The history of absinthe is full of sudden new developments, from its rapidly rising popularity and becoming France’s most popular drink, to its prohibition at the beginning of the twentieth century and then its unexpected comeback a few years ago. This history is deeply interwoven with that of the Val-de-Travers, Switzerland. It is precisely there in a small city named Môtiers that the “Maison de l’Absinthe”, an absinthe museum, opened its doors for the first time in July 2014.
Visiting the Maison de l’Absinthe
The visitors can enjoy the 3 floors dedicated to the green fairy and experience a journey through time thanks to the different milestones presented during the visit. An entire room is for example dedicated to the Heure Verte (green hour), which used to take place between 17 and 19 o’clock in cafés and bistros and when people met around a glass of absinthe. The Heure Verte was extremely popular in France from 1880 to 1910. The Maison de l’Absinthe also exposes the real reasons for the ban on the green fairy, as well as the rumours and more fanciful stories surrounding it.
In the museum laboratory, you can learn more about the production process and the ingredients used in absinthe recipes. In the small garden of the museum, visitors can even take a closer look at the various plants used in absinthe recipes. Many are grown there, including wormwood, lemon balm and mint.
The museum offers a lot more than old documents to look at: the museum also plays a selection of short films about absinthe and installed some interactive touch-screen. Lovers of old documents will be very happy too. The museum displays many antiques from the Belle Epoque era and does not stop there. Its own bar offers the possibility to taste 15 different absinthes from the region. You can find these absinthes from the Val-de-Travers in our selection.
The museum was intended not only to preserve the regional culture, but also to draw tourists to the region. Ironically enough, its buildings once housed the District court, where absinthe distillers used to be convicted. The District court opened in 1750 and its renovation has cost two million Swiss francs. The Maison de l’Absinthe is expecting to welcome about 10.000 visitors per year.
A small overview of the history of absinthe in Switzerland
Switzerland plays a major role in the history of absinthe, especially as it is its birthplace. In a small town called Couvet in the Val-de-Travers, the first recipe of absinthe was created and the first ever absinthe distillery, “Dubied Pere et Fils”, also opened there in 1798. At the end of the nineteenth century, absinthe had become the most fashionable drink and was everywhere to be seen.
But the beginning of the twentieth century brought with it bans on the spirit in several European countries (the same societal and political trends had a parallel in the USA, with the outright prohibition of alcohol). Absinthe was prohibited in Switzerland in October 1910, and this marks the beginning of its almost hundred-year long illegal existence. Only a handful of distillers decided to keep the production going in secret, and in only very small quantities. It is only in 2005 that the ban on the green fairy was lifted in Switzerland. Today, about 120.000 litres are produced each year in the region of the Val-de-Travers. Back in the days of the prohibition, there were only 35.000 litres per year.