What Deserves to be Called "Absinthe"???

Sepulchritude Forum: The Absinthe Forum Archives Thru July 2001: Topics Archived Thru Nov 2000:What Deserves to be Called "Absinthe"???
By Don_walsh on Sunday, November 26, 2000 - 09:19 pm: Edit

Bardouin, pls post en francais. The machine translatyion you are using, is no less indecipherable. French will be more clear! Many of us can read French, some more fluently than others. None of us can make much sense out of gasoline and flames, we assume you are talking about absinthe not Molotov cocktails.

By Tabreaux on Sunday, November 26, 2000 - 03:49 pm: Edit

Absinthe is easy and pastis is hard? Absinthe herbs are few and cheap? Pastis herbs are 'international' and many?

Did I miss something here? I didn't think the translator was that bad.

By _blackjack_ on Sunday, November 26, 2000 - 03:29 pm: Edit

I think that Bardouin is using Babelfish to translate his posts from French, because it always translates "essence" as "gasoline."

By Bardouin on Sunday, November 26, 2000 - 03:14 pm: Edit

I say absinthe is easy pastis is hard. Absinthe herbs are few cheap herbs. Pastis herbs are the herbes international and many. Pastis is grain alcohol and herbs mixed and distilled at times, and not, and the gasoline at times. The color is the herbs international.

Absinthe is the cheap herbs local at times, and the cheap international at times, and the gasoline at times. Absinthe was the false color and the false flavor in 1900, no cheap herbs local or international, absinthe was bad. Absinthe is the color green and the color white, and the brandy. The difference to tell is not hard.

By Bob_chong on Saturday, November 25, 2000 - 10:02 pm: Edit

FWIW, Coke's market share is much bigger than Pepsi's (i.e., 20.3% vs. 13.8% for the colas only).

OT. Sorry.


By Artemis on Saturday, November 25, 2000 - 01:20 pm: Edit

For what it's worth, "Baudoin" and variations of it are common surnames in south Louisiana. I assume they're as common or more so in other French-speaking regions.

Baudoin's introduction of *altitude* as a factor in quality absinthe blew me away, for reasons Don understands and has hinted at. In any case, machines lend us what in former times only mountains or hot air balloons could. Very interesting.

By Don_walsh on Saturday, November 25, 2000 - 09:10 am: Edit

Cher Bardouin,

With regard to the vacuum matter, I suspect the language has gotten in the way. When you ask about 'alcohol flames' do you mean fumes, vapor? If so the answer is a -70 C cold trap. And a primary condenser that is very efficient and uses coolant at 0 C.

The vacuum pump anyway is a teflon type and not an old fasioned oil type. So it is not so critical.

Anyway rest assured, I haven't blown my lab up yet, and as I have only been at this (chemistry) for 43 years, I hope not to blot my escutcheon...

A bientot


By Don_walsh on Saturday, November 25, 2000 - 09:03 am: Edit

Dear Bardouin

My apologies for being rude at our first meeting here. I was cross from another matter, nothing to do with you...that was noit fair.

I take it you are a Swiss of the Val de Travels, let me compliment you on La Bleue, as I am an old fan and was an early advocate of La Bleue on thos forum. For what it is worth I buy Swiss equipment for absinthe making (maybe they would be horrified if they knew?).

I did not mean to denigrate pastis. Pastis has its own tradition. I think it grew out of absinthe, and especially out of the absence of absinthe. Never did I mean to imply that pastis is bad, inherently inferior, or somehow unworthy.

Despite all that this is the ABSINTHE forum and not the Pastis Forum. We honor the legacy of Paul Ricard etc but it is not our porinciple concern. Absinthe is. So it ranckled me when you said "absinthe is easy..., pastis is hard (to make)." As stated I don't think this is true. Restated as "Adequate absinthe is relatively easy, great pastis is hard" then, I would concede that you had an argument worthy of engagement. Personally I think great pastis and great absinthe are both awfully hard to make. I am concerned only with absinthe making, and I am trying to make opnly the best. I know only rudimentary information about pastis making, and what I know if inconsistent with absinthe making. I suspect that a lot of modern absinthes are made like pastis and that a really superior pastis would be made like a premium absinthe. So the traditions share a lot.

That the traditions have a major distinction is I think clear.

That some products fall into the cracks, is also clear.

That 'pastis' and 'pastiche' share the same (Italian, maybe Corsican?) root is clear, but also the meaning of pastiche in English is very clear and it means 'imitation'.

Carrying that over to 'pastis' is not jmuch of a leap, is it?

Imitations are not always bad; as we say they can be the sincerest form of flattery. I think pastis was intended as a substitute for banned Absinthe...and it then has evolved on its own.

I'm an Absinthe distiller.

I don't make pastis.

I am happy to ackowleedge that pastis makers might be my peers. I never intended to say otherwise.

A tres bientot


By Don_walsh on Saturday, November 25, 2000 - 08:40 am: Edit


It's hard to make that assesment on the basis of a cyber handle, and even harder on the basis of what bardouin says. Some of that may be lost in translation -- his english is as execrable as my french -- but not all.

I am about to hand him an olive branch. From internal evidence I suspect he is a francophone Swiss, whether or not he is a pastis maker and/or absinthe distiller is harder to tell. Opinionated people fall into two general categories: those whose opinions are based on fact and experience, and those who are just opinionated. If bardouin is of the former, I would be happy to share with him. If the latter, well, less so.

By Tabreaux on Saturday, November 25, 2000 - 08:04 am: Edit

He seems to be implying that other varieties of wormwood are commonly used in pastis, and that pastis is not much like absinthe without absinthium. This is true, as modern pastis is typically not made in the same way as old absinthe, and doesn't taste like it. I think he may be confused in the differentiation of absinthe and wormwood.

By Petermarc on Saturday, November 25, 2000 - 03:35 am: Edit

by the way, 'henri bardouin' is the name of a premium (excellent) pastis here in france...maybe a coincidence?...this person may have more than just a casual knowledge of pastis/absinthe making...

By Petermarc on Friday, November 24, 2000 - 05:04 pm: Edit

as much as i like the new point of view (regional french-jura?)of bardouin, i have no idea what that last post really meant...but it seemed to be pretty interesting...i think...'we don't need no stinking vacuum pumps!'...my source in the doubs seemed to think it was illegal to grow grand absinthe in france... to make matters more confusing, i found a copy of a french gardener's handbook from 1749 which states that grand absinthe was also known as 'la romaine' or 'l'aluyne' and petite absinthe was also known as 'la pontique'...

By Bardouin on Friday, November 24, 2000 - 02:34 pm: Edit

Armoise are not only for grand absinthe. Artemesia are the armoise, the pontica, the vulgaris, the absinthium. The armoise are legal in france here. Most pastis have one, the pastis amer always have one. Pastis does not use absinthe without wormwood, I know makers who have pastis with wormwood. Absinthe are not as pastis at all.

You use a vacuum around the still? What preasure to stop alcohol flames? It is perfect preasure in the jura.

By Chrysippvs on Friday, November 24, 2000 - 12:35 pm: Edit

Honestly, from what I have tasted in vintage absinthe, the anise was just another flavor...maybe slightly predominate, but not at all like in modern products. I am not sure if it is the 85 years or just a superior make or both...

I think I may have a glass of Pernod one day soon just to enjoy it...Maybe X-mas or so.

By Black_rabbit on Friday, November 24, 2000 - 12:16 pm: Edit

Sir Winston,

you open up a wonderful perspective- part of why lots of us got interested in this stuff is the history of it. It is a shame Aniline Green is so damn poisonous- I would like to have a glass of Van Goh's usual brand.

So far, there has been much concern with how historically accurate the absinthes of today are. And a drive to have some Pernod-style absinthe. Ted and Don are going to get us there, or at least pretty damn close.

I am very interested in the future of our favourite fairy, too... there is no reason not to play around and find new formulas, and novel tastes... If Jade liquers is sucessful enough, there just may be a new rennaisance in absinthe, with new flavors etc. And then the old definition might come back into popular use all by itself(the inclusive one.) I think we should use the exclusive one, else Pernod Pastis would be absinthe by the old view. If they had made that stuff pre-ban, then that is damn sure what the bartender would call it.

Ted and Don, I hope you are going to experiment down the road, once the historical stuff is off the ground. Hell, if you make even one absinthe that isn't primarily anise flavored, that might drive other companies to do the same, and that would mean a wider variety, and in an esthetic and historical way, we would be closer then to the belle epoch. Variety was, as Sir Winston exhaustively pointed out, a part of the green hour too.

Not to mention a wider audience- all those people who despise anise will at that point be able to get smashed on absinthe with us, instead of doing that wrinkle-their-nose thing and having a Bud instead.

Think of it- a future filled with absintheurs instead of Budsintheurs! The children of today will be the drinking buddies of tomorrow.

Do it for the children, Ted. Do it for the children.

By _blackjack_ on Friday, November 24, 2000 - 10:50 am: Edit

Not to pick on Don (who does, in fact, know more about absinthe than I ever will) he may be in error about the etymology of "pastis." Merriem-Webster gives this:

Main Entry: pas·tis
Pronunciation: p[a']s-'tEs
Function: noun
Etymology: French, from French dialect (Marseilles), literally, jumble, kind of pastry, from Provençal, from Old Provençal pastitz cake, from (assumed) Vulgar Latin pasticium
Date: 1926
: a French liqueur flavored with aniseed

and for pastiche:

Main Entry: pas·tiche
Pronunciation: pas-'tEsh, päs-
Function: noun
Etymology: French, from Italian pasticcio
Date: 1878
1 : a literary, artistic, musical, or architectural work that imitates the style of previous work; also : such stylistic imitation
2 a : a musical, literary, or artistic composition made up of selections from different works : POTPOURRI b : HODGEPODGE
- pas·ti·cheur /"pas-tE-'sh&r, "päs-/ noun

My Consise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology doesn't have an entry for "pastis," but it does also derive "pastiche" from "pasticcio," meaning "hotchpotch, potpurri, pie, pasty."

Etymology is not an exact science, and it would not surprise me if the use of "pastis" in reference to absinthe-like drinks WAS influenced by the use of "paste" to refer to fake jewels, but it seems that the primary derivation of the word is from the jumble/mixture definition.

There is a huge difference, Bardouin, between pointing out that someone may not have had all the information at hand and calling them "stupid."

By Artemis on Friday, November 24, 2000 - 09:30 am: Edit

"I meant to say petite wormwood there, instead of Roman wormwood."

Artemisia Pontica is the Latin name for Roman Wormwood, which the French called petite wormwood (little wormwood). They're all the same thing. Forgive my impromptu abbreviations; I get tired of typing those names and usually misspell Artemisia. I usually misspell misspell as well.

By Sir_winston on Friday, November 24, 2000 - 08:45 am: Edit


That's what I get for trying to make sense when I've been up far too long. :-) I've been getting only a couple hours of sleep a night lately, and I can't quite figure out why. Same diet and physical activities, etc., but I don't get sleep. I kind of knew that I'd said something which didn't quite make sense, but couldn't put my finger on it, which is why I mentioned that I may have said something that didn't make sense when I was talking to Artemis. Go figure.

Anyway, if nothing else, it's been a constructive and interesting conversation. The need for a modern definition versus historical accuracy. The only other thing I'd add is that, just because no one is using your definition right now to call wormwood vodka "absinthe," does not mean that some enterprising schmuck won't add green dye and attempt to do so. I think that any truly utilitarian definition for modern absinthe would have to attempt to at least preserve the general character of the drink's style.

Anyway, have a good weekend. Ciao...


By Don_walsh on Friday, November 24, 2000 - 03:47 am: Edit

Ah, I see, you are arguing boiling point versus altitude. However there are other ways to simulate the effects of altitude (and reduced atmospheric pressure.) Perhaps in your part of the Alps, this technology has not yet appeared? It was invented by Sir Robert Boyle 300 years ago, and is called the vacuum pump.

Pastis is not distilled (although it could be, it isn't, the price would be too high.) Pastis is mixed from oils. Whether at sea level in Marseilles or at the highest peak in France or Switzerland matters not at all.

By Don_walsh on Friday, November 24, 2000 - 03:41 am: Edit

I suggest you get a better linguistic background. In literature, a pastiche is a deliberate imitation. For example, August Derleth's Solar Pons stories modelled after Sherlock Holmes are classic pastiches. Thus passtiche means a copy, an imitation, a fake. I always said the name pastis came from pastiche.

'Paste' is used in de Maupessant (you may have heard of him) to mean 'fake' as in paste (costume) jewellry. The root is the same. That is why I mentioned the word paste. Not in the sense of a glue, but in the sense of a fake.

Pastis is hard to make and absinthe is easy? What planet are you living on?

You list armoise in pastis. Armoise is another name for grande wormwood. There is no A.absinthium (grande wormwood) in pastis. If there was it would be absinthe.

So, blow it out your nose.

(Good Wormwood can only be grown in the Alps, my aunt Fannie.)

By Bardouin on Friday, November 24, 2000 - 02:29 am: Edit

I do not like use of pastis. During other discussions it is said the pastis are the word for paste, this is not true. Pastis is pastiche, which does not mean that which don_Walsh says it means, it is french for the pasticcio, which is italian for a pie. A pastiche is a large mixture of various things, which is from where the word came, not of the word for the fake. It is stupid.

Absinthe is easy to make and pastis is difficult. Unlike absinthe, pastis includes anise etoile, anise etoile is better, it seems that some are
ignorant of this, pure anethole can be extracted and used like concentrate, which taste is anethone pure, perfect. But, then pastis is more complicated, the armoise, the sage, the cardamon, the mace, the nutmeg, the black pepper, the white pepper, the clove, the maniguette, and cinnimon. The absinthe uses the small one or the large wormwood. The good absinthe can be only made in the Alps though the wormwood is grown at sea
level, in the marks of altitude the cold thujones come in the distiller. Without altitude you obtain the bad wormwood, you boil hot and make it bitter and bad. This is why in france made the bad absinthe. Pastis is made on the sea level, to you obtain the best pastis in provence.

By Don_walsh on Thursday, November 23, 2000 - 06:45 pm: Edit

Sir W, petite wormwood is Roman wormwood is A.pontica.

Mugwort is A.vulgaris, and while, yes, it has been used in brewing for centuries, and yes, some references call it a wormwood, no one involved in absinthe making thinks it is A.absinthium.

Pontica is actually hard to come by. It is not sold by any US her vendor we know of -- a couple who do list it are substituting other herbsm notably ragweed, we had this discussion on the forum a year ago...Ted and I have to go WAY out of our way to obtain genuine A.pontica elsewhere, and buy large quantities.

Absinthium by comparison and contrast is dead easy to find, in most places it is classed as a noxious weed. Certainly quality varies from vendor to vendor. We buy this from the best vendors we can find. in 2001 I expect to purchase 2000 Kg of A.absinthium dried herb.

I am not going to abandon our definition just because you can construct ludicrous examples from it. I can construct just as ludicrous examples from yours. The difference is no one is trying to see wormwood vodka as absinthe. Whereas people ARE trying to sell the uninformed and unwary consumer, unAbsinthes as Absinthes. So yoiu keep your sense of historical accuracy, and I will keep my litmus test.

By Sir_winston on Thursday, November 23, 2000 - 02:36 pm: Edit

Of course, I suppose the definition that would both address concerns for authenticity, and the 21st century desire that has been pointed out to separate absinthe from pastis, would be to define absinthe as "Anything most 19th century absintheurs would call absinthe, that also contains a. absinthium, since liquors without a. absinthium are now classified as pastis." See, even *I* can be diplomatic! Maybe that definition solves most of our objections?!?


By Sir_winston on Thursday, November 23, 2000 - 02:00 pm: Edit


I meant to say petite wormwood there, instead of Roman wormwood. Not to mention cheap absinthes probably also contained some mugwort, which I don't even recall the scientific name for off hand. Mugwort is still used in some beers to this day, BTW. I'm sure you can understand that in such a lengthy and rambling post, I would make a few errors. ;-) By the way, I am half asleep, and have been awake for at least 30 hours, so if I am making no sense, maybe I will make more tomorrow...hehe...


I can appreciate your desire for order, and for a definition which makes more sense or is easier to apply in practical terms. I will readily admit that my definition of absinthe is largely useless today, since we can't have a 19th-century absintheur taste-testing of liquors to give or deny them the stamp of absinthe.

But my definition wasn't meant to be utilitarian--it was meant to be historically accurate. Most importantly, it was meant to reflect the idea that absinthe was a style of liquor much as gin is a style of liquor. It encompasses a wide variety of tastes which nonetheless share some common components, such the bitterness of wormwood, the fragrance of anise, etc. I meant to get across the fact that there were very likely a variety of styles and flavors in vintage absinthes which are not likely represented well or at all by modern descendants.

But your definition fails as well, for the opposite reasons. It is utilitarian, but not at all accurate. Would steeping absinthium in grain alcohol and distilling it produce absinthe? By my definition, no--I doubt many 19th century absintheurs would have called it absinthe. By your definition, yes--it contains absintium. My definition can be blamed for being too inclusive--but so can yours. :-) Does this mean that, even though everyone here points out it's wrong and the FAQ clearly states so too, that adding oil of wormwood to Pernod creates absinthe? I don't *really* think you want this definition of absinthe.

Why do we have to choose between the extremes that you suggest, of either defining absinthe as "all herbal liquors" or as "liquors containing a. absinthium"? My definition wasn't meant to imply that absinthe should correspond to all herbal liquors. I firmly believe that there are certain base tastes and base properties which define absinthe. The general gist of my definition was, would most 19th century absintheurs consider it absinthe? Or, phrased differently, would the "average" 19th century absintheur consider it absinthe? I think that, even though they are both herbal liquors, our hypothetical absintheur(s) would not call Chartreuse absinthe. Can I be sure? Hell no, I'm a 21st century Scotch drinker, not a 19th century absintheur. But my common sense says that Chartreuse tastes different from anything that would have been considered absinthe. Oddly enough, your definition would call the Chartreuse absinthe, since it probably contains absinthium. C'mon, Don, isn't there a little imaginary 19th century absintheur in your head, crying out "Sacre La Bleue! Mon absinthe, c'est Chartreuse? No! No no!" ;-)

Just because *all* herbal liquors were banned during the hysteria, doesn't mean that most absintheurs would have considered anything herbal to be absinthe. I rather think they had more sense than the prohibitionists and vintners who enacted the ban.

In the final analysis, I think our definitions are equally useless in practicality. But if you let loose that tiny little 19th century absintheur in your head, trying to get out--my definition can be more reasonable in many cases, if you let the little guy make his judgement calls. But I think the fact that your definition would consider Everclear infused with greater wormwood to be absinthe, kind of kills its viability. Surely, there are some very general standards to define the "style" of liquor known as absinthe? I say if you start trying to think like a 19th-century absintheur, you'll forego the wormwood vodka.

Just another humble opinion brought to you by the letter S and the number 2.


By Artemis on Thursday, November 23, 2000 - 11:26 am: Edit

As Don pointed out, all one has to do is taste A.A. and A.P. to be disabused of the notion that one can be substituted for the other.

I find the premise that A.P. was ever a substitute for A.A. for *economic* reasons to be completely untenable, in view of the fact Delahaye, in her detailed description of the cultivation of both herbs for the production of absinthe in 19th-century France, points out that A.P. was *harder to grow*. Even today, it's a damn sight harder to come by than A.A.

By Don_walsh on Thursday, November 23, 2000 - 09:57 am: Edit

Sir Winston, I was wondering, have you ever been paid by the word?

I think we have reached an impasse. We see nothing wrong (revisionist wise) with requiring that absinthe contain absinthium. The problem with the "19th century absintheur" standard is that such folks were not all of a mind about this either AND most especially, without a ouija board we have no access to their thinking about specific modern products at ALL, do we? You have a spirit medium handy, do you? In absence of a panel of 19th century absintheurs to query, I'd say it is logically equivalent to flop Aye or Nay on their behalf viz any particular product. In other words this standard is USELESS.

Look, the original ABSINTHE bans (France 1915; Switzerland 1910) banned ALL HERBAL LIQUEURS. That is because (a) the terms was being used generically for all herbal liqueurs, and (b) the ECONOMIC conspiracy to destroy the lucrative absinthe business and restore the vintners, demanded this. I merely mean to emphasize that 10 years or so later, the bans were narrows to liqueurs containing (you guessed it!) A.absinthium.

So, we can choose between the useless "all herbal liquers" or the useful 'A.absinthium'.

The latter is of some utility to consumers is differentiating between an absinthe and an un-absinthe, which may or may not be a pastis, but which is certainly not an absinthe.

People a clamoring for absinthe, and they are becoming more sophisticated. Gone are the days of flaming absinthe cocktails and shooters (I hope). The Hills importers recognized this and introduced La Fee, good on 'em, if they sell enough bottles of that to offset all the Swills, maybe they won't be damned to Hell for all eternity. (God is counting!)

Michel Roux tried passing off a cheap bad pastis as absinthe and fell on his face (Absente).

So the dilemna for Versinth, Amersinth maybe, and Oxygenee maybe is: will consumers support a premium, absinthe like pastis (or unAbsinthe if you prefer.) Personally I think if they are made from oils they ought be called pastis; Absintheur also distinguishes the latter by color (caramel = pastis, green of any sort equals absinthe?) I'd like to know why, if we can't use color to define absinthe (and then where would we put Serpis and clear absinthes like La Bleue?) how come he gets to use color to define pastis? Double standard!

Bottom line, as Marc said, and he runs 3 bars so he ought to know: no one is clamoring for pastis. Lots of people (not eveyone) is clamoring for absinthe. The consumers know the difference and vote with their wallets (no chad left over!) So I think it is simply dishonest to try to foist an unAbsinthe off as an Absinthe -- if someone wants to see if people want to pay $50 a bottle for a premium pastis, it's a free market. Let them try. But you can buy a lot of bottles of Ricard or Herbsaint for that!

BTW we never said the Cz stuff isn't absinthe. It is absinthe if it contains A.absinthium, and never mind whether from herb or from oils obtained from the herb. For purposes of the definition, neither thujone nor 'effects' matter -- leave that to the consumer! That the czechs don't use enough anise is not our problem.

The consumer ought not to have to deal with 'ringers'. Your argument, and Absintheur's, just seem a little artificial and detachedly intellectual. What historical integrity are you protecting? Preserving a muddle, hardly seems worthwhile.

By Tabreaux on Thursday, November 23, 2000 - 09:13 am: Edit

There is so much written in the post that I am having some difficulty picking out exactly what is being argued here. I understand and respect the arguments entirely, but no one here is buying 19th century products. Don't forget the important fact that there was no 'pastis' until the ban on use of absinthium. This isn't saying that there weren't absinthium-free products or even products which implied that contained absinthium but didn't. Rather, what we are saying is that regardless of what is speculated about the content of old products, the current ones need to be differentiated for purposes of clarity, integrity, and for the benefit of the consumer.

Consider the following simple points:

(1) From the very beginning, absinthe employed absinthium, hence the name "absinthe". This herb was singled out specifically for its unique 'medicinal' properties. Its composition is distinct from any other Artemisia species and other culinary herbs.

(2) The legal definition of absinthe in the countries where it originated (and other countries) includes those liqueurs which contain A. absinthium. Before the ban on absinthe, there was no legal definition. Nowadays, liqueurs which contain other Artemisia species (if included at all) or any other herbs are entirely legal, and are legally considered to be pastis (pastiche = "fake"). Other species of Artemisia may as well be any of the other herbs, both functionally and legally. To consider 'inferior' species of Artemisia as absinthe is to consider that pastis is absinthe, and that doesn't fit into any modern logical or legal definition.

(3) What whomever did or didn't do in the past is largely speculation and irrelevent at this point. I am currently amassing the most comprehensive body of analytical work ever conducted on samples of the old liqueurs, and anything outside of that is anyone's speculative guess. Unless the preponderence of evidence indicates otherwise, I am inclined to take what the label of each and any product says at face value. This includes both old and new products. Naturally, what truths or lies that can be determined of the old products is purely academic at this point, and doesn't affect anything. No one is trying to rewrite history. On the other hand, the content of the new products is of concern to consumers today, and if they want to buy absinthe, give them absinthe. If they want to buy absinthe, don't give them pastis and call it absinthe or imply it to be absinthe. It's really that simple. I see no *constructive* reason to make it complicated.

Additional notes:

- This definition is not intended to reconcile every piece of historical minutia. It is a tool for the modern consumer to differentiate products fairly, separating those which contain absinthium from those which do not.

- Regarding our products, they are full-fledged absinthe, and fully fit even the most stringent definitions, old or new, whether legal or implied, regardless of the source.

- Coca Cola does indeed still contain kola nut, and purportedly still contains processed coca leaf extract (sans cocaine).

By Sir_winston on Thursday, November 23, 2000 - 08:04 am: Edit


I never said that the tastes are exactly the same--they're not. But the tastes do have essential similarities which *did* in fact allow them to be used interchangeably in most circumstances. Certainly not in top-quality absinthe production, but *definitely* in the production of several other potables, such as traditional ales which used wormwood. If you read very old books on brewing, for example--having attended a 230 year old college, we had several--you'll see that while greater wormwood was usually preferred, lesser could be used where greater was unavailable. The same was true for medicinal uses--the difference was considered not one of kind, but mostly of degree. You have to understand that the 20th century predisposition with exactitude was not in full force. Also, as you learn in studying linguistics, there is always a reason when a situation like this occurs: a certain group of largely similar plants shares one common name in three or more languages, using only modifiers of that name in common parlance. To believe that this is not significant is a huge stretch of the imagination.

I am not saying that absinthes could use any wormwood interchangeably. Yes, they have diffeent tastes. However, I know I have read in at least one source that some cheap absinthes omitted absinthium in favor of petite wormwood when prices for absinthium were higher due to demand. This is very understandable and likely--if people would willingly drink absinthe filled with arsenic and aniline green and other noxious chemicals, they will drink absinthe which uses petite instead of greater wormwood. Now, *that* does not stretch the imagination one bit, especially if one considers that there's *no way* a cheap absinthe could taste the same as a Pernod. Corners were cut with the cheap stuff, and this was very probably one of them.

Regarding what I would call a cola that does not contain cola-nut extract: I highly doubt very many modern colas contain real cola-nut extract. Certainly many of the cheap ones contain artificial cola flavoring. That's just the unfortunate nature of industrialized mass production--better natural ingredients get omitted for expedience and cost reduction, in favor of artificial gunk that doesn't match the original. I'd love to have the original 19th century Coca-Cola recipe to play around with. I'd probably have to omit the coca leaves, but... ;-) Seriously, this is one reason I chose to use colas as the parallel for absinthe--there was one brand that made it popular, but many competing brands have emerged, most of which taste very dissimilar to the original. I would think this to be the case with absinthe in the 19th century.

I would disagree with the notion that 19th century imprecision should not be perpetuated into the 21st, because to try to push a 21st century precision on the 19th would be revisionist history. It is untrue and unwise and intellectually dishonest to define anything which did not use a modern definition, by that modern definition. I am not saying that people should make absinthes that cut corners and contain hazardous 19th century industrial chemicals. I am saying that to understand absinthe, the real, historical absinthe, neither some 21st century idealized vision of it nor some prohibitionist demonization of it, you have to see it as it is, as it was. It was not Pernod. Pernod was one very important facet of it, and certainly the most beautiful and envied facet. It was not a. absinthium--it is en essential ingredient of all absinthes, *likely excepting some of the worst*, as well as many other drinks, but it is highly likely that some of the cheapest brands cut corners and used petite wormwood in conjunction with chemicals like masking agents, coloring agents, and louching agents. It was, rather, a cultural phenomenon of the 19th century, something which cut across boundaries and was drunk--*in its many forms*--by rich and poor alike. It inspired great art and great drunkenness. It was a drink which both united and divided--everyone drank absinthe, but what the poor and the rich drank was still not the same. Absinthe was to the French what gin was to the English, only a lot more so. Absinthe was a style of spirits which came about from one great recipe, blossomed into a multitude as variegated as the number of gins or vodkas or Scotch whiskies or rums, and then disappeared.

Cutting through all the useless and flowery claptrap, I think it's fair to define a 19th century drink by 19th century standards. I don't think it's unreasonable to say, that if a 19th century absintheur would have called something absinthe, then it's probably absinthe. That's all I'm saying. Certainly I'm not trying to argue that all herbal liquers are absinthe. they aren't. But can you come up with a better definition than mine, that if a 19th century absintheur would have called it absinthe, it's probably absinthe? "Absinthe" is a broad style of liquor like "gin" is a broad style, and like "vodka" is a broad style, and like "tequila" is a style. Do you disagree with this? By the way, as I've mentioned, these styles have changed and been somewhat fluid over the years. Also, you probably know that most cheap tequilas and mezcals have little , and sometimes no, blue agave in them... But, blue agave is the defining ingredient of tequila and mezcal, right? Well, I guess not... All *quality* tequilas and mezcals are made with blue agave--the cheap ones are flexible. I'd never want cheap stuff over quality Sauza or Herradura products, but I'd also never argue that if you took a bottle of cheap tequila or mezcal with little or no agave to a cheap bar in Mexico or Texas, that they'd not call it tequila or mezcal. They would. It *is*. It's just very bad, very cheap tequila.or mezcal.

I am not arguing for inferior products. I'm just arguing for historical accuracy. Maybe it's just the part of me that worked as an archaeologist for a few summers, and likes to try to see history as it is and not as we might like to see it.

I am in no way equating inferior products with quality ones, in fact I went out of my way to say "*all* quality products contained *greater* wormwood," and "Pernod is *the best* absinthe against which all others should be compared," and that "only *cheap* products cut corners, and they *could not have tasted as good as the quality absinthes*." I thought I stressed that notion enough, but evidently I didn't.

I do disagree with the idea that taking an inclusive stance to defining absinthe "opens the door to every charlatan." Just because it's called absinthe doesn't mean it'll be embraced uncritically. Now that there are available alternatives to Hill's, is Hill's what most absinthe drinkers drink? In England it is probably still the most available at the local pub, sure--but I'm sure that's changing. With every bit of education, with every more experienced absintheur who explains to a Hill's drinker why Hill's is not much of an absinthe and where to find alternatives, it becomes less entrenched. That same distributor is probably going to be pushing La Fee a lot now, too. And, most of the better absinthe shops on the Net no longer carry Hill's, or carry a whole lot of better items along with it. As long as places like this cast a critical eye on the absinthe world, and try to separate the wheat from the chaff, charlatans will not get the best of the community at large. Do you *honestly* think that that liquorice-tasting Absente stuff has a chance to supplant real absinthe? Heck, that stuff is too close to Sambucca to even take seriously...no matter how clever the distributor, if you have a bum product, it isn't going to supplant the real McCoy.

Now, I in no way intended to "insult the makers of real absinthe." However, at the moment, the makers of real absinthe are marketing products which are not substantially better than Oxygenee or Versinth in any respect except, it is surmised, a. absinthium content. That's not a grand accomplishment. I am assuming that one distillery [I am looking at YOU, Don and Ted!] will soon be the exception, but the others should start innovating, or else they deserve to be surpassed by pastis which are better quality than their absinthes. When the fakes surpass the original, there's a problem. I may take a very inclusive view of what deserves to be called absinthe, but that doesn't mean I'd actually enjoy all of them. I wouldn't. All this being said, I fail to see how it is an insult to any of the people who currently market commercial absinthe to compare them to products like Oxygenee and Versinthe, which by all accounts are quite possibly made with a higher quality than the currently available absinthes.

*None* of this is meant to apply to you and Ted, Don, as I have specifically said "currently available" again and again. And you also needn't have taken offence at my use of the word "if" in my original post. I just used that word because, well, if it isn't in the present, it may not happen. You are there and know how far along you are, but you can't have expected *me* to know where in the process you were and if you were indeed going to retail a product any time soon. Maybe I even used the word "if" partly because I understand that it's not easy to make such a top-quality absinthe as you and Ted have been planning, *and* have it be fairly available, *and* get it out at the sort of price point I've seen you and Ted mention in passing. To make good absinthe is hard, to make great absinthe is something which has probably not been done since Pernod Tarragona closed its doors, but to combine great quality with good availability at a price which makes La Bleue seem as expensive as it is, is nearly a Herculean feat, my friend, so I congratulate you. None of my remarks were intended to cast doubts or aspersions--in fact, they were intended as a complement about how much your product might change the absinthe world. So, I apologize for the fact that I was not clear enough.

Feel better now? :-)


By Tabreaux on Thursday, November 23, 2000 - 05:56 am: Edit

Lord Hobgoblin, you will be able to acquire our product(s) soon, hopefully sans tariffs.

By Tabreaux on Thursday, November 23, 2000 - 05:53 am: Edit

Sir Winston, you discussion was interesting and well-read. A very enjoyable read. However, for very simple, clear-cut, logical reasons, I have to agree with Don on this one. After all the name "absinthe" is derived specifically from absinthium and nothing else. As far as old products calling themselves "absinthe" and containing no absinthium, no one has proof of even one such product. Even if there was such a product (undoubtedly), it is obvious that the makers of said product certainly aimed to mislead, because at that time, they had no legal reason to limit or omit absinthium from the product. I don't think a simple, logical definition should be maligned to suit the dishonest, old or new. To do such simply invites more dishonesty, and in this day and age, who needs that? I certainly don't, because like you, I am a consumer, and I feel I deserve to get what I am led into believing I am getting, and I want to get what I pay for with my hard-earned money.

I firmly believe that any alcoholic beverage, for better or worse, can truthfully be described as "absinthe" so long as it contains a detectable concentration of absinthium. In this day and age, using the definition of our (U.S.) gov't, detectable usually refers to 1mg/kg or one part per million, which is extremely small by any sense of the imagination. Any product made with the even the slightest bit of absinthium will fit this definition. Even Hill's should pass this easily.

Pernod Fils, A. Junod, E. Pernod, F. Duval, etc., were all highest quality products. Due to its sheer popularity and reputation for quality, Pernod Fils set the standard by which all others were judged. Like fine wines and champagnes, these products were made with best possible care and precision. They truly deserved the moniker "absinthe superieure", while those which were of far lesser construction and content were definitely regarded as inferior products by consumers. Nonetheless, the inferior products were and should be considered as absinthe so long as they contain the one herb which earns the name.

By Lordhobgoblin on Thursday, November 23, 2000 - 04:35 am: Edit


How is your absinthe coming on, when do you think it'll be available and will you have any problems supplying it to the UK? Are import tariffs likely to screw you up?


By Don_walsh on Thursday, November 23, 2000 - 04:08 am: Edit

Sorry, Sir W. but your argument falls apart. The distinction is not merely a matter of the taxononomy, the 'scientific names' of different Artemisia species, it is that the herbs themselves are vastly different. One CANNOT substitute 'petite wormwood' for 'grande wormwood' without vastly altering the flavor and character of the product. All you have to do to understand this is TASTE THE HERBS and you will see why this argument is absurd. You can't use pontica in place of absinthium, you can't use vulgaris in place of absinthium, it just doesn';t fly.

Neither Ted nor I has ever argues that absinthe has to be good or great to be 'real' absinthe. Our definition allows for a complete spectrum of quality. All we insist upon is that absinthe must contain absinthium! To use your long cola analogy, which is far mfrom apropos, what would you call a cola that contains no cola nut extract? An un-cola! A non-cola. Something else.

I am thoroughly unimpressed with the position that 19th century imprecision needs to be perpetuated into the 21st. That some people used 'absinthe' to mean ANY herbal liquor does not diminish the proper meaning of the word. To adopt an inclusive stance is to open the door to ever charlatan (like Michel Roux) bent on deceit.

We do not ask that absinthes from oils be excluded as long as absinthium oil is present. We think it is heretical and inferior to distilled absinthe, but that's not to say it isn't absinthe. We do not ask that artificially colored absinthes be excluded, just that it is recognized that this is less desirable than the natural way.

But to argue that phony 'absinthes' like Trenet, Kermann and (probably) Oxygenee be treated as peers of genuine absinthes is to insult the makers of the real absinthes.

I did not much care for your 'if it comes to fruition' remark. Get on a plane to Bangkok and come see for yourself, if you think all the hard work and investment we have made is hot air. Come have a drink! If you don't, then kindly don't cast unwarranted doubts on something you clearly have no firsthand knowledge about. I am sitting here typing with a glass of our absinthe at my hand (next to the mouse.) It was distilled two days ago and colored today. I am surrounded by production equipment and cartons of herbs. I have been cleeding money paying for all this. So kindly don't talk as if this is a pipe dream. It is quite real. COME AND SEE FOR YOURSELF. Have a taste, drink a liter if you want.

By the way Hills is not cheap. It is crap but expensive crap. It is more costly than La Fee which is not crap and sold by the same people. If they were selling Swills for $5 I'd be more forgiving, but they are not.

By Petermarc on Thursday, November 23, 2000 - 03:34 am: Edit

nice job, well thought, fun to read...will antique absinthe and paraphernalia be designated "cultural resources"
and be protected by the state?

By Sir_winston on Thursday, November 23, 2000 - 02:14 am: Edit

As for what deserves to be called "absinthe," I'm torn on the issue. But I tend to lean toward a more forgiving and inclusive definition of absinthe. The issue is definitely not clear-cut and there's no one right answer, but here's my opinion on the subject:

On the one hand, Pernod F., Pernod E., Junod, and similar top brands were the high end of the 19th century absinthe world, and as such set a standard for measuring all other absinthes. On the other hand, there were many less expensive brands which helped define that same era in regards to absinthe, and if they were considered absinthe in absinthe's heyday, then products which are essentially similar today should also be considered absinthe. To do otherwise would be rather like saying, "If it's not Cristal, Dom Perignon, or Krug, or at least tastes essentially similar, then it's not champagne." Or, "If it's not Bombay, Tanqueray, or Beefeater, it's not Gin."

Actually, it's kind of amusing because champagnes have a very wide variety in character since, being a fermented beverage instead of a distilled spirit, champagnes achieve a great variety in flavors with a smaller number of ingredients, thanks to yeast and environment. Even more interesting and relevant would be the history of champagne--the champagnes of today are usually nothing at all like the champagnes of the 19th century which made champagne famous. Although the French often hate to admit it, the reality is that champagne became internationally recognized not for the complex flavors which make it stand out above other sparkling wines today, but for the high sugar content of 19th century champagnes. The champagne region in the 19th century decided to cater to the taste for sweet wines which prevailed at the time--remember, ports and sweet sherries were extremely popular at the moment. So, champagne houses of the day preserved sugar either by artificially halting fermentation, or by adding dollops of pure sugar to the finished product. Today this would be utter heresy, but back then it was what made champagne famous. In fact, the champagne houses often catered their products to the tastes of different markets--the sweetest champagnes went to the Russian nobility, while wealthy English got a less sweet product, and most other markets got a less-sweetened product. The irony is that any sort of demi-sec or sweeter champagnes are the exception today, and usually frowned upon by wine enthusiasts--not to mention that this 19th century sweetening of champagne isn't very widely known, and the champagne houses surely prefer it that way. In fact, the very complex, dry, clean flavors of many of today's top champagnes are due to thoroughly modern production methods, like steel fermentation and aging chambers and designer yeasts and utilizing more chardonnay and pinot noir in place of the softer grapes common in 19th century vineyards. So, champagne of today is very different from the champagne which became famous--much as the Spanish (and most other) absinthes of today are very different from vintage Pernod. Does this mean that only sweet champagnes are worthy champagnes? Well, no--wine enthusiasts of today mostly think the opposite. Does it mean that only sweet champagnes are authentic? Well, no. There were certainly dry champagnes in the 19th century, it's just that these were not the most popular and prominent. As tastes changed, so did champagne.

The same is true of many other things--like, gin. The gins I mentioned above are not the most expensive, boutique gins of today--they're simply ones which have a fairly traditional gin flavor. Most of the more expensive specialty gins of today are new-kids-on-the-block, which also have new and nontraditional flavors. In fact, a lot of them taste more like vodka than gin, and utilize untraditional production methods like multiple charcoal filterings and other oddities to try to make the flavor more mild than traditional gins. It becomes ironic, though, when you factor in that what we regard as trditional gin flavor isn't really so traditional--it's just one of several styles which were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. Back then, sweeter gins with more complex ingredients were popular alongside the drier gins we now consider to have the traditional flavor. Tanqueray's Malacca Gin is a good modern example of the sweeter styles which used to be as popular as the drier ones. So, gin has eveolved just like champagne has--and, I suspect most spirits have undergone similar changes over time.

This brings a lot to the table when discussing absinthe, then. It would be interesting to know if there were any absinthe makers at all in pre-WWI Spain or what is now the Czech Republic, and if so did they always have such a very different style. Whether yes or no--probably no, but this is a mere guess as I have no info on this--I'd tend to say that it would be legitimate to call the current Spanish products absinthe, it's just that it should be noted that these are Spanish-style absinthes. But I don't think the flavor differences make them any less legitimate as absinthes. Likewise the Czech products are supposedly based on the flavors of a traditional Czech absinthe beverage--does anyone know if this is true, or if it's a fairy-tale invented by Radomil and other Czech producers? Whether or not it's true that they're based on a Czech style absinthe liquor that existed before Hill's, I think again it would be fair to call them absinthes, just with the notation that they are Czech-style absinthes.

This is apart from the debate over Hill's and other cheap Czech absinthes--I've never even tasted Hill's or the other cheap Czech brands, BTW, but have had Sebor.

At any rate, I don't think being a Spanish-style absinthe or a Czech-style absinthe or a French-style absinthe makes something more or less an absinthe or more or less authentic than anything else. I find it highly likely that in the 19th century there were as many flavors and styles of absinthe as there are flavors and styles of anything else made by many manufacturers, such as gin, whisky, vodka, vermouth, champagne, brandy, or what have you. Some of them probably had lots of anise, and some probably had almost none. Some probably had weird ingredients, like La Cressonnes's watercress, or coriander, or other herbs that aren't necessarily in a "standard" absinthe recipe.

What I'm getting at is that since there's only one company that makes Chartreuse, there's only one Chartreuse taste. There may be two different colors, and then VEP, but there's a core taste and at any rate the taste of Chartreuse is defined by one group. No matter how many "tastealikes" may come along, there is only one company which can define the flavor of Chartreuse. But this is not the case with absinthe. Many, many companies made absinthe at its zenith, and many people bootlegged it after the bans--it was never a brand-name.

Even more interesting is the idea that, when we think of absinthe, we think of the great bohemians who drank it. Van Gogh, Verlaine and Rimbaud, Oscar Wilde, and others, are the sorts of people associated with absinthe. But while some of them, like Oscar Wilde, could usually afford to drink only the best absinthes, some of them could never have afforded the best except on rare occasions. I doubt that Varlaine and van Gogh could afford something like Pernod as their daily spirit, and it’s very likely that such people mostly drank lesser brands and only occasionally drank the good stuff. So, when we think of van Gogh and similar usually-poor artists, should we think of Pernod or of a concoction which would have tasted considerably different and had an obviously artificial color? I think the latter is a valid probability. In some strange way, today’s lesser absinthes may have more in common with some of the absinthes Van Gogh and Verlaine drank, than vintage Pernod did. The cheap stuff back then was often just as artificial as anything on the market today, the big difference being that we use safer artificial chemicals now. In an odd way, Hill’s may be closer to some common cheap vintage absinthes than we’d care to admit. Though I have no direct knowledge one way or the other, it’s even a distinct possibility that a few of the common, cheap absinthes of the 19th/early 20th century, ones quaffed in large quantity by the poorer masses, were steeped and not distilled. Looking at how widely absinthe was drunk at certain points, you have to start to realize that the only way that much could be consumed each year is if a lot of it were produced quickly and with no concern for quality and a lot of shortcuts. If I recall correctly--and I may be mistaken, I no longer have a copy of the book--*Absinthe: Cocaine of the Nineteenth Century* even said that some cheap brands didn’t even use artemisia absinthium since absinthe production had driven up the price, but used petite wormwood and mugwort instead. This is why I tend to take such a broad and inclusive view of what qualifies as absinthe--it was a non-specific, blanket term for a style of liquor, which included a wide variety of both expensive and cheap products made both all-naturally and pumped full of chemicals and dyes. The taste had to vary considerably, too--there’s no way a cheap product could have tasted anything like Pernod--and some of it was probably extremely sweet and some was probably extremely bitter. The only way to get a fairly accurate take on it would be to sample a broad cross-section of vintage absinthes, but this just isn’t possible any more--it’s doubtful that many, if any, cheap absinthes have been hidden away in the cellars all these years. People tend to only save the good stuff...

I think the situation is much like this. Absinthe was invented in the late 18th century, and made popular by a few early brands like Pernod thanks to absinthe’s use in wartime, so by the mid-18th century it was extremely popular, and by the late 19th/early 20th century it was *the* common drink. Then, with WWI coming, it was banned for being unhealthy. Imagine this scenario: in the late 19th century cola is invented, and Coca-Cola popularizes it based on a recipe invented by a pharmacist. It slowly builds momentum, but suddenly in the mid-20th century, with the prosperity brought on in the U.S. around/after WWII, and the desire for sweet fun useless things that comes with the Baby Boom, cola becomes extremely popular. Coca-Cola was *the* cola for a time, with few popular competitors. By the late 20th/early 21st century, cola is *the* common drink. In the meantime, though, a brand called Pepsi became more and more popular, and by the latter 20th century had a marketshare almost as large as Coca-Cola’s (in the U.S., at least). Also, many other brands of cola arose--every large supermarket had its own brand, and lots of variations of cola were born. The biggest were things like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, RC Cola, and brands made by the largest chain stores like Sam’s Club, Safeway, etc. There are a number of other drinks which don’t qualify as colas, even though they are soft-drinks, because they have a very different taste and ingredients--for example, no one would consider Sprite or 7-Up a cola. However, there are other products which aren’t clear-cut--is Dr. Pepper a cola? It has a similar taste, but it also has other tastes added to the cola base, too. I’d say it’s probably a cola, though others may disagree. There are many other similar in-betweens. Now, what if, around 2015, cola is suddenly banned because we’re all addicted to cola, and cola supposedly rots your brain as well as your teeth, etc., and cola production is stopped altogether? Well, almost all of the cola will be drunk up fairly quickly, or hoarded and drunk away within a few years. So, in 2095 or so, when there’s a sudden resurgence in interest in cola, this drink which had been so popular a century before, there are very few full bottles and cans left. Almost all of the remaining bottles are Coca-Cola bottles, and maybe a few Pepsi. They are very, very expensive. All other colas are very, very, very rare, nearly impossible to find, and when you find them they’ve been sitting in cans and bottles for a century and you can’t be 100% sure that some key ingredients haven’t broken down, or broken down and recombined with other compounds to make their original presence difficult to ascertain. People get an interest in reviving cola, and some start making their own at home. It’s discovered that there’s an opening in the laws of a country which didn’t have much cola use at the time it was popular--say, Belize. So, people wonder if there are any colas in Belize and...wow, there are a few native colas still being made there! People start to import them, but as they research cola and test and taste a few bottles of vintage Coca-Cola, they realize that the Belize product has too much corn syrup, and is missing a lot of the more complex flavors. People start to work on a clone of vintage Coca-Cola. People are very happy about that, but they still wonder what the colas of old were really like--they hear that some great men, who inspired their desire to try cola, had probably drunk cheap Sam’s Club Cola most of the time, and only drank Coca-Cola when they could afford it.

Well, how’s that for a tale? ;-) To be closer to the absinthe situation, we have to imagine that the cola situation is a bit different than it actually is--for one thing, the lesser brands of cola would have to have a wider marketshare, and there would have to be a larger price discrepancy between Coca-Cola and cheaper colas, just as there was a significant price difference between Pernod and the cheap stuff. But if we imagine these stretches, then maybe we can better visualize the situation with absinthe. The reality is that there’s a whole world of 19th-century absinthe tastes to which we will never have access. This isn’t a terrible thing, because the top brand, Pernod, will hopefully soon be cloned and available, and that should be representative of the best absinthe has ever had to offer, the drink van Gogh probably had whenever he had more money in his pocket than he was used to, the drink that made it all come about. However, to deny that there were probably other, very different tastes in the absinthe world, would be to make a denial similar to saying that all colas taste like Coke. Well, they don’t. Some people actually prefer Pepsi, or Dr. Pepper, or RC Cola, or a number of other things which probably deserve the name “cola.” Similarly, there were probably absintheurs in the 19th century who preferred Junod or Terminus or La Cressonnee, and some who bought much cheaper brands out of necessity. There are some people who even prefer Sam’s Club Cola to Coca-Cola, so, there were probably some people who preferred the truly cheap absinthes to the quality stuff. Also, what of changing recipes? Just as Coca-Cola is made today with different ingredients than it used 50 years ago--among other things, most Coke plants use corn syrup now instead of cane sugar, and there is a taste difference--it would be perhaps difficult to believe that Pernod was made in 1910 in the same way it was made in 1840.

So, I think most of the current absinthes have a legitimate claim to being called absinthe. If it’s true that some lesser brands in the 19th century even commonly cut costs by omitting the artemisia absinthium in favor of cheaper artemisia vulgaris and/or artemisia pontica and the like, then even if the new Oxygenee and Versinthe have done this, they *may* have a claim to the name absinthe. I would argue that they gave up that claim when they used lesser wormwoods specifically to get around legal issues about absinthium, thujone and such, since intention would count philosophically at least--do you intend to be a real absinthe, or do you intend to be a pastis? I think it’s clear, at least with Versinth, that they intend to be a pastis, and the same is probably true of Oxygenee.

However, while on the subject of wormwoods, I have this opinion to lend to the discussions that have happened here. In the 18th and 19th centuries, very few people, distillers and brewers included, knew the scientifically classified name of anything. That’s just not how things were done. There’s a reason that the blanket terms “wormwood” in English and “absinthe” (or whatever the spelling is for the generic word for “wormwood” is in French--I don’t recall) in French and “wermut”(?--again, I am a stupid American who is bad at spelling in other languages) in German, referred not just to absinthium or “greater wormwood”, but to “lesser wormwood” and “Roman wormwood” as well. They shared the same name in the common parlance, with just a modifier added when they needed to be talked about specifically, because for all practical intents and purposes they had the same uses, effects, and properties. They have more in common for general uses than they have differences. Obviously, absinthium set itself apart for having stronger properties--thus, it's "greater wormwood."” However, in actual use, this was a difference in strength, not usually a difference in kind. Only a 20th century mindset would necessarily equate a difference in scientific classification to a significant difference--to the 18th and early 19th century mind, what was most important was only that wormwoods all had similar properties and uses. That being said, a quality absinthe maker like Pernod and the other top brands would scrupulously use absinthium, the “greater wormwood,” in combination with others. It is very likely though that some lesser brands commonly substituted cheaper wormwoods for absinthium, since it is said absinthium’s price rose as absinth production grew. What this says for a modern product claiming to be absinthe yet having no absinthium is unclear, but to dismiss it out of hand with an argument based on the scientific names of different kinds of wormwoods is something of a revisionist fallacy. It’s not that I think they should be considered absinthes--it’s that they wouldn’t have been dismissed from being absinthes in the 19th century world merely on that account. If you announced in 1880 Pontarlier that “This ‘absinthe’ has no a. absinthium!” people, even many distillers, probably wouldn’t say it’s not absinthe, they’d probably say it’s very cheap absinthe. Even the French law quoted here recently doesn’t explicitly refer to a. absinthium, it uses the generic term for wormwood which encompasses petite wormwood as well. I’d instead dismiss such wanna-be ‘absinthes’ from being real absinthes based on the fact that they omit a certain traditional main ingredient merely to get around the absinthe bans, and since they themselves don’t really consider it an absinthe, it isn’t. They consider it a fake, and manufacture it as a fake, so it is a fake, a pastis. This is an entirely philosophical argument, but I think it’s a better one considering the historical problems that may arise if you dismiss all absinthes which contained lesser absinthes instead of greater absinthe for cost considerations. But this is just an opinion.

All that being said, I must say that it is perfectly acceptable to use vintage Pernod as a yardstick against which to measure all other absinthes. It is, after all, universally considered both the best quality absinthe, and the absinthe which started it all. It was the most imitated in name at the time, and being first to make absinthe popular also meant that its taste was used as the “base” which other absinthes attempted to copy and aspire to. My rather wide and inclusive definitions of absinthe should in no way diminish the greatness that was Pernod and the importance which Pernod’s taste must have played in making absinthe popular. Just because some swill might legitimately be called absinthe does not diminish quality absinthe and the effort required to make it, just as the fact that there are cheap brandies does not diminish the great French cognacs and armagnacs and the great Spanish brandies. Making a quality product takes effort, effort which few in the absinthe world, both back then and right now, are willing to undertake.

Don and Ted, I wish you well on your project and product. I hope that it is as good as it’s supposed to be, and that it ushers in a new era for the post-ban absintheur--perhaps when that era begins, we should call it “the post-Hill’s era.” ;-) At any rate, if it does come to fruition, and if it has good availability at a price that’s commensurate with its quality yet still fairly affordable, then the absinthe world as it stands is in for a shake-up. No more overly-inflated La Bleues and no more low quality Czech absinthes selling for $50-$80/bottle excluding shipping. If it happens, there will be quite a sea-change. Good luck. :-)


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