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> Earliest Distillation of Absinthe
chrysippvs
post Jan 30 2015, 05:44 PM
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Does anyone know of an earlier mention of the distillation of the absinthe-related herbs than Fuchsius' Historia Omnium Aquarum?

I saw the mention in Forbes' Short History (127) and found the 1552 Paris edition online ( http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k54329h/f19.image ) where he recommends it for fevers and general stomach ailments. The distillation of "aqua arthemisiae" is on the following folio and other absinthe (the drink) herbs are mentioned throughout the text. Though, I'm not sure that his herbal taxonomy is the same as ours today given his analysis at the end of his text.


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Artemis
post Jan 30 2015, 11:54 PM
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I don't know, but my guess is that it would be some text in Arabic.
Mr. Grim would be the person most likely to be able to shed some light on the subject.


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Kirk
post Jan 31 2015, 02:44 PM
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A ceramic still was found at Herculaneum and the contents contained anise.


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chrysippvs
post Feb 2 2015, 03:13 PM
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Thanks, Kirk - I looked around but couldn't find a reference. You have one handy?


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Artemis
post Feb 2 2015, 05:21 PM
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I was assuming that whoever did it first, the record was more than likely preserved by Arabic writers, not necessarily that Arabs did it first.

Lots of information here:

http://books.google.com/books?id=XeqWOkKYn28C


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Kirk
post Feb 2 2015, 06:22 PM
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I can't find the reference either, I read the article in an archaeological magazine that I had a long time ago and have searched for it several times since because it contradicts accepted beliefs.
Grim gave me a copy of that R.J. Forbes "A Short History of the Art Of Distillation" Artemis, and you're right, it contains a wealth of information and follows the conventional belief that distillation was invented by Alexandrian chemists but poorly documented while the art was perfected and well documented by the Arabs although it was not in common use for making alcohol until the middle ages.
Rose water and other herbals were distilled in large quantities by the Arabs, before alcohol was commonly distilled.


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chrysippvs
post Feb 2 2015, 07:10 PM
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The Forbes text is what led to me to the earlier Historia Omnium Aquarum text cited above. Forbes doesn't seem to mention anything earlier is what sort of set me off. In general, at least according to Forbes, the Arabs didn't do a great deal of distillation with alcohol. In fact, he forwards that the distillation of alcohol is a 12th century Italian affair effectively removed the Arab (al)chemists.

The recipe text of Fuchs seems to indicate that the properties of these various herbs are well known but the question is whether or not they were being systematically distilled with alcohol before him. My gut tells me that they were but if you read Fuch's actual text it is clear that the logic driving the herbs he writes about is the taxonomic system spelled out in the last pages of his book.

The next question is when the particular combination of herbs distilled in alcohol that we would know recognize as absinthe began to exist. Centuries pass between Fuchs and Dr. Ordinaire, but it would be really interesting to trace that path in the literature. I am just wondering if anyone knows an earlier starting place. I can't find one.


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Kirk
post Feb 2 2015, 07:53 PM
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It may be that if you follow the history of the craftsmanship that made it possible you'll find some leads, good still design and development could not come much after absinthe as we know it appeared and it is likely absinthe appeared at the same time the technology did. "The Brandy Trade under the Ancien Regime, regional specialisation in the Charente" by L.M. Cullen is another treasure trove of distilling history.


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Artemis
post Feb 2 2015, 10:21 PM
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Again, whether Arabs distilled alcohol (or anything else) was not my point.
My point was that much ancient knowledge, regardless of the originating culture, was preserved in written form by Arabs.
Therefore, if you're looking for the oldest text, it just might be an Arabic text.


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Artemis
post Feb 2 2015, 11:00 PM
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"The ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of martyrs" - Muhammad
https://www.planetherbs.com/history/the-rol...-herbology.html


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L'Assommoir
post Feb 3 2015, 01:51 AM
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QUOTE(chrysippvs @ Feb 2 2015, 11:10 AM) *

Centuries pass between Fuchs and Dr. Ordinaire, but it would be really interesting to trace that path in the literature. I am just wondering if anyone knows an earlier starting place. I can't find one.


What counts as a starting place?
If an earlier "absinthe" or something very close to it was documented, you will still need to show a link that Ordinaire (or the Henrod sisters ) knew anything at all about it.
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chrysippvs
post Feb 3 2015, 04:13 AM
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There's no doubt that Arab work on both the know-that and know-how sides is important here, but I'm not sure in the exact way I am curious about.

The thing that primarily points against finding an earlier text in Arabic is that, on Kirk's point, the terminus post quem for the kind of apparatus capable of producing rectified-ish alcohol would be the mid-13th century with Alderotti's invention of the condensing coil. So, this helps me clarify my initial question. I am specifically curious about the distillation of absinthe herbs in alcohol of a relatively high degree of purity (say greater than low wines). It seems like as early as the late-13th / early-14th century, there exist the kind of still capable of producing absinthe as we know it (the distillation of rectified spirit plus an herbal charge). Though as late as Brunschwygk the use of the "canale serpentinum" seemed non-standard. Though, again, one has to wonder about the variance of technology between, for instance, the distillation of mineral acids and alcohol among other substances.

Though, leaning on Forbes too much may be a mistaken as well. Its a relatively dated text (though I can't find a better yet). Certainly, I learned first hand in archives during grad school how little we understand about the interaction between Arab, Christian, and Jewish fronts during this exact period.

So starting point. I supposed I am curious as to how one could tell a reasonable story about the dovetailing of (1) the distillation of rectified alcohol with the (2) herbs we now associate with absinthe. (1) may well be misguided because rectified spirits may not have originally been used (If I recall correctly, jenever was originally distilled from only malt wine and juniper berries and by the 13th century at that!) The question, for my own curiosity anyhow, remains "Is there is a text prior to 1542 in which absinthe-herbs are distilled with rectified spirits?" The next question, again, for me, is when is the first mention of group distillation (or post-distillation blending) of these herbs? This might just be the 18th century absinthe we all know. Or, working the other way historically: what is the causal chain from Doc Ordinaire (and/or the Henrod sisters) to, say, Thaddeus Florentinus with Fuchs, potentially, in between? Or is the story just a lot more messy, and if so, howso?

Furthermore, would folks consider the once (or twice) distilled product of, say, pomace wine macerated with a standard absinthe herbal charge (AA, fennel, green anise) absinthe? I would think not especially only once distilled…what of twice? I think folks would scoff, both in terms of its semi-anachronistic nomenclature and process, at someone producing an "Absinthe 1542" in this manner. I would want to see what came out but not call it "absinthe," at any rate.


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Kirk
post Feb 3 2015, 03:14 PM
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flowers and herbs were distilled before alcohol so it follows that anise and other herbs would not need to be steeped but went into the still.


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Artemis
post Feb 3 2015, 03:45 PM
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So if the origin of the distillation of alcohol is determined, the origin of distillation of absinthe (defined as an alcoholic extract of wormwood obtained by distillation) can't be any earlier than that.
Forget about other liquid preparations using wormwood, which obviously are far older, probably by thousands of years. They aren't really absinthe.
My guess is that the commercialization of absinthe didn't follow far on the heels of the creation of the technology needed to make said absinthe. I mean, why would it?
So, it may well go back not much further than Ordinaire et. al.


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xcj
post Feb 4 2015, 11:54 AM
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One of the old guilds were the "Sugar bakers". In Denmark the guild was formed in 1693, since they could not make a living selling sugar cakes alone they were also allowed to sell "aqua vitae, which at that time included distilled spirits with cumin, anise, fennel, wormwood, lemon, juniper, rosemary etc. which later were produced by the distiller guild". Of course the distillation did not start in 1693, so there is a long tradition for distilling the individual absinthe components :-)

Not the earliest but in Denmark we had a famous doctor called Henrik Harpestreng (who died 1244) who wrote extensively about absinthe. The oldest surviving copy of his medical book Liber Herbarum (ca 1300) is in the National Danish Library : http://www.kb.dk/permalink/2006/manus/87/dan/7+recto (absinthe = "malurt" in Danish). (Off-line at the moment)

The text is a Danish translation of Macer floridus s. de virtutibus herbarum, an older Latin text from the 11. or 12. century.
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