Absinthe Is Back

After a decades-long prohibition absinthe is back. We’ve all heard the stories that go way beyond drunken debauchery. I have no idea of their validity and I’m certainly no student of the history of the Green Fairy. True or not the tales have added to the mystic of the drink and I must admit that I’ve long wanted to try it.

I never bothered with the faux-absinthes that found their way into the US market. I was content to wait until I could find a bottle overseas someday. But now I don’t have to. Two companies, for now, are selling the stuff legally here in the US, Kubler and Lucid. (By the way, is there a more perfect name for an absinthe maker than Lucid?)

But if you’re going to try it you’ll need to know how to prepare it. Like I said, I’ve never had it myself but here’s how the process was described to me. Put about one and a half ounces of absinthe in a six or more ounce glass. Make sure its clear so you can watch it change. Lay a flatish, perforated spoon across the mouth of the glass and place a sugar cube on it. Now dribble about four ounces of cold water over the cube. The water will dissolve the sugar and turn the clear green absinthe to cloudy light green. You should also smell the anise and herbs. Once the sugar is dissolved enjoy!

13 Comments on "Absinthe Is Back"

  1. Ross November 26, 2007 at 10:05 am - Reply

    The new US absinthes that you mention are “thujone free” and according to INDEPENDENT studies real absinthe had about 260mg/l thujone. So is it really absinthe? Probably not.

    The faux absinthes that you mention used Southern Wormwood and not Artemisia absinthium. These new USA -legal absinthes seem to be using chemotypes of the plant.

    Welcome to the land of make believe….

  2. w. arnold November 26, 2007 at 10:23 am - Reply

    November 26, 2007
    RE: Absinthe

    The manufacturers of “new absinthe” claim that they are in compliance with a European Commission ruling that no foodstuff should contain more than 9 parts per million (ppm) of a terpenoid compound called thujone. Perhaps to raise the titillation for the current product, and to increase sales, they now claim that “old absinthe” also had very little thujone in it! Based on the content of essential oils in wormwood, Artemisia absinthium, and Roman wormwood, Artemisia pontica; modern analyses of terpenoids therein; and the amounts of dried herbs actually employed; it has been calculated that a typical 1885 industrial-scale absinthe from Pontalier, France, contained as much as 260 ppm thujone and 90 ppm thujyl alcohol (with similar toxicity), indicating a total equivalent to 350 ppm.

    Supposedly the drink now being promoted also has much reduced levels of several other terpenoids that were characteristic constituents in old absinthe because the current producers have either missed the importance of, or intentionally avoided, a form of steam distillation which was key to the manufacture of old absinthe. Steam distillation greatly affects the composition of the product. In the 19th century process the dried herbs were steeped overnight in 85% alcohol. About one-half volume of water was added prior to heating the pot to begin distillation. Current distillation of alcoholic extracts without this critical addition of water is thus inconsistent with the manufacture of old absinthe. Likewise, it should be noted that the application of fractional distillation with new absinthe is also at odds with published descriptions of the French industrial batchwise process dating from the eighteen hundreds.

    The toxicity of thujone, or any other compound, depends upon both the amount and the time, i.e. how much and how long. There is ample evidence to indicate that high doses of thujone, thujyl alcohol, fenchone (from fennel), and pinocamphone (from hyssop) — constituents in the essential oils of old absinthe and chemically related to camphor — over a short time period will all evoke convulsions and hallucinations in experimental animals. Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge there are no published studies on the medical effects of smaller amounts of thujone, or of chronic exposure to 9 ppm thujone.

    Wilfred Niels Arnold Ph.D.
    Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
    University of Kansas Medical Center
    Kansas City, Kansas 66160 – 7421

  3. bgbryce November 26, 2007 at 12:33 pm - Reply

    Fascinating, thanks for the comments. Sounds like drinkers of the old stuff were really playing with fire! Too bad it’s often difficult to nail something like this down due to lack of proper studies and lousy or secretive record-keeping by the original makers.

  4. w. arnold November 26, 2007 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    The take-home message from bgbryce is true. However, there was nothing “secretive” about the industrial production of absinthe in the 1800’s.
    See for example the fine book by Duplais P., Traite des Liqueurs et de la Distillation des Alcools ou le Liquoriste et le Distillateur Moderns, Versailles, 1885, or the reiteration of that process in: Arnold W.N. Absinthe. Scientific American 260:112-7 (1989).

  5. bgbryce November 26, 2007 at 2:57 pm - Reply

    Corrected again, thanks, W. Somehow I took from your first comment that industrial secrets played a part. Now that I reread it I can’t point to a reference to this so I guess I entirely invented that on my own.

    W, you’ve obviously spent some time thinking about this. I wonder what your position is on what we’re calling “old” absinthe. Bring it back or leave to that chapter of history?

  6. AbsintheMan November 26, 2007 at 3:25 pm - Reply

    Ross said “The faux absinthes that you mention used Southern Wormwood and not Artemisia absinthium.”

    #1 these arent “USA” absinthes. They are both made in Europe so you are wrong there my friend.

    #2 these two absinthes DO use Grand Wormwood and not southern wormwood, so you are once again wrong.

    As an absinthe lover, I should respectfully ask you to stop spreading false rumours. I work for no one but myself, I am not paid by anyone to write this out. You can visit my blog for more information about absinthe if you are unsure, or contact the manufacturers themselves.

    There is undeniable proof that some vintage absinthes had low levels of thujone, whilst others had higher levels.

    The debate rages on, but who will YOU believe? People that spread lies and depend on the high thujone absinthe industry, or the people like Breaux who are not lying and at least trying to get you real absinthe legally.

    It appears quite certain that high thujone levels DO in fact lead to lunacy :)


  7. Shabba November 27, 2007 at 10:04 am - Reply

    I wonder what Dr. Arnold says regarding the vintage absinthe that still exists?

    Those bottles that have been stored in pristine condition since the early 1900′s.

    Actual testing has shown that their thujone levels are very low, some even coming in below current limits.

    I’ve been lucky enough to be able to procure several of these bottles and samples of many others. None have caused hallucinations or any other detrimental effects.

    Dr., are you actually saying that literally MILLIONS of French citizens who drank absinthe on a regular basis were hallucinating and convulsing?

    Also, I noted that your statement was “over a short time period will all evoke convulsions and hallucinations in experimental animals.”

    The studies that I have read show that the levels of thujone that were administered would never be able to be consumed by drinking absinthe. The subject would die several times over of alcohol poisoning before being able to ingest enough thujone to mimic those experiments.

    Were your suppositions of the levels of thujone in Belle Epoque France based on actual tests, or on a theory?

    Bottom line is this: Real absinthe doesn’t make you hallucinate. It doesn’t make you convulse. You don’t drink absinthe to get high. Sorry. I’ve been drinking absinthe of all types for more than a decade and have never experienced any of your claims regarding deliterious effects.

  8. Idetrorce December 15, 2007 at 8:18 am - Reply

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  9. Shabba December 27, 2007 at 7:05 pm - Reply

    what exactly don’t you agree with?

  10. Absinthe July 10, 2008 at 8:43 pm - Reply

    The original Absinthe must be made with thujone, so all absinthe without this ingredient are not very abisnthe…

  11. Mose Quander February 8, 2012 at 2:23 am - Reply

    Thank you for putting the answer on the site, I thought I was the only one to have this problem but now I know I am not alone!

  12. Whitney Tixier March 30, 2012 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    It will be great value to your readers because you make it easy for them

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