Month: March 2012

Customs Delays Vieux Carre Production

Philadelphia Distilling Company’s Vieux Carre Absinthe, having been on the market since 2008, hit an odd snafu recently. According to Philadelphia Foobooz the second order of dried Wormwood that the company has ordered this year from Switzerland got held up in customs.

Although the company has been importing Wormwood for years, and this is the second shipment this year, it seems that someone at customs is unaware what Artemisia Absinthium really is.

Some people may quip that the misinformation spread by fauxsinthe vendors are harmless marketing gimmicks. Some may say that customs agents would know better and be trained not to stop the regular shipment of an ingredient. This is proof of otherwise.

When a person in a position of power is grossly misinformed, it says a lot about the agency that hires said person. Americans tend to get feisty when our tax dollars are misused or go to waste. As a citizen who knows the truth about wormwood, this certainly rubs me the wrong way.

Although, as a person who has tasted both distilled and dried wormwood from the world over, I’d have to also say that importing it might be a mistake. Some of the best wormwood I’ve tried comes from right here in the United States, but more on that at a later time.

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Slow Death in the Afternoon Podcast!

Jerry and Dan over at the Slow Death in the Afternoon Podcast mentioned my brand spankin’ new blog on their show!

Thanks guys!

You can hear the episode here.

So what is Absinthe? A (short) History.

In my time spent in academia I learned that a discourse often starts by defining terms. So, this blog should start by defining what in the world we are talking about. Since absinthe is so full of myth and rumor, it is best that we clear things up right now.

Absinthe was once a very popular drink. I could fill the rest of this post with artists who drank it, quotes from them, and other cliché and lame name-dropping silliness. The fact is that absinthe was once the drink of choice in France during an era known as the Belle Epoque. It wasn’t something crazy artists drank to the horror of everyone else. On the contrary, it is so easy to find artists drank it simply because so many people in general were drinking it during that time. All over French cafes, people of every social class were enjoying absinthe. In a sense, absinthe was popular.

Then it was banned, becoming the first victim of the Temperance movement. The history of the ban and the circumstances the led up to it could fill quite a hefty book, so I’ll skim past it. But a few important things are to be noted. Whenever something is banned a black market will appear, and such is the case with absinthe. Swiss La Blue became the surviving and clandestine absinthe. Often taking the uncolored ‘blanche’ form to avoid easy detection. This is a very important fact. Absinthe never vanished completely, and it is partially because of these underground distillers and farmers that we know what absinthe really is. The historic line was never broken thanks to these folks, and they deserve lots of credit for keeping real absinthe in production.

The problem is that not many people would talk about it. La Blue distillers were not the ego driven gangsters of the prohibition era, nor the market hungry drug-dealers we see today. Rather, they were descendents of plain people who just didn’t want to give up their hooch. So they kept their mouths shut. Unfortunately, this was leaving almost a century of misinformation, myth, and rumor to build up in the meantime. This is where absinthe becomes murky—or should I say, louche. Absinthe spent a lot of time shrouded in pop culture myth and fantasy; Green Fairy tales if you will.

When absinthe began to come back in the past few decades, and the bans were overturned the most prominent ideas were the myths, drummed up. Marketers caught on quick and used the myths to drive interest to their drinks. This is why, to this day, people still believe nonsense about this drink so often. Even in the light of many scientific articles, published for free on the internet, that have proven the myths to be just that. Not to mention the Swiss distillers who knew the truth in their own stills and history, despite what and random alcohol the Czechs dyed green and started selling under the name absinthe.

So to answer the first question, what is absinthe? We look to history for our answer. Pre-ban absinthe shared certain characteristics.

 

  1. It was a distilled product, not an infusion, vodka-maceration or any other type. You cannot legally make your own absinthe at home in the U.S. because distilling without a license is illegal. So those online ‘kits’… forget them, you’ll never really make absinthe by soaking herbs in vodka.
  2. Absinthe was bottled at a high proof in order to preserve the botanical content—minimum 90 proof—but often much higher. You know that day-glo stuff at the club that went down easy, not really absinthe either.
  3. All recipes included Anise, Fennel, and Grande Wormwood. Absinthe gets it’s name from the Latin term for Grande Wormwood, Artemisia Absinthium. Other types of wormwood can be used but Absinthium makes it an absinthe. Wormwood alone doesn’t make the absinthe, there are multiple herbs used and each distiller will use different blends but will always include the trinity. Those dyed wormwood bitters claiming all sorts of nonsense, not absinthe.
  4. No sugar was added. This is the difference between liquor like absinthe and a sugary liqueur like St. Germain. Many absinthe drinkers prefer not to use sugar, myself included. It’s a personal taste much like using sugar in coffee or tea, and too much sugar is disgusting to my palate.

The best brands of absinthe all had other characteristics in common, although lower-quality absinthe was historically made that violated the following principles:

 

  1. They were all clear or naturally colored with herbs.
  2. No artificial chemical was used to replace the ‘louche effect’ that anise gives to it’s distillate.
  3. Full herbs were used, not oil mixes or other methods of obtaining the taste.

So there is the historical information. I personally define absinthe in the following manner.

 

  1. Must include Anise, Fennel, and Grande Wormwood.
  2. Must be a fully distilled product, that is high (90+) proof.
  3. Must not contain artificial coloration or louching agents. Because as La Clandestine brand ambassador Alan Moss pointed out; “CALLING “ARTIFICIALLY COLOURED ABSINTHES” GREEN ABSINTHES IS LIKE SAYING IT’S OK TO ADD RED COLOURING TO WHITE WINE AND THEN CALLING THAT RED WINE!”.

So there you have it, absinthe defined.

Most of the above is recalled from memory, however if you would like to fact check the sources that I learned from, the following websites contain lots of information—both historical and scientific—regarding absinthe.

www.thujone.info
www.wormwoodsociety.org

Hello and Happy Absinthe Day!

What an appropriate holiday to start an American Absinthe Blog!

On March 5th 2007, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) allowed real absinthe to be sold once again in the United States!

Five years later, I start this blog. The internet is so full of random blogs that I’m hesitant to start yet another one. But of course I put myself up to this, I made an offhand remark in an argument; “Who cares about pagecounts? The more good information out there, the better! Someone will come across it and it’s better that they see facts instead of myths.”

So as I care about the green fairy I feel a bit obligated to start this. There’s so much myth, misinformation, and propaganda about absinthe that it’s hard for me not to make a blog. Even if I only get three readers, ever.

So why do I care? It’s a long story, but the short version goes something like this. I was sober for the decade when most of my peers were developing alcoholism. I had many reasons, one of them being that alcohol tasted like crap to me. I’d have a drink—maybe a few times a year—but never more than just a glass of wine with the family on holidays or a celebratory drink for a huge occasion. Sure, I tried other stuff all the time. I live in a city full of craft breweries and a strong home-brew culture. Beer just really isn’t my thing. Cheap wines were easy to write off. Rum was sweet so that was just tolerable… and the list goes on.

I was snobby about it, but I was certainly open to trying new things. I tried “absinthe” before the ban was lifted in 2007. It was some homemade concoction by a renegade engineer friend of mine. It tasted horrible and left me thinking that I hated absinthe. I tried the green fairy again in 2010 with a faux-sinthe brand, unaware that there are plenty of fake “absinthes” on the American market. Again, it wasn’t my cup of tea at all. I pretty much filed absinthe in that section of my brain labeled “alcohol is gross”.

Luckily for me a girlfriend came along and gave me a glass of the real stuff. It was a fully distilled, historically accurate, and naturally colored absinthe. This wasn’t some high end, small batch, artisan stuff. This was the easiest that you could find and still get real absinthe. It was called Lucid, and ironically this was also the first absinthe on the market in the United States after the TTB revised it’s position on the spirit. She poured it into a glass added some water and a bit of sugar. For herself she did the same, only without sugar.

Amazingly I liked it. I didn’t just tolerate it, I actually liked the flavor, so I tried her unsweetened version. I was amazed yet again, when I liked her version even more. Suddenly my more-sober-than-thou ego was deflated and I found myself more human and letting go of the dry elitist species of non-drinker that I had previously drummed myself up to be. I had to change—a lot. Not just my drinking habits but my attitude towards the rest of society.

The green fairy didn’t just reinvent my drinking habits, it changed my personality. It opened up a door to a once forbidden world of epicureanism that fit me like no other had. I wanted to know more, especially since I almost wrote off this drink as crap based on fake brands and homemade mistakes born from ignorance. So began my journey down the green rabbit hole. I picked up a few friends along the way. Good spirits of other kinds, but none of them could replace the Green Goddess.

Now over just one year later I find myself knowing more about distilling and the world of spirits than I had ever thought existed. I’ve traveled to absinthe conventions and spent days with kindred spirits. I’ve toured and seen distilleries operate, and even helped one distillery with various aspects of their product.

As of now my girlfriend and I have reviewed over thirty brands and tasted many more. Getting down to the dirty work I’ve spent time in fields harvesting Grande Wormwood, fondling Angelica, and learning about farming, soil, general herbalism, etc. The list could go on, but it’s weird to think that it’s only been just over a year.

That’s why I have to start this blog. Sure, when you get down to the basics of it, absinthe is just an herbal spirit. Yet to many—including myself—it has become so much more. I never thought I would find myself enthralled by any drink, ever. Here I stand corrected. So if I can help others find their way to this path amidst all the signs pointing the wrong way, then I’ve done something in return. So here it is, my blog, a thanks to the Green Goddess.