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A reservoir glass filled with a naturally coloured verte, next to an absinthe spoon.

Absinthe is historically described as a distilled, highly alcoholic (45–74% ABV) beverage.[1][2][3][4] It is an anise-flavoured spirit derived from herbs, including the flowers and leaves of the herb Artemisia absinthium, commonly referred to as "grande wormwood". Absinthe traditionally has a natural green colour but can also be colourless. It is commonly referred to in historical literature as "la fée verte" (the Green Fairy).

Although it is sometimes mistakenly called a liqueur, absinthe is not bottled with added sugar and is therefore classified as a spirit.[5] Absinthe is unusual among spirits in that it is bottled at a very high proof but is normally diluted with water when consumed.

Absinthe originated in the canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. It achieved great popularity as an alcoholic drink in late 19th- and early 20th-century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers. Due in part to its association with bohemian culture, absinthe was opposed by social conservatives and prohibitionists. Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Amedeo Modigliani, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Aleister Crowley, and Alfred Jarry were all notorious "bad men" of that day who were (or were thought to be) devotees of the Green Fairy.[6]

Absinthe has been portrayed as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug.[7] The chemical thujone, present in small quantities, was singled out and blamed for its alleged harmful effects. By 1915, absinthe had been banned in the United States and in most European countries except the United Kingdom, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Denmark and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although absinthe was vilified, no evidence has shown it to be any more dangerous than ordinary spirits. Its psychoactive properties, apart from those of alcohol, have been much exaggerated.[7]

A revival of absinthe began in the 1990s, when countries in the European Union began to reauthorize its manufacture and sale. As of February 2008, nearly 200 brands of absinthe were being produced in a dozen countries, most notably in France, Switzerland, Spain, and the Czech Republic.[8] Commercial distillation of absinthe in the United States resumed in 2007.[9]

Linguistics

The French word absinthe can refer either to the alcoholic beverage or, less commonly, to the actual wormwood plant (grande absinthe being Artemisia absinthium, and petite absinthe being Artemisia pontica). The Latin name artemisia comes from Artemis, the ancient Greek goddess of the hunt. Absinthe is derived from the Latin absinthium, which in turn is a stylization of the Greek αψίνθιον (apsínthion), for wormwood. The use of Artemisia absinthium in a drink is attested in LucretiusDe Rerum Natura (I 936–950), where Lucretius indicates that a drink containing wormwood is given as medicine to children in a cup with honey on the brim to make it drinkable. This was a metaphor for the presentation of complex ideas in poetic form.[10]

Some claim that the word means "undrinkable" in Greek, but it may instead be linked to the Persian root spand or aspand, or the variant esfand, which meant Peganum harmala, also called Syrian Rue—although it is not actually a variety of rue, another famously bitter herb. That Artemisia absinthium was commonly burned as a protective offering may suggest that its origins lie in the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root *spend, meaning "to perform a ritual" or "make an offering." Whether the word was a borrowing from Persian into Greek, or from a common ancestor of both, is unclear.[11] Variant spellings of absinthe are absinth, absynthe, and absenta. In English it is pronounced /ˈæbsɪnθ/ ( listen); in French, [absɛ̃t]. Absinth (without the final e) is a spelling variant used by central European distillers. It is the usual name for absinthe produced in the Czech Republic and in Germany, and has become associated with Bohemian style absinthes.[12]

History

Privat-Livemont’s 1896 poster

The precise origin of absinthe is unclear. The medical use of wormwood dates back to ancient Egypt and is mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus, circa 1550 BC. Wormwood extracts and wine-soaked wormwood leaves were used as remedies by the ancient Greeks. Moreover, there is evidence of the existence of a wormwood-flavoured wine, absinthites oinos, in ancient Greece.[13]

The first clear evidence of absinthe in the modern sense of a distilled spirit containing green anise and fennel, however, dates to the 18th century. According to popular legend, absinthe began as an all-purpose patent remedy created by Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor living in Couvet, Switzerland, around 1792 (the exact date varies by account). Ordinaire’s recipe was passed on to the Henriod sisters of Couvet, who sold absinthe as a medicinal elixir. By other accounts, the Henriod sisters may have been making the elixir before Ordinaire’s arrival. In either case, a certain Major Dubied acquired the formula from the sisters and in 1797, with his son Marcellin and son-in-law Henry-Louis Pernod, opened the first absinthe distillery, Dubied Père et Fils, in Couvet. In 1805 they built a second distillery in Pontarlier, France, under the new company name Maison Pernod Fils.[14] Pernod Fils remained one of the most popular brand of absinthe up until the ban of the drink in France in 1914.

Rapid growth of French consumption

An advertising poster for Absinthe Beucler

Absinthe’s popularity grew steadily through the 1840s, when absinthe was given to French troops as a malaria treatment.[15] When the troops returned home, they brought their taste for absinthe with them. It became so popular in bars, bistros, cafés, and cabarets that, by the 1860s, the hour of 5 p.m. was called l’heure verte ("the green hour"). Absinthe was favoured by all social classes, from the wealthy bourgeoisie to poor artists and ordinary working-class people. By the 1880s, mass production had caused the price of absinthe to drop sharply. By 1910, the French were drinking 36 million litres of absinthe per year, which contrasts against their consumption of almost 5 billion litres of wine.[16][17]

International consumption

Absinthe has been popular outside of France, including in Spain, New Orleans and the Czech Republic. Absinthe was never banned in Spain, and its production and consumption has never ceased. During the early 20th century it gained a temporary spike in popularity corresponding with the French influenced Art Nouveau and Modernism aesthetic movements.[18]

New Orleans also has a historical connection to absinthe consumption. The city has a prominent landmark called the Old Absinthe House, located on Bourbon Street. Originally called the Absinthe Room, it was opened in 1874 by a Catalan bartender named Cayetano Ferrer. The building was frequented by many famous people, including Franklin Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and Aleister Crowley.[19][20]

Absinthe has been consumed in the Czech Republic (then part of Austria–Hungary) since at least 1888, notably by Czech artists, some of whom had an affinity for Paris, frequenting Prague’s famous Cafe Slavia.[21] Its wider appeal in Bohemia itself is uncertain, though it was sold in and around Prague. There is evidence that at least one local liquor distillery in Bohemia was making absinthe at the turn of the 20th century.[22]

Bans

Albert Maignan’s "Green Muse" (1895): A poet succumbs to the Green Fairy.

Spurred by the temperance movement and the winemakers’ associations, absinthe was publicly associated with violent crimes and social disorder.

A critic said that:[23]

Absinthe makes you crazy and criminal, provokes epilepsy and tuberculosis, and has killed thousands of French people. It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant, it disorganizes and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country.

Edgar Degas’ 1876 painting L’Absinthe, which can be seen at the Musée d’Orsay, epitomized the popular view of absinthe addicts as sodden and benumbed. Although Émile Zola mentioned absinthe only once by name, he described its effects in his novel L’Assommoir:[24]

Boche had known a joiner who had stripped himself stark naked in the rue Saint-Martin and died doing the polka—he was an absinthe-drinker.
A poster criticizes the ban on absinthe in Switzerland (by Albert Gantner, 1910)

In 1905, it was reported that Jean Lanfray murdered his family and tried to kill himself after drinking absinthe. The fact that Lanfray was an alcoholic who had consumed much more than his usual two glasses of absinthe in the morning was either overlooked or ignored; the murders were blamed solely on absinthe.[25] The murders were the last straw, and a petition to ban absinthe in Switzerland was subsequently signed by more than 82,000 people. The prohibition of absinthe was then written into the Swiss constitution in 1907.

In 1906, Belgium and Brazil banned the sale and distribution of absinthe, although they were not the first. Absinthe had been banned as early as 1898 in the colony of the Congo Free State.[26] The Netherlands banned absinthe in 1909; Switzerland banned it in 1910[27]; the United States in 1912, and France in 1914[27].

The prohibition of absinthe in France led to increased popularity of pastis (and of ouzo, to a lesser extent), which are anise-flavoured spirits that do not contain wormwood. The Pernod brand resumed production at the Banus distillery in Catalonia, Spain, where absinthe was still legal,[28][29] but slow sales in the 1960s eventually caused them to shut it down.[30] In Switzerland, the ban drove absinthe underground. Clandestine home distillers produced absinthe after the ban, focusing on la Bleue, which was easier to conceal from the authorities. Many countries never banned absinthe, notably Britain, where it had not been as popular as in continental Europe.

Modern revival

Modern absinthes. Vertes at left; blanches at right. A prepared glass is in front of each.

In the 1990s an importer, BBH Spirits, realized that there was no UK law prohibiting the sale of absinthe, as it had never been banned there. They began to import Hill’s Absinth (not a true Absinthe) from the Czech Republic, which encouraged a modern resurgence in absinthe’s popularity. Absinthe had also never been banned in other European countries where it was never truly popular. As a result, it is in these countries where absinthe first began to reappear during the revival in the 1990s. These absinthes—mostly Czech, Spanish, and Portuguese brands—are generally of recent origin, typically consist of Bohemian-style products, and are therefore considered by absinthe connoisseurs to be of inferior quality.[31][32][33]

France

La Fée Absinthe, released in 2000,[34] was the first brand labelled absinthe distilled and bottled in France since the 1914 ban, initially for export from France, but now one of roughly 50 French-produced absinthes available in France. This has resulted in the re-emergence of French absinthes, which now must be labelled as boissons spiritueuse aux plantes d'absinthe to be sold within that country as per the most recent guidelines. Absinthes produced in other countries must be relabelled to meet these same guidelines to be legally imported and sold within France.

Spain

Absinthe has a deep history in the Northern Catalan region encompassing Barcelona, Tarragona, Lleida, and a section of the Pyrenees mountains. While the drink was never officially banned in Spain, it fell out of favour from the early 1940s to present day. Since 2007 it has enjoyed a significant resurgence in the region and has at least one major export brand.

Australia and New Zealand

Absinthe has never been illegal to import or manufacture in Australia. Importation requires a permit under the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulation 1956 due to a restriction on importing any product containing oil of wormwood.[35] In 2000 there was an amendment by Foods Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) as part of a new consolidation of the Food Code across Australia and New Zealand. This made all wormwood species prohibited herbs for food purposes under Food Standard 1.4.4. Prohibited and Restricted Plants and Fungi, however it was found to be inconsistent with other parts of the pre-existing Food Code.[36][37] The proposed amendment was withdrawn in 2002 during the transition between the two Codes, thereby continuing to allow absinthe manufacture and importation through the existing permit-based system. These events were erroneously reported by the media as Australia having reclassified it from a prohibited product to a restricted product.[38] There is now an Australian-produced brand of absinthe called Moulin Rooz.

Netherlands

In the Netherlands, restrictions on the manufacture and sale of Absinthe were successfully challenged by the Amsterdam wine seller Menno Boorsma in July 2004, making absinthe legal once again.

Belgium

Belgium, as part of an effort to simplify its laws, removed its absinthe law on 1 January 2005, citing (as did the Dutch judge) European food regulations as sufficient to render the law unnecessary (and indeed, in conflict with the spirit of the Single European Market).

Switzerland

In Switzerland, the constitutional ban on absinthe was repealed in 2000 during an overhaul of the national constitution, although the prohibition was written into ordinary law instead. Later that law was repealed, so from 1 March 2005, absinthe was again legal in its country of origin. Absinthe is now not only sold but is once again distilled in its Val-de-Travers birthplace, with Kübler and La Clandestine Absinthe among the first new brands to re-emerge.

USA

On March 5, 2007, the French Lucid brand became the first genuine absinthe to receive a COLA (Certificate of Label Approval) for legal importation into the United States since 1912,[39][40] following independent efforts by representatives from Lucid and Kübler to topple the long-standing U.S. ban.[41] In December 2007, St. George Absinthe Verte, produced by St. George Spirits of Alameda, California, became the first brand of American-made absinthe to be legally produced in the United States since the enactment of the ban.[42][43] Since that time, other micro-distilleries have started making small batches of high-quality absinthe in the U.S.

Preparation

Preparing absinthe the traditional way. Note that no burning is used.
Collection of absinthe spoons. These specialized spoons are used to hold the sugar cube over which ice-cold water is poured to dilute the absinthe. Note the slot on the handle that allows the spoon to rest securely on the rim of the glass.

Traditionally, absinthe is prepared by placing a sugar cube on top of a specially designed slotted spoon and then placing the spoon on the glass which has been filled with a shot of absinthe. Ice-cold water is then poured or dripped over the sugar cube so that the water is slowly and evenly displaced into the absinthe, typically 1 part absinthe and 3 to 5 parts water. During this process, components not soluble in water (mainly those from anise, fennel, and star anise) come out of solution and cloud the drink. The resulting milky opalescence is called the louche (Fr. "opaque" or "shady", IPA [luʃ]). Releasing these components allows herbal aromas and flavours to "blossom" or "bloom" and brings out subtleties originally over-powered by the anise. This is often referred to as "The French Method."

"The Bohemian Method" is an alternative that is popular primarily due to the use of fire. Like the French method, a sugar cube is placed on a slotted spoon over a glass containing one shot of absinthe. The difference is that the sugar is pre-soaked in alcohol, usually more absinthe, and then set ablaze. The flaming sugar cube is then dropped into the glass igniting the absinthe. Finally, a shot glass full of water is added to douse the flames. This method tends to produce a stronger drink than the French method. A variant of "The Bohemian Method" is to allow the fire to burn itself out. This variant, called "Cooking the Absinthe" or "Flaming Green Fairy," removes much but not all of the alcohol.

Slow drip absinthe fountain

Originally a waiter would serve a dose of absinthe, ice water in a carafe, and sugar separately, and the drinker would prepare it to their preference.[44] With increased popularity, the absinthe fountain, a large jar of ice water on a base with spigots, came into use. It allowed a number of drinks to be prepared at once, and with a hands-free drip, patrons were able to socialize while louching a glass.

Although many bars served absinthe in standard glasses, a number of glasses were specifically made for absinthe. These had a dose line, bulge, or bubble in the lower portion denoting how much absinthe should be poured in. One "dose" of absinthe is around 1 ounce (30 ml), and most glasses used this as the standard, with some drinkers using as much as 1½ ounces (45 ml).

In addition to being drunk with water poured over sugar, absinthe was a common cocktail ingredient in both the United Kingdom and the United States,[45] and continues to be a popular ingredient today. One of the most famous of these is Ernest Hemingway’s "Death in the Afternoon" cocktail, a concoction he contributed to a 1935 collection of celebrity recipes. His directions are as follows: "Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly."[46].

Production

Anise, one of the three main herbs used in production of absinthe
Grande wormwood, one of the three main herbs used in production of absinthe
Fennel, one of the three main herbs used in production of absinthe

Currently, most countries have no legal definition of absinthe, although spirits such as Scotch whisky, brandy, and gin generally have such a definition. Manufacturers can label a product "absinthe" or "absinth" without regard to any legal definition or minimum standard. Producers of legitimate absinthes use one of two processes to create the finished spirit: either distillation, or cold mixing. In the few countries which have a legal definition of absinthe, distillation is the sole permitted process. An online description of the distillation process (in French) is available.[47]

Distilled absinthe

Distilled absinthe is produced in a form similar to high quality gin. The botanicals are macerated in the already distilled alcohol before being redistilled one or more times with the herbal ingredients to impart complexity and texture to the beverage.

The distillation of absinthe first produces a colourless distillate that leaves the alembic at around 72 percent ABV (144 proof). The distillate can be bottled clear, to produce a Blanche or la Bleue absinthe, or it can be coloured using artificial or natural colouring. Traditional absinthes take their green colour from chlorophyll, which is present in some of the herbal ingredients during the secondary maceration.

The natural colouring process is considered critical for absinthe ageing, since the chlorophyll remains chemically active. The chlorophyll plays the same role in absinthe that tannins do in wine or brown liquors.[48]

This is done by steeping petite wormwood, hyssop, and melissa (among other herbs) in the liquid. Chlorophyll from these herbs is extracted giving the drink its famous green colour. This process also provides the herbal complexity that is typical of high quality absinthe. This type of absinthe is known as a verte. After the colouring process, the resulting product is diluted with water to the desired percentage of alcohol. Historically, most absinthes contain between 50 and 75 percent alcohol by volume (100 to 150 proof). It is said to improve materially with storage, and many pre-ban distilleries aged their absinthe in neutral barrels before bottling.

Cold mixed

Many modern absinthes are produced using the cold mix system. This process is forbidden in countries with formal legal designations of absinthe. The beverage is manufactured by mixing flavouring essences and artificial colouring in high-proof alcohol, and is similar to a flavoured vodka or "absinthe schnapps". Some modern Franco–Suisse absinthes are bottled at up to 82.3 percent alcohol[49] and some modern bohemian-style absinthes contain up to 89.9 percent. Because of the lack of a formal legal definition of absinthe in most countries, many of these lesser brands claim their products to be "distilled" (since the alcohol base itself was created through distillation) and sell them to unsuspecting consumers at prices comparable to more authentic absinthes that are traditionally distilled directly from whole herbs.

Ingredients

Absinthe is traditionally prepared from a distillation of neutral alcohol, various herbs, and water. Traditional absinthes were redistilled from a white grape spirit (or eau de vie), while lesser absinthes were more commonly made from alcohol from grain, beets, or potatoes.[50] The principal botanicals are grande wormwood, green anise, and florence fennel, which are often called "the holy trinity."[51] Many other herbs may be used as well, such as petite wormwood (Artemisia pontica or Roman wormwood), hyssop, melissa, star anise, angelica, sweet flag, dittany, coriander, veronica, juniper, and nutmeg.

Alternative colouring

Absinthe can also be naturally coloured red using hibiscus flowers. This is called a rouge or rose absinthe. As of now, only one historical rouge brand has been discovered.[52]

Kits

The interest in absinthe has spawned a rash of "absinthe kits", which are claimed to produce homemade absinthe (not to be confused with hausgemacht absinthe, despite "hausgemacht" translating as "homemade" in German). Kits often call for soaking herbs in vodka or alcohol or adding a liquid concentrate to the same in the hopes of creating an ersatz absinthe. Such practices usually yield a harsh substance that bears little resemblance to the genuine article, and is considered to be inauthentic by any practical standard.[53] Some concoctions may even be dangerous, especially if they call for supplementation with potentially poisonous herbs, oils and/or extracts. One case has been described in which a person suffered acute renal failure after drinking 10 ml of pure wormwood oil, a dose much higher than that found in absinthe.[54]

Styles

The Absinthe Drinker by Viktor Oliva (1861–1928)

Most categorical alcoholic beverages have regulations governing their classification and labelling, while those governing absinthe have always been conspicuously lacking. According to popular treatises from the 19th century, absinthe could be loosely categorized into several grades (ordinaire, demi-fine, fine, and Suisse—which does not denote origin), in order of increasing alcoholic strength and quality. Many contemporary absinthe critics simply classify absinthe as distilled or mixed, according to its production method. And while the former is generally considered clearly superior in quality to the latter, an absinthe simply classified as 'distilled' makes no guarantee as to the quality of its base ingredients or the skill of its maker by default.

Blanche, or la Bleue

Blanche absinthe (also referred to as la Bleue in Switzerland) is bottled directly following distillation and reduction, and is uncoloured (clear). The name la Bleue was originally a term used for bootleg Swiss absinthe, but has become a popular term for post-ban style Swiss absinthe in general. [citation needed]

Verte

Verte ("green" in French) absinthe begins as a blanche. The blanche is altered by the "colouring step," by which a new mixture of herbs is placed into the clear distillate. This process greatly alters the colour and flavour, conferring a peridot green hue and an intense flavour. Vertes are the type of absinthe that was most commonly drunk in the 19th century. Artificially coloured green absinthe is also called "verte," even though it lacks the herbal characteristics that are imparted by the colouring step.

Absenta

Absenta ("absinthe" in Spanish) is a regional variation and typically differs slightly from its French cousin. Absentas typically are sweeter in flavour due to their use of Alicante anise,[55] and contain a characteristic citrus flavour.[56]

Hausgemacht absinthe

Hausgemacht (German for home-made, often abbreviated as HG) is a type of absinthe that is home-distilled by hobbyists. It is often called clandestine absinthe. It should not be confused with the Clandestine brand, nor should it be confused with absinthe kits. Produced mainly in small quantities for personal use and not for sale, hausgemacht absinthe enables experienced distillers to select the herbs personally and to fine-tune each batch. Clandestine production increased after absinthe was banned, when small producers went underground, most notably in Switzerland.

Although the Swiss had produced both vertes and blanches before the ban, clear absinthe (also known as la Bleue) became more popular after the ban because it is easier to hide. Although the ban has been lifted, many clandestine distillers have not made themselves legal. Authorities believe that high taxes on alcohol and the mystique of being underground are likely the reason for this.[57] Those hausgemacht distillers who have become legal often place the word clandestine on their labels.

Bohemian-style absinth

Bohemian-style absinth (also called Czech-style absinthe, anise-free absinthe, or just "absinth" (without the "e")) is best described as a wormwood bitters. It is produced mainly in the Czech Republic,[58] from which it gets its designations as "Bohemian" or "Czech," although not all absinthe from the Czech Republic is Bohemian-style. It contains little or none of the anise, fennel, and other herbs that are found in traditional absinthe and bears very little resemblance to historically produced absinthes. Typical Bohemian-style absinth has only two similarities with its authentic, traditional counterpart: it contains wormwood and has a high alcohol content. In the 1990s Czech Absinth producers introduced the method of lighting the sugar cube on fire.[59] This type of absinth and the associated "fire ritual" are modern creations and have little to no relationship with the history and tradition of real absinthe as a cultural phenomenon.

Storage

Absinthe that is artificially coloured or clear is relatively stable and can be bottled in a clear container. If naturally coloured absinthe is exposed to light, the chlorophyll breaks down, changing the colour from emerald green to yellow green to brown. Pre-ban and vintage absinthes are often of a distinct amber colour as a result of this process. Though this colour is considered a mark of maturity in vintage absinthes, it is regarded as undesirable in contemporary absinthe. Due to this fragility, naturally coloured absinthe is typically bottled in dark UV resistant wine bottles.[citation needed] Absinthe should be stored in a cool, room temperature, dry place away from light and heat. It should also be kept out of the refrigerator and freezer as anethole can crystallize inside the bottle, creating a "scum" in the bottle which may or may not dissolve back into solution as the bottle warms.

Cultural influence

L’Absinthe, by Edgar Degas.

The legacy of absinthe as a mysterious, addictive, and mind-altering drink continues to this day. Absinthe has been seen or featured in fine art, films, video, music and literature. The modern absinthe revival has had an effect on its portrayal. It is often shown as an unnaturally glowing green liquid which is set on fire before drinking, even though traditionally neither is true. In addition, it is most portrayed in the media as causing over-the-top hallucinations.

Historical

Numerous artists and writers living in France in the late 19th and early 20th century were noted absinthe drinkers who featured absinthe in their work. These included Vincent van Gogh, Édouard Manet, Amedeo Modigliani, Arthur Rimbaud, Guy de Maupassant, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Paul Verlaine. Later artists and writers drew from this cultural well, including Pablo Picasso, August Strindberg, Oscar Wilde, and Ernest Hemingway. Aleister Crowley was also known to be a habitual absinthe drinker. Emile Cohl, an early pioneer in the art of animation, presented the effects of the drink in 1919 with the short film, Hasher's delirium.[citation needed]

Modern

The aura of illicitness and mystery surrounding absinthe has played into modern literature, movies, and television shows. Such depictions vary in their authenticity, often applying dramatic license to depict the drink as anything from an aphrodisiac to a poison. The artist Marilyn Manson is known to often drink verte absinthe, most notably his own brand called Mansinthe.

Effects

Alcohol and Health
Short-term effects of alcohol
Long-term effects of alcohol
Alcohol and cardiovascular disease
Alcoholic liver disease
Alcoholic hepatitis
Alcohol and cancer
Alcohol and weight
Fetal alcohol syndrome
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
Alcoholism
Blackout (alcohol-related amnesia)
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
Recommended maximum intake
Wine and health
Edouard Manet, The Absinthe Drinker

Absinthe has been frequently and incorrectly described in modern times as being hallucinogenic. In the 1970s, a scientific paper mistakenly reported thujone was related to THC, the active chemical in cannabis.[60] Ten years after his 19th century experiments with wormwood oil, Valentin Magnan studied 250 cases of alcoholism and claimed that those who drank absinthe were worse off than those drinking ordinary alcohol, and that they experienced rapid-onset hallucinations.[61] Such accounts by absinthe opponents were embraced by its most famous users, many of whom were bohemian artists or writers.[62]

Two famous painters who helped popularize the notion that absinthe had powerful psychoactive properties were Toulouse Lautrec and Vincent van Gogh. In one of the best known accounts of absinthe drinking, Oscar Wilde described the feeling of having tulips on his legs after leaving a bar.[63] Today it is known that absinthe does not cause hallucinations.[64] Thujone, the active chemical in absinthe, is a GABA antagonist; and while it can produce muscle spasms in large doses, there is no evidence that it causes hallucinations.[64] It has been speculated that reports of hallucinogenic effects of absinthe may have been due to poisonous chemicals being added to cheaper versions of the drink in the 19th century, to give it a more vivid colour.[65]

However, the debate over whether absinthe produces effects on the human mind additional to those of alcohol has not been conclusively resolved. The effects of absinthe have been described by some as mind opening.[64] The most commonly reported experience is a "clear-headed" feeling of inebriation—a form of "lucid drunkenness". Chemist, historian and absinthe distiller Ted Breaux has claimed that the alleged secondary effects of absinthe may be caused by the fact that some of the herbal compounds in the drink act as stimulants, while others act as sedatives, creating an overall lucid effect of awakening.[66] Long term effects of low absinthe consumption in humans remain unknown, although the herbs in absinthe have both painkilling[67] and antiparasitic[68] properties.

Controversy

It was once thought that excessive absinthe drinking had worse effects than those associated with overindulgence in other forms of alcohol, a belief that led to diagnoses of the disease of "absinthism". One of the first vilifications of absinthe was an 1864 experiment in which a certain Dr. Magnan exposed a guinea pig to large doses of pure wormwood vapour and another to alcohol vapours. The guinea pig exposed to wormwood experienced convulsive seizures, while the animal exposed to alcohol did not. Magnan would later blame the chemical thujone, contained in wormwood, for these effects.[69]

Past reports estimated thujone levels in absinthe as high—up to 260 mg/kg of absinthe.[70] More recently, published scientific analyses of samples of various original absinthes have disproven earlier estimates, showing that very little of the thujone present in wormwood actually makes it into a properly distilled absinthe when using historical recipes and methods. Most proper absinthes, both vintage and modern, are within the current EU limits.[71][72][73][74]

Tests on mice showed an LD50 of about 45 mg thujone per kg of body weight,[75] which is much more than could be consumed in absinthe. The high percentage of alcohol in absinthe would kill a person before the thujone would become life-threatening.[75] In documented cases of acute thujone poisoning as a result of oral ingestion[76], the source of thujone was not commercial absinthe, but rather non-controversial sources such as common essential oils, which can contain as much as 50% thujone.[77]

A study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol[78] concluded that a high concentration of thujone in alcohol has negative effects on attention performance. It slowed down reaction time, and caused subjects to concentrate their attention in the central field of vision. Medium doses did not produce an effect noticeably different from plain alcohol. The high dose of thujone used in the study was larger than what can currently be obtained, even in claimed "high thujone" absinthe that cannot be sold legally in the European Union. While the effects of this high dose were statistically significant in a double blind test, the test subjects themselves were unable to reliably identify which samples were the ones containing thujone.

Regulations

Currently, most countries do not have a legal definition of absinthe (unlike Scotch whisky or cognac). Manufacturers can label a product 'absinthe' or 'absinth', whether or not it matches the traditional definition. Due to many countries never banning absinthe, not every country has regulations specifically governing it.

Australia

Bitters can contain a maximum 35 mg/kg thujone, while other alcoholic beverages can contain a maximum 10 mg/kg[79] of thujone. In Australia, import and sales require a special permit although absinthe is readily available in many bottle shops. Regulation 5H of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 (Cth)[80] (the Regulations) prohibits the importation of Absinthe (Schedule 8), unless the permission (in writing) of the Secretary or an authorised person has been granted permission to import the goods and the permission has been produced to the Collector. Item 12A of Schedule 8 of the Regulations,[81] refers to "oil of wormwood, being an essential oil obtained from plants of the genus Artemisia, and preparations containing oil of wormwood." The administrative arrangements include the Secretary and authorised officers (appropriately delegated TGA officers) of the Therapeutic Goods Administration[82] may grant permission to import absinthe. The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service is the Collector for the importation of Schedule 8 goods. The domestic production and sale of Absinthe is regulated by State licensing laws.

Canada

In Canada, liquor laws are established by the various provincial governments. As with any spirit, importation by individuals for personal use is allowed, provided that conditions for the individual's duration outside the country are satisfied. (Importation is a federal matter, and is enforced by the Canada Border Services Agency).

Absinthe is not sold in some provinces, although, in Saskatchewan, an individual is permitted to import one case (usually 12 bottles x 750 ml or 8 x 1L) of any liquor. Individual provincial liquor boards must approve each product before it may be sold.

Production of spirits in Canada is provincially regulated. Okanagan Spirits in British Columbia released the Taboo brand in 2007: this is possibly the first commercial absinthe crafted in Canada.[83]

Brazil

Absinthe was prohibited in Brazil until 2007, but the beverage must obey the liquor laws established by the Brazilian government. The Absinthe sold in Brazil must not contain more than 53.8% of alcohol.

European Union

The European Union permits a maximum thujone level of 10 mg/kg in alcoholic beverages with more than 25% ABV, and 35 mg/kg in alcohol labelled as bitters.[84] Member countries regulate absinthe production within this framework. Sale of absinthe is permitted in all EU countries unless they further regulate it.

France

In addition to EU standards, products explicitly called 'absinthe' cannot be sold in France, although they can be produced for export. Absinthe is now commonly labelled as spiritueux à base de plantes d’absinthe ('wormwood-based spirits'). France also regulates fenchone, a chemical in the herb fennel, to 5 mg/l.[85] This makes many brands of Swiss absinthe illegal without reformulation.

Republic of Georgia

It is legal to produce and sell absinthe in the Republic of Georgia, which has several absinthe production facilities.

Germany

A ban on absinthe was enacted in Germany on 27 March 1923. In addition to banning the production of and commercial trade in absinthe, the law went so far as to prohibit the distribution of printed matter that provided details of its production. The original ban was lifted in 1981, but the use of Artemisia absinthium as a flavouring agent remained prohibited. On 27 September 1991, Germany adopted the European Union's standards of 1988, which effectively re-legalized absinthe.[86] Unlike Switzerland and France, there are no further restrictions.

New Zealand

Although the substance is not banned at national level, some local authorities have banned it. The latest is Mataura in Southland. The ban came in August 2008 after several issues of misuse drew public and police attention. One incident resulted in breathing difficulties and hospitalization of a 17-year-old for alcohol poisoning.[87] The particular brand of absinthe that caused these effects contained 89.9% vol. alc.

Sweden

The sale and production of absinthe has never been prohibited in Sweden. However, the only store that may sell alcoholic beverages containing more than 3.5% alcohol by volume is the government-owned chain of liquor stores called Systembolaget. Systembolaget did not import or sell absinthe for many years.[88]

Switzerland

In Switzerland, the sale and production of absinthe was prohibited from 1910 to 2005; the ban was lifted on 1 March 2005. To be legally made or sold in Switzerland, absinthe must be distilled[89] and must be either uncoloured or naturally coloured.[90]

United States

The prevailing consensus of interpretation of United States law and regulations among American absinthe connoisseurs is that, with the revision of thujone levels by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), it is now legal to purchase such a product for personal use in the U.S. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food and beverages that contain Artemisia species must be thujone free.[91] Thujone free is defined as containing less than 10ppm thujone.[92] There is no corresponding US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regulation. Regarding importation of absinthe, U.S. Customs and Border Protection allows importation of absinthe products subject to the following restrictions:

  • The product must be thujone-free as described above,
  • The name "absinthe" can neither be the brand name nor stand alone on the label, and
  • The packaging cannot "project images of hallucinogenic, psychotropic or mind-altering effects."

Absinthe imported in violation of these regulations can be seized.[93][94] Absinthe can be and occasionally is seized by United States Customs and Border Protection if it appears to be for human consumption.[95][96]

A faux-absinthe liquor called Absente, made with southern wormwood (Artemisia abrotanum) instead of grande wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), is sold legally in the United States. This was the first US approval referring to "absinthe" on the front label; the front label says "Absinthe Refined" but the TTB classified the product as liqueur. In 2007, TTB relaxed the US absinthe ban, and has now approved over 50 brands for sale.[97] These brands must pass TTB testing, which is conducted using Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry.[98] The TTB considers a product to be thujone-free if the FDA’s test measures less than 10ppm (equal to 10 mg/kg) thujone.[99] St. George Spirits, a California distillery, also began producing and selling absinthe in 2007, the first US company to do so since 1912.[100]

Vanuatu

The Absinthe (Prohibition) Act 1915, passed in the New Hebrides, has never been repealed, and is included in the 1988 Vanuatu consolidated legislation, and contains the following all-encompassing restriction: The manufacture, importation, circulation and sale wholesale or by retail of absinthe or similar liquors in Vanuatu shall be prohibited.[101]

References

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  3. ^ "La Fabrication des Liqueurs", J. De Brevans (1908, pp 251–262)
  4. ^ "Nouveau Manuel Complet du Distillateur Liquoriste", Lebead, de Fontenelle, & Malepeyre (1888, pp 221–224)
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External links

  • The Wormwood Society—An independent organization supporting changes to the U.S. laws and regulations concerning absinthe. Provides articles, a forum and legal information.

Articles

Related information


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ABSINTHE, a liqueur or aromatized spirit, the characteristic flavouring matter of which is derived from various species of wormwood (Artemisia absinthiuzn). Among the other substances generally employed in its manufacture are angelica root, sweet flag, dittany leaves, star-anise fruit, fennel and hyssop. A colourless "alcoholate" (see Liqueurs) is first prepared, and to this the well-known green colour of the beverage is imparted by maceration with green leaves of wormwood, hyssop and mint. Inferior varieties are made by means of essences, the distillation process being omitted. There are two varieties of absinthe, the French and the Swiss, the latter of which is of a higher alcoholic strength than the former. The best absinthe contains 70 to 80 oho of alcohol. It is said to improve very materially by storage. There is a popular belief to the effect that absinthe is frequently 'adulterated with copper, indigo or other dye-stuffs (to impart the green colour), but, in fact, this is now very rarely the case. There is some reason to believe that excessive absinthe-drinking leads to effects which are specifically worse than those associated with over-indulgence in other forms of alcohol.


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Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

German

Noun

Absinthe m.

  1. Plural form of Absinth.

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

(Hebrew la'anah.)

Wormwood, known for its repulsive bitterness (Jer 9:15; xxiii, 15; Deut 29:18; Lam 3:19; Prov 5:4). Figuratively it stands for a curse or calamity (Lam 3:15), or also for injustice (Amos 5:7; vi, 13). In Rev 8:11, the Greek equivalent ho apsinthos is given as a proper name to the star which fell into the waters and made them bitter. The Vulgate renders the Hebrew expression by absinithium, except in Deut 29:18, where it translates it amaritudo. It seems that the biblical absinthe is identical with the Artemisia monosperma (Delile), or the Artemisia herba-alba (ASSO); or, again, the Artemisia juidaica Linné. (See PLANTS IN BIBLE.)

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.

Simple English

.]]

Absinthe, also known as absinth, absynthe, or absenta is a drink. It is distilled, from herbs including the flowers and leaves of the medicinal plant Artemisia absinthium. It is a very alcoholic drink. Absinthe is usually green. Sometimes colors are added to change the color. It is often called la Fée Verte or The Green Fairy.

Absinthe came from Val-de-Travers, Switzerland. It was very popular in late 19th and early 20th century France. Parisian artists and writers were supposed to drink it. The romantic associations with the drink still linger in popular culture. At the end of 1900 the French were drinking over 2 million litres of absinthe a year. By 1910 this had increased to 36 million litres.

In the 19th century, hotel owners often put bad things into absinthe, such as sulfur to change its color. Absinthe was seen as a dangerous drink with mind altering effects. After the Lanfray murders in 1906 a petition was given to the Swiss government to ban absinthe in Switzerland. Absinthe became banned in other countries. Since 1915, it was banned in a number of European countries and the United States.

Contents

Where the word comes from

The English Wiktionary has a dictionary definition (meanings of a word) for:

The word comes from the Latin word absinthium. This is from the Greek word αψίνθιον (apsínthion). Wormwood 'Absinth' (without the 'e') is a way of spelling absinthe that is often seen in central Europe.

The preparation

Traditionally, absinthe is put into a glass. A sugar cube is then placed in the bowl of a special spoon. Ice-cold water is poured or dripped over the sugar until the drink is diluted. During this process, the parts that are not soluble in water make the liquid cloudy. The resulting milky opalescence is called the louche.

Production

The main herbs used to produce absinthe are green anise, florence fennel and grande wormwood, often called the 'holy trinity'. Many other herbs may be used as well, such as hyssop, melissa, star anise, petite wormwood (Artemisia pontica or Roman wormwood), angelica root, Sweet Flag, dittany leaves, coriander, veronica, juniper, nutmeg, and various mountain herbs.

The herbs are first soaked, a step called "maceration". Heat is added in the process of distillation which extracts a pure liquid. Wormwood, anise, and Florence fennel produce a colorless liquid or distillate that is about 72% alcohol. The distillate can be bottled clear, to produce a Blanche or la Bleue absinthe. A second step can add color to the liquid using artificial or natural coloring.

Traditionally the natural coloring step is done by steeping petite wormwood, hyssop, and melissa, among other herbs, in the liquid. Chlorophyll from these herbs give it its famous green color. This green absinthe is known as a verte. After this process, the liquid is mixed with water to reach the desired amount of alcohol. Historically, most absinthes contain between 60% and 75% alcohol. Sometimes absinthe can be colored red, called a rouge or rose. This made by using a red flower/herb. It is possible to create a 'naturally colored' absinthe of any color by using the correct plant material.

Grades of absinthe

Historically, there were five grades of absinthe: "ordinaire", "demi-fine", "fine", "supérieure" and "Suisse". These were graded in increasing alcoholic strength and quality. A "supérieure" and "Suisse" would always be naturally colored and distilled. "Suisse" did not mean it came from Switzerland. "Ordinaire" and "demi-fine" could be artificially colored and made from oil extracts.

Storage

Absinthe should be stored in a cool, room temperature, dry place away from light and heat.

History

The precise origin of absinthe is unknown. Wormwood has been in medical use since 1500 BC. In 1797,Henry-Louis Pernod, opened the first absinthe distillery, called "Dubied Père et Fils", in Couvet. In 1805Pernod built a second distillery in Pontarlier, France,

Absinthe's popularity grew slowly. In the 1840s absinthe was given to French soldiers as a malaria treatment. When the troops returned home, they started to drink absinthe with water. It became popular at bars and bistros. After the 1860s absinthe had become so popular that it was for sale in most cafés and cabarets. By the 1880s the price had dropped a lot, the market got bigger, and absinthe soon became the drink of France. By 1910 the French were drinking 36 million litres of absinthe per year.

Prohibition

Absinthe was often linked with violent crimes supposedly committed under its influence. Combined with hard liquor use and the low price, absinthe became a social problem in France. Wine makers groups often publicized problems with absinthe. Journalists blamed absinthe for many social problems.

In 1900 absinthe was banned in Switzerland. The banning of absinthe was even written into the constitution in 1907, following a popular initiative. The Netherlands banned absinthe in 1909, followed by the United States in 1912 and France in 1915. Around the same time, Australia banned the liquor too. After the absinthe prohibition, wine and whiskey makers had a big increase in sales.

Modern revival

In the 1990s an importer, George Rowley, discovered that there was no UK law banning the sale of absinthe. It had never been banned in the UK other than the normal laws covering alcoholic beverages. Hill's Liquere, a Czech Republic distillery founded in 1920, began manufacturing Hill's Absinth. This was a Bohemian-style absinthe, which started a modern rebirth in absinthe's popularity.

It has never been banned in Spain or Portugal, where it continues to be made. France never changed the law of 1915. In 1988 a new law was passed. This bans only drinks that call themselves 'absinthe' and drinks that do not meet with European Union laws on thujone. Thujone is the chemical which was thought to cause the hallucinatory (bad dream) effect of absinthe.[1]

In the Netherlands, the old law banning absinthe was successfully challenged by the Amsterdam wine seller Menno Boorsma. In July 2004 it became legal to make absinthe again.

In Switzerland, the constitutional ban on absinthe was removed in 2000 during an overhaul of the national constitution. The ban was written into ordinary law instead. Absinthe is now not only sold in Switzerland, but is once again distilled in its Val-de-Travers birthplace.

In the United States the laws banning absinthe are hard to understand. In some states it is legal have a bottle of absinthe, but not to buy or to produce it. The export and import of absinthe is probably illegal.

Other websites

References

  1. "Thujon". The Free Dictionary by Farlex. http://encyclopedia.tfd.com/Thujon. Retrieved 2008-11-30. 








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