Absinthe Politics = Business As Usual.

I’m an American. So I don’t mean to be rude when sticking my nose in European politics but this effects me and many other absinthe drinkers.

Recently there have been two movements to provide an Appellation of Control over the label “absinthe” over in Europe. What this means is that the word “absinthe” on a product would require it to be from a specific geographical area. Just as how Cognac has to come from the Cognac region of France, and the name Tequila is limited to a few places in Mexico, even if every other requirement of production is met.

The first one is from the Swiss and this has been around forever. It’s part of their “long-politics” or something like that. It states that to be “absinthe” it has to be made in the Val-de-Tavers regions of Switzerland.

The second one is a joint effort between France and Switzerland producers. It seeks to lock the term “absinthe” to stuff that is made in just those two countries. Effectively nullifying the as of yet to pass “Val-de-Tavers only” one. Nope, see Part 2 for a detailed correction of this. The following is still relevant to the Swiss IGP and possible future attempts at geographical protection.

There’s just a few really BIG problems with making absinthe a geographically protected product.

To begin with, the producers involved claim that this is to protect the market against fake and historically inaccurate absinthe, which I am perfectly fine with. The only problem is that the very same producers are making fake absinthe themselves. Pernod makes an oil mix Blanche that they squeeze artificial dye into and call a Verte (read more about modern Pernod hardly being absinthe here). That is like putting red dye into a white wine, and then selling it as Merlot. La Fee does exactly the same with their main line, along with producing an absolutely fake-as-all-hell “Bohemian” absinthe. They very people pushing for historically accurate absinthe are some of the biggest offenders against it!

The biggest problem isn’t the hypocrisy of these and other people (Francois Guy) pushing for this AOC. It’s that historically, France and Switzerland were not the only producers of absinthe before the bans occurred. I know of at least two American made brands produced before absinthe was banned. These are Butterfly, Mohawk.. Other countries had historical absinthe as well.

Most notable is Spain. When the French ban on absinthe occurred, Pernod Fils (hardly the same Pernod it is now) moved their absinthe production to Tarragona Spain. Spain never banned absinthe and the Tarragona Pernod Fils location actually produced absinthe into the 1960’s. You can still get bottles of the stuff! Now the company that Pernod Fils turned into seems to forget everything they should know about absinthe, once again, and is calling into question whether or not the Tarragona tradition was absinthe.

To sum it up in short: there is no historical precedent for making absinthe specific to a geographical region. This is just a very transparent business move masked as politics.

Currently however there are people producing real absinthe not in France or Switzerland. For instance Pacifique from America is made to the exact 1855 Duplais Montpelier absinthe recipe. Many other absinthes around the world stick to tradition much, much closer than any attempt Pernod, La Fee, or the other backers of the AOC ever have.

There’s also some bullshit about a minimum thujone requirement, but as we have known for years now, thujone in pre-ban ranged from 0ppm (none) to 55ppm with about 40% of the stuff being under the United States limit of 10ppm (source). Not to mention, thujone is actually irrelevant to absinthe anyways (stay tuned for long posts with lots of science on that). So the people pushing for that minimum are just obviously full of shit.

If you live in Europe, especially in member states that produce real absinthe who would be blocked from using that word by this move, please voice your concerns to the EU assembly.

If you are in America then you know the power money has. Might I suggest using your dollars to speak and boycott absinthe made by the backers of this psuedo-protection farce. You’ll probably end up drinking better and more historically accurate absinthe this way as well.

Keep in mind that there’s plenty of fake absinthe coming from France, as well as other parts of the world, so this is not a move to protect absinthe. This is about several producers trying to get a nationalistic leg up on anyone else.

DISCLAIMER: Wow I really stirred the pot with this one.

  • According to sources within the industry, the Spirit’s Business article confused people talking about geographical protection as actually having that protection on the agenda. See Part 2 for an analysis of this.
  • NEVER do I say that I do not want absinthe defined. I actually do wish for a definition, a historically accurate one.
  • The Thujone requirement has been dropped to 5ppm minimum (from 20ppm) and is apparently just Francois Guy’s personal gripe. This is from a word of mouth source.
  • There are other members of the French Federation of Spirits beside Pernod and La Fee (obviously). If anyone can find a membership roll please let me know. Also, I’m sure some of them are great people with differences of opinion about this.
  • What concerns many absinthe producers weighing in on this, is the adoption of allowing added sugar and artificial coloring as okay for absinthe. Such things are not okay, but large business interests are trying to make it otherwise. Word of mouth source.
  • Herbsaint was never absinthe. The Herbsaint/Legendre Absinthe was a short lived label that existed as Herbsaint was intended to be an absinthe substitute so the old labels reflect it. The powers that be told Legendre that selling something with the label absinthe was illegal, which actually it wasn’t but that was the popular idea at the time. Herbsaint and absinthe have a very strange intertwined history that is very fascinating and worth sinking your teeth into if you like historical intrigue and trivia. VERIFIED
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5 thoughts on “Absinthe Politics = Business As Usual.

  1. Thanks for blogging about this. Beginning with the debacle of the Swiss IGP, I’ve been very disillusioned by how some EU distillers are trying to co-opt the name “absinthe” for themselves, and have been boycotting their products for a couple of years now.

    It seems a little too early to tell how this latest drive toward an Appellation of Control will shake out, but considering how some of those involved are manufacturing liquids they call absinthe which do not meet the historically-based definition of that liquor (whether it be because they are artificially-colored, have sugar added, or something else), it seems to me they are the last people who should be included in any discussion about how to define absinthe here in the 21st century.

    On a more personal note, I’ve tasted vintage 1914 Pernod Fils absinthe, vintage 1950s Pernod S.A. Tarragona absinthe, and modern 2009 Pernod aux extraits de plantes d’absinthe; the two former absinthes were exceptional, and the modern one was a disgrace. No one who is associated with the Pernod product line of today has any business defining what the term absinthe should mean.

    1. I’ve been boycotting VdT absinthe since I heard of the IGP as well.

      Which is a shame, La Clandestine and several other absinthes are really good, I just can’t support such a move. Not to mention it would screw over Oliver Matter who makes a plethora of absinthe in Switzerland outside of the VdT. I’ve bought plenty of his stuff.

      As for vintage Pernod Fils, I’ve only had the pleasure of a Tarragona 1935, but it was absolutely amazing.

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