Pernod Pernod Pernod!

Wow! Someone at Pernod Ricard should give their marketing team a bonus. All I hear on blogs and forums is about some return to the “original recipe” for their absinthe. My Google tracker is bogged down with this news, even beating out that Las Vegas show and iPhone jailbreak app named absinthe.

I already posted about the hint of a big change coming to Pernod Absinthe here. Now everyone seems to have gotten the clue thanks to a press release.

Before I talk about the news I want to get something straight right off the bat. First of all Pernod Ricard is NOT Pernod Fils (Pernod and Sons). Sure, they have the intellectual property to those labels but the company is incredibly different and is far from a family operated distillery in France. When I talk about Pernod today I’m talking about a huge company with tons of well known brands and lots of leverage in the alcohol industry as a whole. If it wasn’t for this, then I wouldn’t bother talking about their specific brand at all. To put it simply, I respect their influence on the market, but I am not fooled in to thinking they are carrying on some legacy.

Get on with it!

Fine, the news is that Pernod is rebooting their absinthe back to what they call the “original recipe” of Henri-Louis Pernod that started the entire business. Their own press release indicates that this change places them as the “most authentic and original recipe on the market”. This would be incredible, if it were true.

So now I have to burst some bubbles.

According to the press release there are three changes from their previous absinthe, which are all awesome steps in the right direction. First is a switch from the neutral grain base to a neutral wine base, even from the same region as the original manuscripts. Secondly, they source the grand wormwood from Pontarlier, where the original distillery was. Lastly, they are finally coloring their absinthe correctly through a maceration rather than using artificial dyes (shame on anyone using, or having used, artificial dyes in absinthe).

So all this is cool right? What’s your problem junkyard dog? Well, the devil is in the details. Excuse me while I whip this out.

Read that PR link again and note one word which should never crop up in discussing authentic absinthe. This word is “extract”. Authentic absinthe is not made with extracts, it’s made with alcohol and herbs thus becoming an extract when finished. It should never contain extracts as an ingredient. Here we can see the biggest mistake as these extracts will not impart a flavor quality that could be considered authentic, original, or premium in any way.

Next read that bit about coloration again. Nettles? Coloring with nettles is not an authentic thing from any of the historic distilling manuals I’ve had access to, and is not an ingredient mentioned in the Pernod Fils 1896 catalogue description and defense of absinthe. In that catalogue, Pernod Fils goes through each herb used in their absinthe, especially grand wormwood. Also in that catalogue describe the absinthe as properly macerated from those herbs then distilled, not mixed from extracts. So unless Pernod Ricard can publish their history, I have Pernod Fils history to call bullshit on both nettles and extracts.

The last part I’ll touch on comes from the tasting notes of the press release. The aroma section states “The powerful note of the wormwood herb, both green and animal (musky)”. Woah there cowboy. Never have I though of wormwood as musky. Not when drinking absinthe, not when drinking individual distillate (from multiple regions including Pontarlier), nor while eating it raw or macerated into a tea. Musky is something I hate to see in any booze product as it often indicates a distilling flaw, known as too much tails. Wormwood doesn’t taste bad, it’s bitter as hell before distillation, but very beautiful afterwards and not animal in any way. Not even my 99 year old Pernod Fils 1914 absinthe smells musky (Leathery, yes. Musky, no.)

So there you go. Three reasons, taken from Pernod Ricard’s own press release, as to why their absinthe revamp doesn’t live up to the claim of a historically authentic product. That isn’t to say that this product sucks. I know their last attempt certainly did, but I have yet to taste the revamp. Overall, the three changes are actually a positive move that will introduce higher quality to the baseline of the worldwide absinthe category. It’s a great change towards a better product on the mass market and I applaud that. However, it is clearly not the “most authentic and original” as the press release claims. Not by three long shots.

What bugs me the most about this is that Pernod Ricard has the resources to make not only an average consumer absinthe but also a top-tier one as well. They could do better, they just don’t seem to give a damn. For all the talk about paying homage to their history, I have yet to see it. If Pernod Ricard wished to do that, then they would’ve made a good absinthe in the first place. Instead they opted to take the cheap road of using artificial colors, oil mixes, and absurd marketing back when they first launched their post-ban product.

I know this is a long post already but I wish to leave you with something from the Pernod Fils 1896 catalogue that I linked to above. This was pointed out by a fellow Wormwood Society forum member to me but you can all see it on the second page of that catalogue.

“To what can we attribute this astonishing prosperity, this continuous development which only a small number of industries can boast? Quite simply, to the firm intent of the heads of the house of Pernod to always provide a superior product, never yielding to the temptation to realize greater profits by buying cheap raw materials of lower quality.”

Pernod Ricard, if you want to be authentic and pay homage to your history, then you can start by paying homage to that.

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4 thoughts on “Pernod Pernod Pernod!

  1. Michael Meyers says:

    “What bugs me the most about this is that Pernod Ricard has the resources to make not only an average consumer absinthe but also a top-tier one as well. They could do better, they just don’t seem to give a damn. For all the talk about paying homage to their history, I have yet to see it. If Pernod Ricard wished to do that, then they would’ve made a good absinthe in the first place. Instead they opted to take the cheap road of using artificial colors, oil mixes, and absurd marketing back when they first launched their post-ban product. “

    Yeah? Well what bugs me the most about this is that this is what they have done while describing their former efforts as being “at the forefront of the spirit’s renaissance”. And now, upon release, among other claims they tell us that their new effort “is once again renowned for quality and handcrafted excellence”. Imagine that… achieving renown on the day of release before nary a case has made it to market or the critical community or the general public, for that matter, has tried it. Now that is some accomplishment.

    Listen… I get marketing. I understand the need for it and the right of every business to market itself. No problem with me there. But a little honesty, accuracy, humility, and circumspection wouldn’t hurt. Instead it’s always the same with these guys… overreaching claims in the most pompous and bombastic style, and a complete train wreck of the historic “facts” that demonstrates they have everything to pay attention to (I wonder what?) other than honoring the legacy of the past and the future of the good name with which they claim to feel charged the responsible stewardship.

    What I know of the new “Original Recipe” from a highly qualified taster who has experienced it is that it is an improvement, but only the most modest one. So it seems that what we most likely have here is an absinthe that has gone from a Yugo to maybe a Chevrolet, sold as a Cadillac in a press release that makes as much sense as the DeLorean. You’re right. A grand marque such as Pernod Fils deserves much better.

  2. Do you really believe that Pernod Ricard has the resources to make a top tier absinthe on the scale of production they make pastis? It would take years to source and support that level of botanical supply — as it did in the Belle Epoque when entire towns were supported farming the herbs needed — and then there is the expense associated with that as well as production. It isn’t possible in the short term.

    Maybe they could have made a “V.S.” and charged more but I think the real goal here is to eliminate competition by hoarding herbs, driving up prices, and flooding the shelf space with their over-hyped, inferior product.

    • I’ve seen people with less resources make better absinthe, so yes they can do it. On what scale is questionable, but, the absinthe market is not a big one. Lucid already does a full herb, properly distilled, no coloration, mass market absinthe. It can be done, because it already is being done. Since 2007 Lucid has proven this point among mass market absinthes.

      As far as top-tier, when you get in to that range the market gets even smaller. Following the Lucid example is the Jade series of absinthes, made by the same distiller in the same distillery just lots better. Top-tier does not have to be mass market, and rarely is. I’d bet way more Courvoisier is sold than Tesseron for an example from another category. So again, yes they have the resources (money) and it is already being done by others (Ted Breaux once again).

      Is Pernod buying up shelf spaces and charging too high of a price for a crummy product, yes. But they always have, even with their artificially colored absinthe from before. As far as the herb buyout goes time will tell, but I for one believe the idea that historical regions for sourcing some of these herbs might not be the best. Pontarlier and Jura wormwood are nice, but not my favorite areas for wormwood. If other producers switched regions then maybe it could improve their product.

    • Scale only makes production more economical. If I can make a fully authentic absinthe that is moderately profitable at the small scale that I do, then they can. If I could buy base spirits in 6000-gallon tanker trucks like they do, instead of 55-gallon drums, I could cut my base cost by 700% or more. Same with aniseed, wormwood, and fennel seed.

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