Fall’s hottest gatherings? Around ice-cold water dripping over sugar cubesinto glasses of exotic, anise-flavored -- and until recently, illegal-- absinthe. Here, a primer on the seductive elixir and its famous green-hued grip. -- Rob Brinkley

The Back Story
Absinthe is a distilled spirit concocted from herbs, most prominently the leaves and flowers of Artemisia absinthium, also known as wormwood. Medicinal wormwood cropped up in ancient Greekand Egyptian lore, but it wasn’t until the freewheeling French -- rich, poor, and bohemian alike -- of the 1800s adopted an anise-and fennel-infused liquid version of it (the form we know today) that absinthe hit its stride. And did it ever: By 1910, absinthe consumption reportedly outpaced that of wine. Yes, in France. That’s huge. But it was absinthe’s legendary strength -- it can be almost 70 percent alcohol -- that led to its nearly worldwide banning, specifically in the United States in 1912 and in France in 1915. Urban legends abounded: It was a hallucinogen; it could make you a degenerate, turn you into a martyr, and, well, drive you crazy. Guess what? It’s back. In a big way. (The United States gave it the green light just last year.)

The Heady Ritual
Oh,the appeal of the preparation. Absinthe is traditionally poured into a short, tapered glass, over which a special slotted spoon is placed. A white sugar cube is plopped in the spoon’s bowl and -- slowly, ever so slowly -- ice-cold water is dripped over the cube. (Target ratio: three to five ounces of water to one ounce of absinthe.) The mixture down below turns a milky white. Flavors are unlocked. Stories begin. Absinthe as a social moment? Indeed. Absinthe “fountains” -- large jars for the ice water, with spigots all around -- allow you and your friends to share in the fun. Get your own absinthe glasses, spoons, andfountains via the Internet (see Where to Find It below) and watch what happens.

WHERE TO FIND IT »www.oxygenee.com/premium, www.absintheclassics.com, www.absinthedevil.com, www.absinthebuyersguide.com, www.wormwoodsociety.org, www.alandia.de

WHERE YOU’VE SCENE IT » Absinthe required while watching; popcorn optional: Moulin Rouge (Ewan McGregor swills some), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder share some), and Alfie (Susan Sarandon tempts Jude Law with some).

TOP TONICS » DOUBS MYSTIQUE ($73) French, modern, ultrapremium » Duplais Verte ($38) Swiss, rich and refreshing, unique golden/green hue » Mata Hari ($37) Austrian, new twist on an 1881 recipe » Pernod ($70) French, the original absinthe

FILE UNDER: WHY ARE WE NOT SURPRISED? »Shock rocker Marilyn Manson has begun bottling his own take on thetonic called -- what else -- Mansinthe. It’s distilled in Switzerland from vermouth, aniseed, fennel, and herbs. It even has a Manson-done watercolor of a rather eerie-looking man on the label. www.mansinthe.com

FAMOUS ABSINTHE IMBIBERS
Oscar Wilde, Vincent van Gogh (it’s rumoredto have driven him crazy, leading him to chop off his own ear), ErnestHemingway, Edvard Munch