An absinthe fountain, contrary to what one might think, is not for dispensing absinthe, but rather for dispensing water. Absinthe is rarely drunk neat, and an absinthe fountain is an accessory used to deliver the required amount of ice-cold water into a glass of the high-proof drink.
A typical absinthe fountain is an ornate vessel with several taps around its central water container, which permits a number of drinkers to louche their absinthe at the same time. "To louche?" you might ask. On contact with water, absinthe will louche -- or develop a certain subtle clouding that will slowly transform the drink's colour from deep emerald into a delightful shade of opalescent light green.
The absinthe fountain is very much part of the ritual of drinking absinthe, and the venerable and often highly ornate fountain once was a centrepiece of many great absinthe houses, both on the Continent and across the "pond". Late nineteenth century's New Orleans, for example, had its famed "Absinthe Room", whose array of absinthe fountains dripped cool water into the emerald liquor and so intoxicated this intoxicating city. To this day, one celebrated absinthe fountain -- bearing the likeness of Napoleon -- remains at the original site of the bar.
To the absinthe connoisseur, however, an absinthe fountain is more than just a decorative water dispenser. As all serious absintheurs know, a quality louche cannot be achieved by merely sloshing water into a glass of absinthe; instead, a steady drizzle is required to witness the exquisite transformation of colour and to accomplish the all-important release of essential herbal oils. Although chilled water may be poured (slowly!) from a jug or carafe, absinthe fountains have long served as handy accessories that help to unlock the beauty, power, effects and true taste of great absinthe.
Today, absinthe fountains are appearing again across parts of Europe. Specialised shops sells fountains -- as well as glasses, spoons and other absinthe paraphernalia -- to both veteran absinthe connoisseurs and to folks who have just discovered the charm of the Green Fairy, as the drink is fondly called.
Absinthe is back, absinthe is fun, and absinthe is for sharing -- hence the several taps on the fountain, the celebrated object that is once more finding its way to the tables of parties grand and hip alike.
"It's always the talk of the party," says Frank Van der Beken, an Amsterdam-based artist and a proud absinthe fountain owner. "Many people have never tried absinthe, much less seen a real absinthe fountain. The whole experience is very novel, and very entertaining, for most guests."
If absinthe drinking is ritual, then the fountain is the altar: the object to center around, one that conveys the sense of mystery and communion with a past age.
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About absinthe fountains
The Virtual Absinthe Museum has pictures of vintage absinthe fountains, as well as a rare nineteenth-century postcard that shows French country folk using a fountain as they enjoy L'Heure Verte - the "Green Hour".
Close-up photos of a replica fountain can be seen on Vive La France Online - a New Orleans shop that sells this and other essentials for the modern-day absintheur: glasses, spoons, sugar holders... Obviously, they do not stock the drink itself.
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