Absinthe or the Green Fairy
Absinthe or absinth is a distilled spirit with very high alcohol content (proof) and strong anise flavoring. It is made using flowers and leaves of several medicinal plants including wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). Absinthe is also often called the Green Fairy (from French "la Fée Verte") due to its pale or emerald green coloring.
It is uncommon (but sometimes done) to drink absinthe neat; most drinkers add some ice-cold water and sugar to it, usually 3 to 5 parts for one dose of the spirit. This is made using a special absinthe spoon, which usually has a number of small holes of different forms in it. A sugar cube is placed on the absinthe spoon and then water is poured or dipped over it into a glass with absinthe. Sugar decreases the bitterness, improves the mouth-feel of the drink and makes the concoction cloudy (this happens mainly because some insoluble components in it come out of the solution). Above that, addition of sugar and water makes the herbs in absinthe "blossom"; this brings out many of the flavors originally overpowered by the anise.
Adding sugar and water is a very important process in the absinthe drinking experience. It has truly become a ritual for absintheurs - experienced absinthe drinkers. Great variety of different kinds of absinthe spoons and other accoutrements is a good proof to that fact.
Absinthe was originated in Switzerland by a French monarchist who had moved there after the French Revolution. The drink quickly became popular among local people for its curative effects on some sicknesses like stomach disorders. Later the recipe was bought by a Frenchman and brought to France. Absinthe became extremely popular there in the end of the 19th century. Most romantic artist and writers of that period were so fond of it that often considered it the drink of their art movement.
Unfortunately, due to its extreme popularity absinthe was often made with low quality ingredients, like poor quality alcohol and some toxic compounds to give it greenish color. That probably was the reason for hallucinations and other strange things people had reported to be caused by absinthe; it was even considered an extremely addictive psychoactive drug. This eventually led to numerous poisonings which made it easier to ban the beverage. Absinthe was banned in Switzerland (1907), Ital (1913), France (1915) and number of other European countries.
Nowadays absinthe is allowed, though its distribution is regulated. The matter is that the beverage contains thujone, a chemical banned by FDA. In US it is illegal to sale (not to own, however) alcoholic beverages that contain thujone; nevertheless, sometimes they are imported despite the ban. In European countries laws are rather different on this matter, but even if thujone-containing beverages are allowed, the chemical's concentration in them is rather low.
Absinthe is a rather mysterious drink; many controversies are still unsolved around it. But obviously its rich history and great popularity is based on its special qualities and uncommon properties. Be careful with it.