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Friday, November 2, 2012

Absinthe; the Original, Notorious Version and Absinthe Today; a Very Different Liquor – Behind the French Menu.

In France, in the late 19th century, absinthe
was one of the most fashionable drinks
By the early 20th century absinthe was outlawed in most of Europe and the USA.

A collage of original absinthe posters:
Photograph courtesy of Felix_Nine
The original absinthe
 The original formula for Absinthe came with a very popular aniseed taste, an over 60% alcohol content, and a very high neurotoxin count; that high neurotoxin count was originally unknown to the consumers and the producer.  Neurotoxins affect the nervous system and the original formula of absinthe was addictive and sent heavy-drinkers into a world of hallucinations. For some the result was permanent neurological damage.
Absinthe and its original secret formula had originally been created in Switzerland as a patent medicine. That formula was sold it to a Swiss businessman Daniel Henri Dubied (1758-1841) who began distilling absinthe in Switzerland in 1797.  Daniel Dubied’s partners were his son Marcelin (1785-1841) and his son-in-law Henri-Louis Pernod (1776-1851).  Absinthe, with its secret formula and background as a medicine, was instantly popular.
Absinthe comes to France
With demand in France growing Henri-Louis Pernod would, with his son Jules-Félix Pernod ( 1871-1928), open a factory in France to supply the fast growing French market. The first Pernod distillery was opened just over the Swiss border in France, in the town of Pontarlier, in the département  of Doubs in the région of Franche-Comté.  Today Doubs and the Franche-Comté are far more famous for their cheeses, sausages, hams and more.
Absinthe and the Green Fairy, the La Fée Verte.
 Absinthe  was nicknamed, in France, the La Fée Verte, the Green Fairy; this referred to the liquor’s green color which changed to a cloudy white when water was added;  very similar in manner to today’s Pernod,  Pastis, Ricard etc.  When absinthe was banned in France in 1915 Louis Pernod’s new drink Pernod Pastis still filled his son’s Jules-Félix Pernod’s (1871-1928) bank account with that other green stuff.

Absinthe; La Fée Verte. 
Photograph courtesy of velvetdahlia.

A few of the famous artists who drank absinthe.
The French poet Paul Verlaine was an alcoholic and hooked on absinthe, he is the eldest of the group mentioned here and died at age 52.  Vincent Van Gogh, that great genius of an artist, cut off his own ear, and then killed himself at age 37.  Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, despite being confined to a sanatorium managed to discharge himself and died at age 37. Oscar Wilde may not have died from drinking Absinthe, but it certainly did help him along and he died aged 45.
An educational exercise.

As an educational exercise see the original of Degas’s painting of a woman, L'Absinthe in the Musée D'Orsay, Paris. That painting should give you an idea of the original absinthe’s effect.

L'absinthe by Degas.
Absinthe banned.

The original absinthe formula was banned in most of Europe by 1910, in the USA in 1912 and in France in 1915.   Absinthe, with a new formula began to enter the European market in 1988.

1896 advert for Absinthe Robert.
Photograph courtesy of paukruss.
Nearly 100 years later  new and radically different version of absinthe, with different formulas, much lower neurotoxins, and lower alcohol contents came on the market. France finally permitted the sale of these new version of absinthe in 2011. The new absinthe is said to be much closer to today’s Pernod, Pastis, Ricard etc., 

Poster advertising a new absinthe called the Van Gogh Absinthe.
Pernod’s name remains well-known today as the producer of Pernod, the very popular aniseed flavored drink that replaced their original absinthe in 1916. The company Pernod joined, in 1975, with another famous pastis distillery Ricard to become Pernod-Ricard.  Pernod-Ricard  is now an international  company that also owns Absolute Vodka, Chivas Regal Whisky, Glenlivet Whisky, Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, Seagram’s Gin, Mumm Champagne  and Jacob’s Creek wines among many other well know liquors and wines.
Visiting the history of absinthe in France.
The  painters' village.
If you wish to know more about  the history of absinthe and to see where Van Gogh, Cézanne, Pissarro and others lived and worked, then visit the small town of Auvers-sur-Oise.  Auvers-sur-Oise is a 20 minute train ride or 30 km car ride from the center of Paris and there you may visit the Musée de l'Absinthe, the Absinthe Museum.  The town also hosts the Musée Daubigny, the Daubigny Museum; Charles-François Daubigny (1817-1878) and others of the Barbizon school of painters are considered precursors to the impressionists.  The village is in the département of the Val-d'Oise, Ile de France.

Pastis, Pernod, Ricard and more.
Some of the early legal replacements of absinthe that are still popular today.
Photograph courtesy of Kenn Wilson
Oscar Wilde’s tomb in Paris.

Oscar Wilde's Tomb in the Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.
The tomb was designed by the sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein
Photograph courtesy of Stella Diuma
Wilde’s companions in the cemetery include, among many others, Édith Piaf, Jim Morrison of the Doors, Molier, Chopin, Marcel Proust, Modigliani, Sarah Bernhardt, Pissaro, Marcel Marceau, Balzac and Gertrude Stein and her companion Alice B. Toklas. With thousands of visitors annually leaving lipstick kisses on the tomb in 2011 a glass frame was added making the tomb’s kisses governable.            
Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2014.
For more information on the book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman