What is absinthe? Why was it illegal for so long?
Is today’s absinthe the same as what they drank in the 1800s?
Absinthe is an anise and wormwood flavored distilled spirit, made from aniseed, fennel and wormwood. Absinthe takes its name from the main adjunct flavoring aside from anise, Artemisia absinthium. The common French name for this species is “grande absinthe”.
Absinthe was so wildly popular and well loved, the French wine industry created lies and criminalized absinthe in order to compete…IN FRANCE. Think about that!
I’d like to thank The Wormwood Society for clearly explaining absinthe as follows:
- Most of the absinthes now available in the US are authentic.
- Absinthe is not a drug or poison and it never was.
- Thujone is not a hallucinogen, and it’s not related or similar to THC.
- You can’t make real absinthe at home or in a commercial bar, legally.
- Flaming absinthe has never been an authentic absinthe tradition.
- Authentic absinthe isn’t very bitter. Absinthe really is legal
Authentic, pre-ban style absinthe will have these characteristics:
- Contains Artemisia absinthium wormwood as a primary ingredient.
- Has a main characteristic flavor of aniseed and absinthium wormwood.
- Does not contain sugar or other sweeteners. (it will not bear the term “liqueur” on the label)
- May have a mildly, but not exceptionally bitter taste.
- Colored by infusion of natural herbs, although there are also clear, uncolored types. Does not contain artificial or FD&C colors.
- Other traditional absinthe ingredients include petite wormwood (Artemisia pontica), melissa (Melissa officinalis) and hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis).
No laws have changed, and no ban has been lifted. Absinthe has been technically legal since at least the 1960s, possibly as early as the 1930s. Contrary to claims made by some companies, federal bureaucrats were not pressured into legalizing absinthe, it was merely demonstrated to them that it was already legal. Due to changes in the understanding of these regulatory issues on the part of both the agencies and the producers, genuine absinthe is once again available legally in the US. Here’s why:
The law states that all foods and beverages containing Artemisia species must be thujone-free. However, according to the law, “thujone-free” does not literally mean “zero thujone.” In order to determine thujone content, an official method for thujone analysis was prescribed. Although the information has been published and accessible since the 1960s, prior to 2007 it was not widely known that the threshold of tolerance—the fudge factor—for this method was ten parts per million, about 10 mg/L.
This effectively legalizes most absinthes, since authentic absinthe contains only minute traces of thujone in the first place. The highest thujone levels so far detected in pre-ban samples is 48.3 mg/L, the lowest was “none detected.”
Many pre-ban era absinthes would be legal in the US today by modern government standards. Discovering this was a major breakthrough for absinthe in the US. Most of the laws that impact absinthe in the US are out-dated, convoluted, un-evenly enforced, and misunderstood even by those charged with enforcing them.
Want to learn more? Check out this fantastic Absinthe Documentary.
What is the difference between VERTE and BLANCHE absinthe?
Once distilled, absinthe is a gorgeous, brilliant clear. Because of the anise in absinthe, it turns a milky white with a slight blue haze when when water is added. This is called the louche. Blanche is French for white, thought Absinthe is more widely known as a verte, or green, spirit. Traditional absinthes obtain their green color strictly from the chlorophyll of whole herbs, which is extracted from the plants. After distilling, the absinthe that is produced is clear, and that is the Blanche that we bottle. We then take that Blanche Absinthe and steep it in several herbs, resulting in the gorgeous green color of our spirit.
The blanche will taste slightly different than the verte, and the louche will appear quite different. Why not taste them both yourself and see which you prefer?