Years in the Wilderness

~ The Absinthe Encyclopedia - CHAPTER IX ~

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 original. In the Val de Travers region of Switzerland, production of the local uncoloured “La Bleue” went underground, and fairly large scale bootlegging operations continued up to 2005, when absinthe was once again made legal. In many countries though absinthe was never formally prohibited – it just faded from sight.

Absinthe has never been banned in the UK, nor in much of Southern or Eastern Europe.

Hemingway and Absinthe

Hemingway and Absinthe

The American writer Ernest Hemingway was a heavy drinker, and a passionate lover of absinthe, which he continued drinking in Spain and Cuba, long after it was banned in France. The most notable mention of absinthe is in his Spanish Civil War novel, For Whom The Bell Tolls. The hero is Robert Jordan, an American guerrilla leader on a mission to blow up a strategic bridge, and one of his few comforts is absinthe, the ‘liquid alchemy’ which irresistibly recalls the better life he had known in Paris. Holed up in a cave, he shares a canteen filled with absinthe purchased in Madrid with a gypsy companion: “It was a milky yellow now with the water and he hoped the gypsy would not take more than a swallow. One cap of it took the place of the evening papers, of all the old evenings in cafes, of all chestnut...

read more

Herbsaint and the Cocktail Era

Herbsaint and the Cocktail Era

Herbsaint first appeared in 1934. It was the creation of J.M. Legendre of New Orleans, who learned how to make absinthe while in France during World War I. It first went on sale following the repeal of Prohibition, and was unique in its category as an absinthe substitute, as opposed to a pastis. Although Herbsaint was originally produced under the name “Legendre Absinthe” it never contained any wormwood. The alcohol control bureau at the time objected to the use of the word Absinthe so it was changed to Legendre Herbsaint. The Sazerac company bought J.M. Legendre & Co. on January 1, 1948. The original recipe was used for many years, but it was eventually changed in the 1970s, producing the modern Herbsaint available today. A 1930’s advert for Herbsaint reads: French in name, French in origin, and French in its sophisticated appeal, Legendre Herbsaint is a drink distinctly European...

read more

Pop Culture and Pulp fiction

Pop Culture and Pulp fiction

Absinthe made repeated appearances in the more risqué American popular fiction of the 1940’s and ’50’s. It seems to have been available “under the counter” in – at least – Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. US-made absinthe substitutes of indifferent quality were legally available, but genuine absinthe was likely smuggled in from Cuba, where absinthe had never been banned, and where both locally made absinthe and Pernod Tarragona were obtainable. In the pulp fiction of the day, absinthe served as a symbol of decadence and louche living, and was often mentioned in the same context as marijuana and...

read more

Absinthe: The HELL-DRINK!

Absinthe: The HELL-DRINK!

Published by Stanley Publications from 1955 to 1970, Battle Cry was one of the now largely forgotten genre of men’s adventure or ‘sweat’ magazines. Eventually supplanted by magazines like Playboy and Penthouse, these luridly illustrated pulp magazines combined pictures of scantily clad models with stories of masculine derring-do, war tales of evil Nazis and fiendish Japanese, titillating articles on sexual promiscuity and adverts for Charles Atlas and ‘marital aids’. The lengthy feature on absinthe in this 1960’s issue, is, after a comically bizarre introduction, surprisingly comprehensive, and although littered with minor errors, gets the overall outline of absinthe history more or less correct. It’s interesting to speculate whether the (almost certainly pseudonymous) author actually undertook some original research for this article, or whether he had access to an otherwise unrecorded previously published...

read more