Today we’d like to continue our new series on the history of absinthe. Antoine’s script talks about the origins of absinthe, and its ups and downs in history. Every other week, we’ll reveal another chapter of absinthe’s intriguing story, and hopefully, you’ll find it interesting to learn a bit more about absinthe. The first people to read about this will be the people that signed up for our newsletter – if you wish to be one of them, you can sign up here.
French soldiers, ambassadors for absinthe
For more than 30 years, absinthe was just a local drink. It was first exported beyond the borders of France, when the French army took part in the war of conquest in Algeria in 1830. The vessels which transported the battalion over Africa to the coast of Algeria, also contained many crates of absinthe. It was used to sanitize contaminated water, and to protect the soldiers from tropical diseases. But also its side effects (making life less monotone for the soldiers far from home and their family) were appreciated by the troops.
The members of the military, brought home their newly gained taste for absinthe, and it didn’t take long until this drink had seduced the high society. From then on, it became an expensive drink, and very popular amongst the parisian Bourgeoisie. You could see people drink absinthe all along the Grande Boulevard.
A soldier’s letter to a friend: About absinthe, and the daily live of a soldier
Absinthe was fully adopted by the military and was part of everyone’s stradition. As this letter states:
“This drink is in a great place my dear Paul, in both the military and colonial life, but it’s being used and abused, it must be the heat! Nobody cares what you usually call these drinks! They were all renamed: for example, here, they call wine with sugar syrup ”état-major “! Absinthe, they call a “bureau-arabic”.
… Nine hours and still counting, the sun is burning: we’re so thirsty ; l more hour util we can have absinthe. ( …)
Absinthe, my friend, plays a large role here. Between me and you, I find that the green lady has a bad reputation! Some people believe that a Christian who is drinking two glasses of absinthe per day, will inevitably commit suicide, or fall into madness. Sure, excess in everything is harmful, but the only serious complaint that l can claim against the poor absinthe, is that it is so good that you want to have too much of it . But that’s not abuse! This is the secret. ”
As shown in the letter, our author used a couple of strange words to describe absinthe. It might be worth telling you, that by bureau-arabic, or Vichy, he meant absinthe mixed with almond syrup.
Absinthe to conquer the world!
After the military, the settlers started using absinthe, for the same therapeutic reasons. Quickly, the French and Swiss distilleries shipped their products throughout the world. Some distilleries even opened banches abroad:
- Fritz Duval in Brussels and Cork
- Berger in Argentina
- Pernod Fils in Tarragona in Spain (the place absinthe was distilled until 1965)
Absinthe for everyone – the chic drink of the “bourgeois”
The golden age of absinthe was between 1880 and 1910 – it became accessible to all social classes, and because of the rising demand for absinthe, it became nearly as popular as wine. The “Green Hour” used to be from about 5pm to 7pm, and within that hour, the cafes were full of people, and all the chairs and tables along the main boulevards were overflowing. Everyone used to enjoy an absinthe glass around that time. The passion for absinthe was widespread, there was a huge amount of advertising material, the artists claimed they got their inspiration from drinking absinthe – everyone was talking about it! The “Green Fairy” was found in all private homes as well, and represented 90% of all the aperitifs that were consumed. Another interesting aspect is, that it created jobs for thousands of people in both France and the rest of Europe, since distilleries opened one after another. During these years, absinthe had become the “national drink” of France.
We hope you enjoyed reading the second chapter of the History of Absinthe. In two weeks, the next chapter will be published – talking a bit more about its effects on society, and how it developed from being a chic, international drink, to the most frowned upon drink in France.
If you would like to read the first chapter of the Absinthe history again, click here.