Proper preparation consists of slowly diluting one ounce of absinthe with very cold iced water, to a ratio of approximately five parts water to one part absinthe.
The most common way of doing this in the 1800s was to pour the iced water slowly from a carafe or pitcher into a glass containing the absinthe.
Note that absinthe is intended to be drunk as a mild, refreshing aperitif, not hard liquor.
Accordingly, Marteau is formulated to provide full flavor at around 12% ABV.
There's a practical reason for adding the water slowly. Absinthe contains fragrant and flavorful oils from the anise, fennel, and other herbs. During distillation, these oils readily dissolve into the high-proof spirits, but they don't mix with water.
When the absinthe is diluted the oils come out of solution, causing a cloudy effect known as the louche. Louche (pronounced "loosh") is a French word with meanings such as turbulent, troubled, disreputable, shady, and cloudy.
Special absinthe glasses such as the one shown to the right came into vogue as the popularity of absinthe increased, but they were far from universal. They usually have features molded, cut, or etched into the glass that serve the simple purpose of marking measures, allowing a consistent drink. By far the most common glass used was simply a stemmed water goblet or wine glass.
With Sugar, or Without?
Straight Up?Proper absinthe is an extract or concentrate, hence the name extrait d'absinthe. The high proof serves to preserve the fresh herbal characteristics and color, and it was not drunk neat or as a shot. The alcoholic strength is such that it can damage the delicate tissues in the esophagus. Also, many of the aromas and flavors are not available to the palate until the addition of water brings the herbal oils out of solution and they blossom into their full potential.
Flaming sugar?This modern innovation began in the rock clubs of Prague in the late 1990s as a means of making the preparation of the local faux-absinthe more interesting. Lacking anise, these flavored-vodka products don't louche when water is added so the traditional drip method is rather uneventful and pointless.