The Absinthe Encyclopedia

~ A Guide to the Lost World of Absinthe and La Fée Verte ~

The Absinthe Encyclopedia is the definitive guide to the history of absinthe, written by absinthe expert, collector and historian David Nathan-Maister.

The Absinthe Encyclopedia covers everything from the early origins of absinthe, absinthes rise to popularity, and its eventual downfall and prohibition around the world. It also explains how absinthe should be prepared and served, and also how high quality absinthes are distilled and coloured. Let’s start exploring the absinthe world!

Introduction

Introduction

Absinthe… the Green Fairy… La Fée Verte… no other drink has the same romantic history – the French Impressionists….Toulouse Lautrec, Degas, Manet, Van Gogh….Paris in the Belle Époque… the cafés of Montmartre… the muse of writers from Verlaine and Rimbaud to Joyce and Hemingway. Of course, there’s a darker side to absinthe as well – no other drink has ever roused the same degree of passionate condemnation, and no other drink has ever been banned outright in the way absinthe was in the years leading up to 1915. All that remains of the heyday of this elixir are the echoes it left behind – books, posters, advertising material, temperance propaganda, glasses, spoons and other peculiar accoutrements of absinthe drinking. By focusing on these – and illustrating them whenever possible – I hope to tell the story of the Green Fairy from its origins in the late eighteenth century, to...

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The Rise of the Green Fairy

The Rise of the Green Fairy

Although medical potions and decoctions made from wormwood date back to at least Roman times, the invention of absinthe as we now know it – a mildly bitter green-coloured distilled drink based on wormwood, anise and fennel – is traditionally credited to the romantic figure of Pierre Ordinaire, a Hugenot doctor who fled France for Switzerland in the mid 1700’s and plied his trade in the remote Val de Travers near...

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Distillation

Distillation

This chapter gives an account of the making of absinthe, based on actual distillations at the historic Emile Pernot distillery in Pontarlier. We follow the entire process – from the cultivation and harvesting of young wormwood plants, to the painstaking selection and preparation of the dried herbs, the maceration of the herbal mixture in alcohol, followed by distillation and rectification using the distillery’s historic Egrot alambics – unchanged since the absinthe era – and finally the all important chlorophyllic colouring process that gives absinthe its mysterious and romantic green...

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The Absinthe Ritual

The Absinthe Ritual

Unlike many everyday apéritifs, absinthe was historically almost always prepared and drunk in a highly specific way – this, the so-called absinthe ritual was part of the reason for its popularity and for the unique position it’s always held in the pantheon of drinks. While the elements of the basic ritual are well known – the sugar cube positioned on a perforated spoon placed on top of the glass, iced water dripped on the cube, slowly dissolving it and diluting the absinthe dose in the glass with the sugared water – there are many refinements which both enhance the pleasure of preparing the drink and subtly improve the taste of the finished absinthe. They’re all discussed in detail here, and illustrated with three streaming videos. There’s also a page devoted to an alternative preparation ritual – the little known, but fascinating and historically sanctioned “glass-in-a-glass”...

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The Effects of Absinthe

The Effects of Absinthe

At the very heart of the absinthe legend is the idea that it provides a noticeably different quality of intoxication. In other words, over and above the normal effects expected from alcohol, absinthe supposedly has “secondary effects”. These are often said to include visual disturbances, unusual sensitivity to light and colour, euphoria and a peculiarly clear-headed type of drunkenness. The aim in this section is to examine these claims in more detail, with reference wherever possible to original...

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About thujone

About thujone

The distinctive herb in absinthe is grand wormwood (Artemesia absinthium), and the chemical name for the principle active ingredient in wormwood is thujone. Thujone is a terpene and is related to menthol, which is known for its healing and restorative qualities. In its chemically pure form, it is a colourless liquid with a menthol-like aroma. Oil of Artemesia absinthium (or wormwood oil as it’s usually called) is approximately 40-60% thujone. The aim of this section is to provide a comprehensive reference on all aspects of thujone, including abstracts (and wherever possible full-text versions) of all significant peer-reviewed scientific papers on the subject. For historical interest a selection of Belle Epoque era scientific articles are included as well. Lastly, this section includes information on the process of thujone detection and analysis, together with independent data on the actual thujone level of many contemporary absinthes, often strikingly at variance with the...

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Absinthe in America

Absinthe in America

Absinthe has a long history in both the USA and in South and Central America. Above all it’s inextricably linked to New Orleans and its French Quarter, where the Old Absinthe House has been a tourist attraction for more than a century. In 2007, after almost a century of prohibition, absinthe once again became legal in the...

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The War on Absinthe

The War on Absinthe

From 1875, The fight against absinthe started to become much more organised. Puritans, temperance foundations, politicians and competing alcohol producers found themselves together and built an alliance to fit against absinthe. Because just as popular the green fairy had become, she was probably hated just as much by their opponents. Absinthe became the synonym for alcoholism, violence, murder, and was claimed to introduce the end of the functioning society. As a result of these negative proclamations, a war was started against this drink. In particular, the wine producers supported any actions ruining the green fairy’s reputation, and cheered the most, when the French government finally declared the ban of absinthe in...

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Echoes of La Fée Verte

Echoes of La Fée Verte

Banned for almost a century until its recent revival, absinthe is something of a “living fossil”, a coelecanth amongst drinks, able to magically transport us back to the glittering world of Paris and the Belle Epoque, a world of bohemian musicians and writers, of the Moulin Rouge and the cafes of Montmartre, a world of starving struggling artists and glittering courtesans. All that remains today of this fabled era are the ghosts of the Green Fairy… absinthe antiques and absinthiana… slotted spoons for holding the sugar cube, dose- marked glasses, advertising carafes, matchstrikers or pyrogenes for the grande marques, absinthe advertising posters, manufacturers catalogues and postcards… echoes of L’Heure Verte (The Green Hour) a century...

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Years in the Wilderness

Years in the Wilderness

Absinthe was first banned in the Congo Free State in 1898, then in Brazil and in Belgium in 1906, in Holland in 1908, in Switzerland in 1910, in the USA in 1912 and finally in France – distracted and shell-shocked by the first defeats of World War I in 1915. In the end this magical and historic elixir that had once captivated, delighted and inspired a nation, went out not with a bang, but with the merest whimper. Most of the great absinthe-producing firms went bankrupt, amalgamated, or switched to producing pastis. Some firms transferred their production to Spain, where absinthe was never banned, and where it continued to be made on a small scale for the next century. A remnant of the Pernod company made absinthe in Tarragona from 1918 until the mid ‘60’s, although by 1950 the product had already deviated quite considerably from the pre-ban French...

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Renaissance

Renaissance

Although absinthe continued to be made on a small scale in Spain, its modern revival really has its origins in the collapse of the Iron Curtain, with Czechoslovakia’s 1987 “Velvet Revolution” and the return of the free economy. When Radomill Hill, an entrepreneurial Czech distiller, inherited a small distillery dating from the 1920’s from his father, he decided, to start producing absinthe. Hill claimed that he based his new product on an old family recipe, and that the distillery had produced absinthe prior to the Communist...

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Bibliography

Bibliography

‘A Brutal Saxon’. John Bull’s Neighbour In Her True Light – Being an Answer to Some Recent French Criticisms. Wyman & Sons, London, 1884. 13e Dîner de la Conférence Scientia Offert A.M.G. Eiffel. G. Masson: Paris, 1889. Adams, Jad. Hideous Absinthe – A History of The Devil in a Bottle. I.B Taurus & Co Ltd: London, 2004. Adams, Jad. Madder Music, Stronger Wine – The Life of Ernest Dowson Poet and Decadent. I.B Taurus: New York, 2000. Applegate, Bergen. Paul Verlaine – His Absinthe Tinted Song. The Alderbrink Press: Chicago, 1916. Attinger Fréres, (eds). Le Canton de Neuchâtel par ed Quartier-la-tente. Neuchâtel, 1893. Baker, Phil. The Dedalus Book of Absinthe. Dedalus Ltd: 2005 Baldick, Robert. (ed) (trans). Pages From the Goncourt Journal. Oxford University Press: London, 1962. Balesta, Henri. Absinthe et Absintheurs. Paris, 1860. Baudrillard, J. Histoire D’Une Bouteille – Livre De Lecture Sur L’Enseignement Anti-Alcoolique. Paris. Bedel, A....

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