Absinthe in France, during the Belle Epoque:
Although absinthe was invented in Switzerland (Val-de-Travers), it is in France that it really expanded. And it is in Pontarlier, in 1805, that the most well-known distillery was founded: Maison Pernod Fils.
Absinthe was a originally a drink of the sophisticated upper class, however eventually it spread. By 1860 it had seduced every stratum of society, including the working class. It then had achieved such a success that it became France's national drink as much by its production as by its consumption. Indeed, at that time, more than 200 distilleries existed, and it was by far the most popular drink in cafés and restaurants!
The demand and consumption increased so much, especially amongst artists, it slowly became a symbol of alcoholism and was persecuted by temperance organizations. Wine growers, unhappy that they had lost so much custom to absinthe, joined forces with the anti-alcohol campaigners to fight against absinthe, and that is why the government decided to ban the drink and similar spirits in 1914, just after the first world war was declared.
Absinthe in France today:
A few absinthes started reappearing in 1999 after almost a century of Prohibition. Since then, the number of absinthes on the market has not stopped increasing, although the distilleries are much fewer than they used to be.
In the town that we can call the capital city of absinthe, Pontarlier, 2 distilleries are still active: the Francois Guy distillery and the Pernot Klainguer one. As a comparision: Pontarlier counted 25 distilleries in 1914!
The second most popular city for absinthe producers during the Belle Epoque was Fougerolles. A handful of small distilleries there are still making absinthe, including The Paul Devoille distillery, and Lemercier distillery.
In Saumur, in the Loire Valley, there is the Combier distillery whose work has been fundamental in the modern recreation of top quality absinthe. Appropriately, Combier's distillery building was designed by engineer Gustave Eiffel (of 'Eiffel Tower' fame), and its stills came from the Pernod distillery at the end of the 19th century. Combier does sterling work distilling the Jade Liqueurs line of absinthe - recreations of historic absinthe.
Traditional absinthe today contains all the same plants and ingredients as it did over a hundred years ago.