Absinthe Politics: Swiss IGP Defeated (for now).

For those of you who have followed my blog for the past few years, you may remember my interest in a move by Val-de-Travers absinthe producers to limit the words “absinthe” “fee verte” and “la bleue” to their little region only. To my dismay it passed, yet I haven’t seen much come from it.

Later on, thanks to a wormwood society announcement, it was revealed that the Swiss were pushing their definition as part of trade agreements with Russia and Jamaica.

Turns out these extra agreements to the Russians and Jamaicans may have been due to the fact that the IGP was tied up in court since it passed. As it turn out producers from other countries have legally opposed the IGP and this has recently culminated with a Swiss court ruling that the IGP is bullshit (my paraphrasing of their words), and that the terms are too generic to be applied to just one region with only a few commercial producers.

While this is exceptionally good news for those of us who love absinthe and are also fond of historical accuracy (absinthe was produced internationally back in the day), it’s not over yet. Sources on the ground in Switzerland, who would be hurt by the IGP no matter the interpretation, say the dispute has one appeal left. So the IGP may have another round to go. For now though, the ruling has struck a decisive blow in what is really just a money grab by a few producers.

Here’s to good absinthe for everyone!


Media Distortion

Do I have time to write a quick rant? Of course!

The spirits industry is perfectly familiar with tons of hype, bullshit, and outright lies. That’s how the industry has come to be. For the most part American drinkers just want a beer and don’t really care much about it. For the rest of us, there’s the game.

Media access can be a game changer. Every distiller, bar owner, and even some reviewers watch this avenue of information for good reason. The reason being that most people trust what they see on television. If someone televised that grass clippings could make you lose weight, the next day neighborhood lawn care businesses would all become million dollar companies. It’s the boon of every advertiser, and the bane of every skeptic.

Enter the Food Network and enter John Green.

John Green is a “top-level” consultant that just got a show about fixing up bars. It’s Hell’s Kitchen for alcoholics, but simply titled “On the Rocks”. While I don’t doubt John’s business expertise I do know enough about absinthe to spot snake-oil in the industry when I see it.

In the episode titled Motor City Meltdown, this supposed expert teaches a bar to do one thing even amateur absintheurs know never to do. That’s right, he lights it on fire. If this was just it I’d be fine correcting yet another thousand people not to do this. It would be a huge folly to underestimate how successful the Food Network is, so many people think you light absinthe on fire now, thanks.

John then goes a step further and teaches a cocktail to reinforce the hallucination myth, his “Hallucinogenic Monk” cocktail. This is enough to count for all three strikes. Most people, even with a passing knowledge of absinthe, know how false this myth is. Yet again, Food Network reaches a significant audience and just reinforced a myth that tons of grassroots people have worked their asses off to dispel.

To his credit John did teach the traditional pour method of serving absinthe, but as someone who boasts of expertise I have to raise doubt about what he does with other spirits. John Green may know how to fix your business, but as far as spirits knowledge he just raised a big flag in my book for complete idiot. I don’t know other spirits well enough to easily spot bullshit but with John failing this one so hard his expertise level is about zero in my book, becoming one of the many “insta-experts” created just for television, who don’t actually know much (especially since a Google search, including different alcohol keywords, brings up some young adult fiction writer instead of this guy).

So why not just write an angry e-mail to Food Network? First, I think that’s already been done by others, and most likely ignored. Secondly, now I have to re-educate people and spend even more time fighting the very myths that have held back the progress of absinthe. I don’t know of any other category of spirit where you can buy utter crap, and amazingly great products, for about the same price. This is due to the fact that the consumer is not knowledgeable enough to discern between brands, therefore creating a supply and demand for the entire category as a whole instead of a naturally stratified one. The entire reason I started this blog was to curb the flow of myth and present the verifiable, and experiential facts of absinthe. The more that people know the reality of absinthe, the more stratified the market will become, and the more rewarded those who do it right, will be.

Now I also have to fight a Food Network ignorance bomb.

Thanks guys.

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.

Feeling Social

I’ve let this blog be a hermit long enough. Find my facebook page for it here and my twitter username under @USAbsintheur .

Fakers and Fools

Crapsinthe and fauxsinthe. These two slang terms in the absinthe community often confuse newcomers. Which one is which? What do they exactly mean?

Over the years absintheurs haven’t made this any easier by using either term interchangeably, as in our minds, we wouldn’t drink either. This is a solipsistic point of view from the community. There are plenty of people out there who would benefit from a more exact use of these words among aficionados and newbies alike.

I’ve always been literal with these words, and use the following definitions:

Crapsinthe is crappy absinthe. That is, it is still absinthe by the most basic standards and even tastes somewhat like absinthe. Often these absinthes are of lower quality and are not fully distilled from herbs but rather compound absinthes from essential oils distilled in to a mix. Another que is that many of these producers, already cutting corners, use artificial coloring to achieve a result that they believe the consumer wants. If you taste some of these crappy absinthes and can drink them down, then you may actually like real absinthe.

Fauxsinthe is fake (faux) absinthe. This stuff isn’t absinthe at all but takes advantage of the fact that no country other than Switzerland defines the category. The label says absinthe (or absinth) and that’s where the similarity to the real thing stops. Many of these aren’t distilled at all but are really just flavored vodkas with artificial dye. Some are high priced industrial alcohol with a gimmick such as a plant or insect floating in the bottle. Popular examples are “bohemian” style, and those “make absinthe at home” kits. If you hate this stuff don’t worry, it tastes nothing like real absinthe.

The producers of both crapsinthe and fauxsinthe are also responsible for a lot of the myth peddling, misinformation, and of course the stupid bohemian fire ritual. It was always about conning people and attracting attention to their overpriced swill. It was never about absinthe. Instead it was about suckering consumers, especially tourists.

What brands can I give examples of? I’d love to, but the producers of these types of products are always rebranding, changing names, and coming out with a new marketing effort to take advantage of those who are wary of a specific name, not a process. The best advice I can give is that if a brand uses artificial colors, or used to, it’s probably crapsinthe at best. If you see anyone hyping thujone myths, treating absinthe like a drug instead of a drink, or being overly gimmicky (ie: wormwood in a bottle), chances are you’re better off not wasting any money on them.

You might be wondering why something that would fit one of these categories carries an award, or several. Or maybe even an endorsement by some winner of a bartending competition. The sad fact is that those awards and endorsements are misleading as the spirits industry seems to care less about absinthe than anything else. I’ve repeated, over and over, that I don’t trust any award given to absinthe. Instead I favor consumer and expert reviews as they are written by people who at least drink absinthe, if not obsess over it.

Let’s face it. Alcohol isn’t the healthiest substance for your body. So I hold to the idea that if I’m going to “poison” myself with ethanol, then I might as well do it with the good stuff. Life is too short to waste on con artists and crap. So do a bit of research to save your tastebuds and liver the trouble. Let the fakers and the fools sit on their inventory of overpriced flavored vodka and perish as they should.

Until next time, Sante!

La Fee Comes Clean

So yet another international brand is changing their recipe from fake oil-mix dyed vodka to something approaching authentic absinthe.

Lucid did this long ago (since day one of their international brand) and I posted about Pernod doing the same recently. Now La Fee is making an effort to finally sell real absinthe instead of a bottle of random stuff simply labeled absinthe.

They are the third in line as far as big international brands go, but true to the spirit of their marketing efforts of the past, they are claiming to be “the first”.  So I have to admit that I am shocked that this company is going 100% natural. Their reputation is such that they would would dupe people as long as possible.

Maybe they have? From a possibly egocentric stance, maybe enough people have become educated about absinthe to force the category to change. Has the day come where La Fee’s sales are dropping so much that they have to change their leading product? With the ever spinning marketing machine that was always La Fee’s best product, I doubt we will know. My money would be on them needing to make money, and no longer able to do so with fake, dyed, crap.

I don’t really have much to add that I didn’t already say when Pernod did this exact same thing months ago, but I will reiterate my closing paragraph of that post:

For the rest of us, the absintheurs, we already know what’s good. Many of us have tasted pre-ban, memorized scientific papers and have forgotten about more historical data than Pernod has locked away. Connoisseurs like us owe it to those who dared to spare no expense and make absinthe the right way. Sure I might buy a bottle of the new Pernod to see what it’s like. But when it comes to buying bottles again, both my knowledge and tastebuds will do the shopping.

The same goes for La Fee.

Answering Your Questions

One of the great things about running a blog is that you can see the search terms that led people to your page. Sometimes the terms are obvious leads and other times you scratch your head wondering how the search “email +41 pierre” ended up leading to your blog.

I decided to answer some of the top searches that lead to my blog as well as the stranger terms people have used to find my little slice of internet ranting. I hope you find them as amusing as I did.

Absinthe Meaning, Real Absinthe, Fake Absinthe, Absinthe Guides.
I have you covered. Step right this way.

Czech Prohibition, Czech Alcohol Banned, Czech Methanol.
It’s over. But I have a post right here about it.

Absinthe Kits, Home Absinthe Making, Brew Absinthe.
We have some retards don’t we. You distill absinthe, you don’t brew it. Home distilling is illegal in the U.S. so good luck with that. Soaking herbs in high proof vodka makes flavored vodka, not absinthe. Yes those online kits are a scam.

Politician Absinthe.

Thujone, how much thujone to trip, thujone psychoactive, how to get most thujone.
Again I have to burst some bubbles. Thujone is psychoactive in some very high amounts. However, it’s a convulsant and won’t make you trip, instead you convulse. For large amounts of it, wormwood is a poor choice. Other plants in the Artemesia family have much more thujone. Try sage, tarragon, or rosemary instead. Also have fun with that rectal failure. For the science behind these claims see thujone.info.

How long does thujone stay in your system, can you fail a drug test from absinthe.
I don’t know how long and no, currently thujone is not something tested for in a drug test since it is a naturally occurring substance and not a drug. Absinthe isn’t a drug anyways, it never was (sucker) and if you failed a test it was for other reasons.

Does merlot have wormwood.
No, you are thinking of vermouth.

Buying Mohawk Absinthe.
I don’t know of any pre-ban Mohawk currently on the market. If you find out let me know. It’s rare to find pre-ban and even rarer to find American made pre-ban.

Michael Meyers Connecticut Absinthe.
He’s a great guy. One hell of a reviewer too. I can’t wait to share a drink, or several, with him again.

What happens when you drink absinthe straight, or burn the sugar.
You ruin the flavor because you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s about it.

Should absinthe have chunks in it.
Depends on what you mean by chunks. Traditionally absinthe is naturally colored with herbs after distillation. Even after filtering, some sediment can happen with a true absinthe. If you stick absinthe in the refrigerator or freezer the anethole from anise,  which normally provides the louche might bind and you will see white floating specks (don’t store absinthe like that, room temperature is fine). If you mean plant matter, hell no.

How much does pre-ban absinthe cost?
A lot. Save a few grand if you want a bottle. Triple the price in your head for a good bottle of pre-ban.

Is “brand” absinthe real?
You are going to have to check. If it has added sugar (liqueur on the label), or artificial coloring, chances are no. It should be distilled, not macerated, and contain at least the following herbs; Grande Wormwood, Fennel, Anise (green hopefully, not star). There’s a lot of fakes out there. Surprisingly more so in Europe than in the United States, contrary to what most people assume.

Will I tripp, hallucinate, get high, from absinthe?
No. You’d have to spike absinthe with something else for that. Some tourist traps have been known to spike absinthe with an actual drug to live up to the false promise. There’s no “special method” of preparing absinthe either, that’s just the scammers trying to make you think you did it wrong when their flavored vodka under delivers. You will however get drunk, the main active ingredient in absinthe is ethanol after all.

“brand” thujone level.
Generally the distillers keep this to themselves. I’ve only been able to confirm one brand for one run. The level will vary as terrior can have a tremendous effect on how much thujone herbs have to begin with. Also, the more you really know about thujone, the less it matters.

I hope that clears a few things up since these are the things everyone searches for. Until next time.

Sante! (woof)