From Pliny to Dr. Ordinaire

Absinthe Apothecary BottleAlthough 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 Neuchâtel.The traditional story goes that, travelling everywhere on his faithful horse Roquette, he sold this green-tinged herbal potion as remedy for a range of ailments from kidney stones and gout to worms. The drink was soon nicknamed ‘La Fée Verte” or “The Green Fairy” both for its beautiful colour and for it’s purported quasi-magical qualities. On the death of the good doctor the recipe then passed to two sisters from Couvet called Henriod, who continued distilling the elixir, until they in turn sold it to a certain Major Dubied, who saw its potential beyond that of an herbal remedy. Dubied purchased Ordinaire’s original recipe from the Henriod sisters in 1797 and spent the next several years refining it and then launching its large scale production, eventually in partnership with his son-in-law Henri-Louis Pernod, whose eponymous firm remained the principal driving force behind the growth of absinthe in France for the whole of the 19th century.

Label Dubied Pere & Fils

An early label from Fritz Duval who took over the operations of Major Dubied, arguably the first commercial absinthe producer.

It feels curmudgeonly to say so, but it’s likely that this popular tale is considerably embellished – the manufacture of absinthe-like drinks in the Neuchâtel region is recorded from the 1750’s or even earlier, and their are references to the two Henriod sisters making the drink even before Dr. Ordinaire’s arrival in the Val de Travers. Most probably Dr Ordinaire was simply a charismatic and fondly remembered local doctor who did much to promote the use of absinthe as a herbal tonic and folk remedy in the region.

Extrait d'absinthe
Absynthe Chavasse Distillateur