Friday, November 2, 2012

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

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated July 2019
Absinthe Robette Poster 1896
In the late 19th century, absinthe was a successful French export and one of the most fashionable drinks. Then, after hundreds of lives had been destroyed by the early 20th-century absinthe was finally outlawed in most of Europe and the USA. France was among the last to ban absinthe in 1915.
The original absinthe
The original formula for Absinthe came with an over 60% alcohol content along with a very popular aniseed taste; those two ingredients were the pathway to marketing glory.  What was unknown, to the consumers and the producer's was that absinthe came with a very high neurotoxin count. Neurotoxins affect the nervous system, and the original formula of absinthe was addictive and sent heavy-drinkers into a world of hallucinations. For quite a number the result was permanent neurological damage.
Advert for Van Gough Absente Absinthe.
Absinthe and its formerly secret formula had been created in Switzerland as a patent medicine. That formula was sold 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 in demand.
Absinthe production came to France in the early 1800s.

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 department of Doubs in the region of Franche-Comté now part of the new super-region of  Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. Today the department of Doubs is more famous for its cheeses, sausages, and hams including  Mont-d'Or AOP, Morbier AOP. French Gruyere IGP, Comté AOP, Saucisse de Montbéliard  and Saucisse de Morteau

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, and Pastis still turned green and filled his son’s Jules-Félix Pernod’s (1871-1928) bank account with that other green stuff.
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 ear, and then killed himself at age 37.  Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, despite being confined to a sanatorium managed to discharge himself and passed away at age 37.  Oscar Wilde may not have died from drinking Absinthe, but it certainly did help him along, and he died aged 45.

The new Absinthe.
Nearly 100 years after Absinthe was banned a new and radically different version of absinthe, with a different formula and very different neurotoxins came on the market. France permitted the sale of these new versions of absinthe in 2011. The new absinthe is much closer to today’s Pernod, Pastis, Ricard, etc., The main flavor comes from anise, aniseed.
Today's absinthe on French menus:
Escalope de Dinde à la Crème à l’AbsintheTurkey breast prepared with a cream sauce flavored with absinthe.

Feuilleté d' Escargots Crémés à l'AbsinthePuff pastry leaves or cups filled with chopped snails prepared in a creamy sauce flavored with absinthe.

Ganache de Chocolat et son Sorbet à l'Absinthe - Chocolate melted into fresh cream on top of a sorbet flavored with absinthe. A sorbet is made from sweetened fruit puree, a type of water-ice.
An Absinthe shop.
Papilotte de Dorade Royale à l'Absinthe- Gilthead sea bream scented with absinthe cooked inside a bag of parchment paper. En papillote seals in all the flavors of a dish while it is cooking; when ready it will be opened for the diner to enjoy the aroma.

St Jacques Juste Saisies, Beurre Blanc à l'Absinthe – The meat of the king scallop perfectly seared, prepared with a beurre blanc sauce flavored with absinthe. Juste Saisies, perfectly seared, is the only way to cook scallops; any more and a delicate scallop loses its flavor and much of its texture. Beurre blanc is one of France's favorite sauces for fish and seafood. 
Pastis, Pernod, Ricard, Granier Mon Pastis
All were produced to replace the original but banned absinthe.

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.
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, Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, Seagram’s Gin, Mumm Champagne among many other well-known liquors and wines.
Today’s Pernod Absinthe
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 department of the Val-d'Oise, in the Ile de France.  
The museum’s website is in French only but easily understood with the Bing and Google translate apps:

The French language Daubigny museum website:
Oscar Wilde's Tomb in the Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.
The tomb was designed by the sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein
Wilde’s companions in the cemetery include, among many others, Édith Piaf, Jim Morrison of the Doors, Moliere, Chopin, Marcel Proust, Modigliani, Sarah Bernhardt, Pissarro, 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 to Wilde's tomb to make the kisses governable.

Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2014, 2018, 2019.

For more information on the book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman


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