February 2008 - Absinthe
Absinthe has intrigued me since I first saw Moulin Rouge (with Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman). What a great movie! When Aidan and I were on our honeymoon in Paris, we decided to bring back some “real” absinthe, since the stuff you buy in BC has had the chemical that gives you the hallucinations removed. And what better place to buy it than Paris??!!
Absinthe takes its name from the botanical name for wormwood (a bitter herb) - Artemisia absinthium. Thujone is the natural chemical compound that is supposedly the source of absinthe’s mind altering properties. Absinthe was first developed as a medicinal elixir in the 1700s in Switzerland. The elixir also contained anise, hyssop, Melissa, coriander and various other local herbs. (http://crossculturedtraveler.com/Archives/FEB2004/Absinthe.htm).
According to Wikipedia: “[Absinthe] is better known for its popularity as an alcoholic beverage in late 19th- and early 20th-century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers whose romantic associations with the drink still linger in popular culture. At the end of the 19th century, over 2 million litres of absinthe were consumed annually in France alone; by 1910 this number grew to 36 million. Due in part to its associations with bohemian culture, absinthe was opposed by social conservatives and prohibition supporters. It was portrayed as a dangerously addictive, psychoactive drug, and the chemical thujone, present in small quantities in wormwood, was blamed for these alleged effects. The Lanfray murders of 1905 provoked a petition to the Swiss government leading to the first prohibition of absinthe in Switzerland. In 1912, absinthe production was outlawed in the United States, and in 1915, at the height of the French war effort, it was made illegal in France.”
So why was such a popular drink banned? According to my internet research, there were a few reasons. It became the scapegoat for all alcohol related misgivings. Also, articles were published showing that thujone in large quantities was a neurotoxin that caused convulsions and death in laboratory animals (mind you, anything in large quantities will cause a lab animal to die…..!!! You can drink too much water and die…but I digress). There was also pressure from the wine producers who saw its popularity as a threat to their sale. According to internet articles (http://crossculturedtraveler.com/Archives/FEB2004/Absinthe.htm and wikipedia), the final nail in the coffin was the “Absinthe Murder” that took place in Switzerland in 1905, when Monsieur Jean Lanfray murdered his entire family after drinking absinthe. The fact that he was an alcoholic who had drunk considerably after the two glasses of absinthe in the morning was overlooked, and the murders were blamed solely on absinthe, and two years later absinthe was banned in Switzerland. By the start of the First World War, absinthe had been banned in the U.S. and every country in Europe except France, Spain and England.
A modern absinthe revival began in the 1990s, as countries in the European Union began to reauthorize its manufacture and sale. According to Wikipedia, as of February, 2008, nearly 200 brands are being produced in a dozen countries, most notably France, Switzerland, Spain and the Czech Republic. According to Wikipedia, BBH Spirits, realized that there was no UK law prohibiting the sale of absinthe, as it had never been banned there. Hill's Liquere, a Czech distillery, began manufacturing Hill's Absinth, a Bohemian-style absinthe, which helped begin a modern resurgence in absinthe's popularity. Absinthe had also never been banned in Spain or Portugal, where it continues to be made.
Also from Wikipedia: France never repealed its 1915 ban on absinthe, but in 1988 a law was passed stating that only beverages that do not comply with European Union regulations with respect to thujone content, or that call themselves 'absinthe' explicitly, fall under the old ban. This has resulted in the re-emergence of French absinthes, now labeled liqueur ŕ base de plantes d'absinthe or liqueur aux extraits d'absinthe ('wormwood-based liqueur' or 'liqueur with wormwood extract').
The BC liquor stores currently stock ABSINTHE STRONG - GREEN TREE DISTILLERY from the Czech Republic (SKU #611152 / UPC #08594001441723, $53.14 for 500 ml) and a BC made TABOO ABSINTHE - OKANAGAN SPIRITS, (SKU #828665 / UPC #00874381000382, $55.00 for 500 ml). Dipsophilia has tried neither of these.
I also found recipes for making your own Absinthe, which I will one day try! I unfortunately didn't save the web site, but it is from one of those drink recipe sites with thousands of recipes (sorry guys!) See below:
1 pint Vodka
2 tsp Wormwood, crumbled
2 tsp crumbled Anise seeds
1/2 tsp Fennel seeds
4 Cardamom pods
1/2 tsp Coriander, ground
2 tsp Angelica root, chopped
Steep wormwood in vodka for 48 hours. Remove, add the rest and steep for one week. Age.
1 bottle Vodka
50 gr Sugar
50 ml pure Anise extract
1 tblsp Licorice root, chopped
1 Wormwood twig
Mix together and let sit a few days. Strain through a coffee filter. To serve mix 1 part absinthe to 4 parts water, add ice, enjoy.
And what would the drink of the month be without an Absinthe Martini…….
2 oz Gin or Vodka
1/2 oz Dry Vermouth
1/8 tsp Absinthe
Stir well with ice. Strain into a prechilled cocktail glass. Very pleasant with an onion stuffed olive. Some bartenders pour a soucon of Absinthe into the glass, swirl it around and then add the martini.