Czech absinthe is terrible.
There, I said it.
Despite Prague being one of the most popular places in the world to buy and drink absinthe, it’s one of the worst places to do it.
Most bars and restaurants around here have absinthe on the menu, but for god’s sake, don’t get it. Most likely it’ll be served as a shot and possibly lit on fire first (just a show,) and it’ll taste like burned gasoline.
Loads of people come here and say “We’re in Prague, let’s get absinthe!” So they go to the bar, say “Absinthe Please!” and are served a shot of flaming green liquid. They down it, nearly vomit, make a funny face for a few seconds, chase it with a beer, and move on, never to drink absinthe again.
A little Absinthe Background
I won’t get into too much detail here, but a quick overview:
Absinthe, commonly referred to as the “Green Fairy” has both a good and bad reputation. Many people see movies like Eurotrip or From Hell and think if they have a drink they’ll go crazy or start hallucinating. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
While an absinthe drunk is quite different than a “regular” drunk, I wouldn’t recommend getting drunk on it anyway – it ruins the experience. After a glass or three, you start feeling a bit…different. That feeling is often referred to as a “lucid drunk” – you’re clearly not sober, but you don’t feel drunk, you just feel alive and awake and social and friendly. It’s also known to keep people up to unreasonable hours…like me.
Different Types of Absinthe
Now you’ll see the difference between Czech absinthe and…well…real absinthe.
You’ll find this style in mostly French and Swiss Absinthes.
This is the real absinthe. It’s the one you want to drink. The way distilled absinthe is made is with anise and herbs, and when you prepare it (I’ll get into that below,) it “louches”, which means that when mixed with the water, the herbs react to make the drink a pleasant cloudy green or white.
You sip it, like wine. Don’t shoot absinthe unless you’ll just looking to get fucked up fast. It should be a calm, pleasant drink over conversation, yuppie-style, circa 19th century.
This is what you’ll find in Czech Republic
Czech, I love you. You’re one of my favorite places to be, but your absinthe sucks. Sorry.
Often you’ll see this type spelled “absinth” (note the lack of an ‘e’). There is no anise, no herbs, and it’s often just mixed alcohol with flavors, colors, and thujone (that’s the stuff that gives the “absinthe effect”).
It’s terrible. If you come to Prague and say “absinthe please” this is what you’ll get. Then you’ll never try absinthe again.
So what should I do?
If you’re out at a bar, check out the absinthe they’re serving and be sure it’s a Swiss or French brand. A dedicated Absinthe bar such as Absintherie (there are two of them in central Prague) is a bit more expensive but worth the cost for the atmosphere and proper drink. Just be sure to ask for recommendations on a good Swiss or French version and make sure they prepare it the proper way (with a spoon, sugar, and fountain.)
Amer (French), and Butterfly (Swiss). Both of these are great examples of a good starter absinthe.
If you’ve ever tried Absinthe in Prague (or anywhere for that matter) let me know in the comments. If you’ve been to Prague and tried some that made you sick, now you know why.
Give it another shot, eh?
26 Replies to “Don’t Buy Absinthe in Prague without Reading this First”
I’m so glad I don’t drink alcohol :), but I loved Prague a lot every time I went there <3.
I have to admit, different types of alcohol around the world is one of my favorite things about traveling. It’s a lot like food and itself tells a story about the culture and history. I’m afraid they don’t have any non-alcoholic versions of absinthe ;)
Whoa, this post brought me back to a very bad high school experience in Prague, haha. Definitely, definitely agree with your advice!
Ha! Pics or it didn’t happen Silvia ;)
Hi, thats true, if I want a great absinth, I always go to Hemingway Bar where it is served properly- great knowledge of bartenders about the origin, different flavors, served with ice water, slowly procedure… Exactly how it should be!!! I have been to Absinthe Time at Křemencova…DONT GO THERE…served without called water-just normal temperature (wrong), also they don’t do it well, they just pour the water on the sugar cube as quickly as they can and in 10seconds stir the undissolved cube into absinthe (wrong too). I almost felt that my drink was raped by them… Couldn’t believe this could happen in “the best absinthe bar” (=”the only one real”) in Prague as they call themselves… no, it is just pub where is served absinthe by mistake. Also the waitress wasn’t able to say anything about the kind of absinthe… no knowledge… avoid this place otherwise you never fall in love with absinth.
Thanks for that. You might be right and the absinthe might be inferior to French but it really is a nice gift, esp. with the sugar cubes and spoon. I recommend those that are not neon in colour but toned down wiht some herbs.
Thank you for saying this! I’m so tired of people telling me about Czech absinthe when it’s pure crapsinthe! It was the Czechs who invented the gimmick of setting fire to the sugar cube to distract the drinker from the fact that it can’t louche because IT’S NOT ABSINTHE! If you want the real thing go online and check out the Jade line of real absinthes made by the Combier distillery in France. This swill produced by the Czechs is usually infused vodka with garish food coloring added and is not fit to drink. There is only one distillery in the Czech Republic that produces the real thing, and that is Zufanek Distillery makers of La Ancienne.
Thanks for the comment and suggestions Martina, I couldn’t agree more!
Hello, born and bred Czech here, living in Prague for his whole life. I wanted to add that what is written in this article is mostly true, the “absinth” served on the popular tourist trail in the center of Prague is usually fake, green-colored vodka flavored with a terrible wormwood extract. However, it would not be fair to say that all Czech absinthe if of this dubious “quality”, since there are people who try to produce genuine absinthe in Czech, notably craft distiller Zufanek from Moravia, whose brands St. Antoine. La Grenouille and L’Ancienne got respectable reviews on aficionado sites like wormwoodsociety.org, and are respected as good quality, authentic absinthe produced by distillation. Also, if you want a decent place to taste authentic absinthes like the French Jades or Swiss La Clandestine, try the Hemmingway Bar – they are very expensive, but their staff is knowledgeable, they know how to properly serve absinthe with cold water fountain and suitable glasses, and generally provide a pleasant experience. Cheers!
Hi Daniel, thanks for the reply. You’re absolutely right, not all Czech absinthes fall under the same category, and there are definitely quality versions out there. The problem is that tourists come into Prague thinking they should have absinthe there and its marketed as such, and try what’s available and then immediately vomit, haha. I’m hoping to bring the truth to people visiting CZ so they can read this post first and get the best information about where to try them, so thank you for your reply!
Well, it all begun in the early 90s, when the communist system fell, certain unscrupulous businessmen realized that Czech Republic, does not have any anti-absinthe legislation, unlike most other countries, so they decided to exploit the romantic shroud surrounding the hard-to-get drink to create the myth of halluciongenic properties, the faux ritual with lighting the drink up, etc. And it worked, because people tend to buy stories, even though the related product is utter garbage.
It’s kinda ridiculous that those very unscrupulous producers, like Hill’s and L’Or, when criticized for peddling a fake product that has nothing in common with historic absinthe, invented a tale about “Czech Absinthe tradition”, and Hill even went so far as to state that his grandfather was a renowned Czech absinthe producer, but that communists have taken his distillery and secret recipes, etc. All ridiculous lies, of course – if absinthe was a thing in Czech in the past by the time it was popular in France, contemporary Czech literature would mention it. For example Good Soldier Svejk from Jaroslav Hasek – it’s an excellent and very famous book whose many characters drink heavily, and the author himself was drunk heavily as well, and many kinds of locally popular liquors are mentioned in the book, but not a word about absinthe, and he wrote the book just before the ban of absinthe. That IMO means that absinthe was never popular in Czech, and all the fake “Czech style absinthe histsory” is just a made up lie to make quick buck off tourists.
Hi. Your posting is offered good information. Tomorrow, I am going to Prague. And i don’t know well about brand of absinthe. Could you let me know best rank of it???
Thanks for the comment Iris. I would go over to Absnitherie and talk to them about which brands would be best right now. If you tell them what you like they can make recommendations. Have fun in Prague!
Well I saw the sun rise yesterday and didn’t get a pic. So according to you the sun never cam up. DOH!
I think Rich is replying to a comment you made 3 years ago, “Pics or it didn’t happen, Sylvia.” LOL
Ah, haha right, “pics or it didn’t happen” isn’t literal, it’s a sort of internet idiom. I suppose not everyone gets my admittedly abstract sense of humor :)
thank you so much for this post- i actually read it before buying, bought st antoine and it was good! dont buy Euphoria absinthe- its vodka with paint(
Thanks for the suggestion Alla, will make sure to stay away from that one. It’s sad that there are so many of them like this :/
Interesting article with bunch of wrong informations, First of all you should know at least background history of Absinthe which is impossible to find on internet(forget about pierre ordinaire 1792 – bullshit story), we are talking about 2000 years old medicine, and after that you should know what true Absinthe should contain, after that you can finally conclude that true Absinthe contains psychoactive compounds “Thujone” from the Artemisia Absinthium plant and has nothing with standard alcohol effect, it is a different state of mind without hallucinations. Alcohol was never prime in absinthe story and is only used as preservative of psychoactive terpenes. When you prepare it like it should be prepared (by pouring slowly cold water, forget sugar or burning nonsense) you drink only 10% of alcohol. If we talk about French or Swiss absinthe manufacturers non of their products contain psychoactive compounds which are essence of Absinthe, basically you drink so called Annisette – drink made from Anis and that is not it. Only true Absinthe in the world is made by Bairnsfather(ex Martin Sebor) for last 25 years since legalization of Thujone in 1993. both in Blanche and Verte with Thujone but also with Fenchone. It gives you different state of mind not alcohol effect… Hunter S. Thompson was one of clients…..
Thanks for the great reply Daniel, super interesting!
Well, what you got is “Bohemian Absinth” which is green (or red or blue) colored alcohol diluted with water and some artificial flavours. Aka what you said “Czech Absinth”. Except that term is incorrect.
Cause we do have absinth, real one in Czech. Actually Czech produces some of best absinthe in the world. You just need to know what you want.
So what you want is..
St. Antoine Absinthe (yea despite name, its Czech, well recipe is French really)
Absinth La Grenouille – same as above, except even better and sadly a lot more expensive (thats if you can actually get it)
stuff from Hills distillery or Bairnsfather
Couple of others, but these are the best. Also they do contain thujone, in legal amounts. There are some that contain it in less legal amounts, but you probably wont be able to find it (300mg and above per liter). From my experience even 80mg is enough to really feel it. 300mg feels a bit like if hammer was dropped on your skull. And the effect is so strong that it actually distracts from the fact that most of our true absinths is very very good when it comes to taste and smell.
Just stay away from that cheap colored abomination. :D
Hey Green Devil, thanks for the reply and explanation! Looking forward to checking out the brands you suggested when I get back to CZ.
Unfortunately, what you spread here are pure myths. Thujone is a GABA inhibitor and has no proven hallucinogenic effects. Its presence in absinthe is just the result of the wormwood maceration, and the amount is too small to really provide any measurable effect in comparison with the alcohol which is the main active compound of absinthe. You would also find it hard to provide evidence that absinthe is “2000 years old”, since distillation of alcohol in Europe started only in some 14th century. The amount of thujone found in pre-ban absinthe is on the same level of modern absinthes, i.e. about 30mg/l. Thujone is found also in other common herbs, for example sage – yet nobody ever reported having visions after eating food spiced with sage.
I mean, I’m like 7 years late, but the Czech distillery Žufánek makes traditional absinthe https://www.zufanek.cz/en/product/absinthe-st-antoine/ (such as this one or more expensive varieties) and you can get that one outside of fancy absinthe bars (if they don’t mention the absinthe brand in the menu, ask… I know some places with Žufánek and they don’t even flaunt that they in fact got real absinthe) – of course you will sacrifice the fancy glass and ritualistic absinthe making, but all in all, the chemical reaction is the same even if you pour cold water from a pitcher into any large enough glass.
I’ve had both types of absinthe in Prague (at the Absintherie) – the French type and the Bohemian. I like both but they’re completely different drinks.