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The Fée Verte Absinthe Forum - The Oldest, Largest, Most Authoritative Absinthe Forum. > Absinthe & Absinthiana > Absinthe in the News & in the Media
Press release for program in early June. Sorry, I don't think it's online.

Subject: Paris feedback from: [bjacques]

Good show about Bohemian Paris, but you fell for the old canard (quack!) about flaming absinthe-soaked sugarcubes. That "tradition" was invented in the 1990s, by Hill's the Czech absinthe maker and found its way into movies like "xXx" and "From Hell." It's probably based on flaming Sambuca or 161-proof rum shots--special effects for the easily impressed--because it never appeared in the 19th-century popular media regarding absinthe. Not in advertisements nor cartoons or paintings have flaming sugar cubes ever appeared.


Their response:

Dear Mr [bjacques],

Many thanks for letting us know how much you had enjoyed the programme.

Please accept my apologies for the delay in replying. We were overwhelmed by the response to this series.

I made your point to the producer and she has asked me to pass on her reply to you:

"Separating fact from fantasy when it comes to absinthe is pretty tough - like the age old debate about whether it used to be hallucinogenic or not. Our research and conversations with producers of absinthe suggest it wasn't hallucinogenic at all - it was no more potent than gin. But, like gin in the 18th century, a media hysteria grew up around absinthe suggesting it was far more deadly than in fact it was. As for the flaming sugar cubes, Sandrine [the presenter - bjacques] just gave a demonstration of the way she drinks it. They certainly did dissolve sugar into it in the old days - hence those special spoons. But as for the pyrotechnics - well, it's quite possible that Sandrine and we were misinformed"

I hope the above helps explain this feature and that you will continue to watch and enjoy other series from the Open University/BBC partnership.

Best wishes,

BBC/Open University
Viewer and Listener Information Officer

A very nice response, I thought, so I sent in a friendly, if geeky counter-response. Apologies in advance for any misrepresentations. I was trying to keep it short (-ish. I drank way too much coffee:

Hello Ms. XXXXXX

Thanks for responding. Absinthe's rescue from obscurity and, er, rehabilitation in about the last 15 years makes an interesting story in itself.

(anorak-ish potted recent history follows)
Czech absinthe was the first to impinge on public consciousness, in the early 1990s, through the artist Damien Hirst and his friends. Maybe some enterprising Prague club-owner started selling it. I gather Hirst sold it at Pharmacy, his bar. Over the years, other brands seemed to fade into (re-)existence, coming from Spain, Portugal and Bulgaria(!). The market grew beyond hipster circles, thanks somewhat to informed and informative websites like It was one of that site's mainstays, Ted Breaux of New Orleans, a chemical engineer who reverse-engineered a vintage absinthe, found a French distillery that could produce it in quantity, then created his own fine brands. Madame Delahaye of Pontarlier, France, went on tours to lecture on absinthe and promote her own varieties, which are pretty good. But the Czech brand(s), being first past the post, gave the silly flaming sugar cube story more longevity than it deserved.

The market for absinthe is now big enough fine absinthes as well as the cheap, high-octane and high-chop.gif swill, and that's definitely an internet success story. The quality of feature news stories has also improved over time, as good information and better absinthes have become available. Anamnesis in action! Again thanks for the excellent feature. The flaming sugar cube was my only real quibble.

(end anorak-ish potted recent history)

But feel free to promote my idea for a fake provenance of flaming absinthe. The drink was supposedly never outlawed in Czechoslovakia--not under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, nor during nationhood or in the CSSR. And thereby hangs the tale…

During the Prague Spring of 1968, absinthe was popular among students and jazz fans. Old Czech jazz musicians still recall all-night, absinthe-fuelled jam sessions during those heady months. When the Soviet tanks rolled into Prague, an unknown student, holed up in a bar and lacking the means to make a petrol bomb, remembered the high alcohol content of a local brand of absinthe. He quickly improvised a Molotov Cocktail from a bottle and a tea towel and hurled it into action against an onrushing Uncle Joe. The tank crew escaped the resulting inferno, but only barely. The flaming sugar cube atop a Czech absinthe is really a homage to the brave unknown student, but foreign tourists don't care, so bartenders just tell them it's how the French used to drink it. Absinthe connoisseurs maintain that the best way to serve Czech absinthe is in the original manner. If no enemy tank is handy, the side of a building or a nearby bridge abutment will do. Any method that doesn't involve drinking the stuff is fine.

Warmest regards,

You went too far with your own Prague Spring embellishment.
Endeavoring to start your own myth?

And after handling the rest so admirably.
I received the same reply from the BBC:
QUOTE(bjacques @ Aug 15 2007, 07:43 AM) *

I made your point to the producer and she has asked me to pass on her reply to you:

"Separating fact from fantasy when it comes to absinthe is pretty tough ….. Sandrine [the presenter - bjacques] just gave a demonstration of the way she drinks it."

If the BBC with all their resources (and a French presenter) find it pretty tough to separate fact from fantasy, then it must be even more difficult for the average consumer. Yes, it takes all of 30 seconds to find the Wikipedia absinthe article via Google where it states:

"It is sometimes claimed that this ritual (Czech) is old and traditional; however, this is false."

I'm sorry to see that my tax which helps fund the BBC couldn't be used to fund a google search.
I liked the story.

I never realized that you could make a Molotov cocktail w/ Absinth. I thought it always had to be Vodka.

Now we know the origin of the Czech flame method.

Why would you wish to create a "heroic" basis for what is actually an idiotic and dangerous marketing ploy?

Or is the idea to link absinthe with terrorism?

Or to give credence to Czech claims of production prior to 1990?
The Standard Deviant
I got the same reply.
Exactly the same I have.

As for drinkable Molotov cocktail:

100 ml of cognac

100 ml of Coca-Cola

Shake, drink, repeat.

(after Count Tyszkiewicz-Polish recipe created in Paris)
Aw traineraz,

I thought the last line would be a dead giveaway that my "legend" was 200 proof horsefeathers. I figured a stupid marketing ploy deserved a good backstory that the gullible would adopt so they'd be "hep."

But terrorism? I honestly wasn't thinking of that. Mollies I associate these days with anti-G8 protests gettting out of hand. *Car bombs* are terrorism. But to fill a gas tank would take a lot of Hill's. And a big box of sugar cubes.

Here's a less heroic version. The sugar cube must be burned *exactly* ten seconds, to properly caramelize the sugar but not to burn off all the chop.gif.

That way, if you see someone looking intently at their watch while waiting for their sugar cube to burn, you'd better reach for your pliers to remove the hook.

I was inspired after watching a lot of Penn & Teller videos on YouTube recently.

One rebel's freedom fighter is another despot's terrorist.
QUOTE(bjacques @ Aug 16 2007, 07:48 AM) *

Aw traineraz,

I thought the last line would be a dead giveaway that my "legend" was 200 proof horsefeathers. I figured a stupid marketing ploy deserved a good backstory that the gullible would adopt so they'd be "hep."

Exactly. I knew from the start that you were making up a story (in part because you started off by saying you made up a story). But a good backstory which is false, repeated enough, will become true.

For example, let's look at the "good backstory" of a century-old tradition of Czech absinth fires. How many articles have reported this BS as true? And therefore it is true in the minds of the public.

How about this:

The Czech fire ritual? Ah, yes. That DOES have an interesting history!

You see, back in the 1950's, Radomil Hill's father had everything going for him. He was well-in with the Party, so he had a nice home. His good looks and charm helped him along in getting whatever he wanted. Most of all, he wanted to try absinthe. He'd read all about the drink, and read translations of authors who had praised it . . . Hemingway, Wilde, and others.

Finally, he worked through some Party connections, called in many favors, and imported a bottle at considerable expense. Papa Hill just had to try this concoction so dangerous that half the Continent had banned it!

Papa approached the bottle with his corkscrew, puffing gently on the Cuban cigar clamped firmly between his teeth.

Slowly he eased the cork out . . . a bit more . . . just a bit more . . . and then the cat, chased by young Radomil, darted between his legs. Startled, Papa jerked the cork out, splashing 62% alcohol into his face, onto his clothes, and all over his stacks of papers. Half of his expensive bottle of liquor was on him or on the floor! He opened his mouth to curse the cat, and the cigar fell.

Papa survived the ensuing blaze, but the burns on his face left him permanently disfigured and a ruined man. Sinking into an anti-social depression, he rapidly fell out of favor with the Party. He'd lost both his looks and his friendly demeanor. He cursed the absinthe that had destroyed his life, and this bitterness rubbed off on his young son.

Determined to discredit absinthe forever, while still paying homage to his now-deceased Papa, Radomil stewed for decades. Finally in the 1990s, he had a brilliant idea! Why not create a horrible-tasting drink, promote it as "real absinthe" (using the Czech spelling, "absinth"), and encourage people to light it afire?

The more he thought about it, the more he liked it. After all, people would associate "absinthe" with his horrid concoction. Eventually, someone would light himself or a friend, or maybe even a bar, on fire. Absinthe would be known once again as the vile and hazardous creation that had destroyed his once-proud Papa.
Jaded Prole
Maybe a "Hill's Cocktail" would be more appropriate -- and better than drinking it!
Where in hell did THAT come from?
trainer, that is the best story I've heard in a while. I, with your permission of course, will have to use that the next time someone talks about flaming sugar cubes. abs-cheers.gif
If that's the best story you've heard in a while, I suggest you throw away the Danielle Steele for more stimulating fare . . .

But thanks! Feel free to use and/or embellish as you see fit. After all, that's how little stories become great legends.

Tales of the Slotted Spoon…


I just got a tip-off that my silly little story hit a nerve.

All I wanted was to make up something that gullible hipsters would repeat and expose themselves as idiots! Is that so wrong?

Sorry about this, guys.
So they're reading this forum, with access to all the historical recipes on the site,

. . . like here: and everything else in the Reference section, easily located by using the navigation bar at the top of the page . . .

and STILL can claim that Czechsinth is anything but a wormwood bitter created in the 1990s by Radomil Hill?

It's true, Denial is more than a river in Egypt.
The Standard Deviant
You would be inseine to think it is anywhere apart from Paris.
Absintheur's blog = mind-numbing yet somehow fascinating reading.

They're still at it, it looks like.

Funny thing though, I'd always wanted to see some evidence--*anything*--that absinthe was ever popular in Czechoslovakia before 1990, or at least known about.

The Hill's partisans never delivered. But I went looking a few days ago and found some, mostly on the website of Oliva Absinth. An artist named Viktor Oliva (1861-1928) was one of a group of real Bohemians who went to Paris in the 1880s and came back to Prague to spread the word. Oliva painted "Absinthe Drinker" around 1900 and the painting is still hanging in the Salvia Cafe in Prague.

Oliva Absinth is apparently made from a local recipe found in an abandoned Czech distillery. How they found it is a great story and I'm impressed by their gumption in picking up the challenge to deliver a real history of Czech-made absinthe. (I do a lot of personal research on old photos that I collect so I love this kind of stuff.) The site acknowledges that absinthe was brought over from France in the late 19th-century, Paris being the cultural capital of Europe then, and some Czech distilleries made it for the local market. They didn't make any Flaming Moes back then, and Oliva don't push that story now.

If those guys at the other website had done as much instead of making excuses about those darn Commies and Radomil Hill's despair wiping out almost all traces of Czech absinthe (since only Hill's is the real stuff) before 1990, I'd have more respect for them. CSSR bureaucrats would weep with envy if they could see how these guys rewrite history.

BTW, has anyone tried Oliva? I didn't see it in the buyers' guide or in a search of topics, unless I just plain missed it. From the description, it appears to be canonical absinthe but with a local flavor. I'm going to the Czech Republic next month, so I'll have a look around.

I'd post some shorter version of this over at the other site, but they're busy administering a beatdown to a straw Ted and I don't want to interrupt their fun. I might post anyway.

Or make up something about self-lighting absinthe, like self-cooling Guinness cans. The Czechs are supposed to be big on surrealism and absurdity. Why can't they have a sense of humor?
Oliva discussed here.
As always, the debate over there at Absintheur's blog is absurdly hilarious, at least to us here.

I got back from the Czech Republic a week or so ago, empty-handed alas. Part of it's from staying in a smallish town like Ostrava (actually, Ostrava is the 3rd largest after Prague and Brno or maybe Plzen), but the only stuff I saw in bars was Hill's. On the way back I snapped a pic of what the Prague airport had to offer.

Great beer, though. Ostravar and Radegast are local, and we couldn't get enough of that Moravian wine. Yum!
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