of that equipment only serves to add sugar and cool water to absinthe, so it's no more complicated than a typical restaurant tea serving. Like tea, much ritual has been attached to drinking absinthe even though you don't need special gear to do it.
The fountain holds ice water; not absinthe. The absinthe is placed in the glass. Atop the glass is placed a slotted spoon, and atop the spoon a sugar cube. Ice water from the fountain dissolves the sugar cube into the glass of absinthe. You can accomplish the same result by adding simple syrup and ice to a glass with some absinthe, but hey, it looks cooler with all the specialty paraphernalia.
But most modern absinthe (recently legal again in the United States after more than 90 years being falsely accused of making people psychotic) doesn't actually need sugar added because it is sweet enough already.
The cold water, on the other hand, is essential. Most absinthes are very high proof; on the order of 70 percent alcohol to whisky and other spirits' 40 percent. You most definitely should not drink it straight. In fact, you should add somewhere around five times as much cold water as absinthe to the glass.
The fountain and the special glass and fancy spoon are cool, but completely unnecessary. Here is how I enjoy absinthe at home.
Easy Absinthe Service
1. Fill a juice glass or lowball glass with crushed, cracked, or shaved ice. If you don't have a refrigerator that makes small ice, You can wrap ice in a kitchen towel and whack it with a hammer or muddler to make cracked ice.
2. Add an ounce of absinthe.
3. Wait for the ice to melt nearly completely, or swirl the glass to speed up the process. Do not drink the absinthe until it has turned cloudy in color- this is when oils in the absinthe have come out of suspension. (This is called ‘louching’.) If it tastes too hot from alcohol, add more ice or cold water.
Absinthe (most good absinthe, anyway) should have a soothing anise flavor. It is frequently depicted in those vintage and modern pictures being served in an outdoor cafe or a hip cocktail bar, but I think it makes a lovely nightcap instead. And who has room for all that equipment on the nightstand?