Absinthe is historically described as a distilled, highly alcoholic (45%74% ABV) beverage. It is an anise-flavored spirit derived from herbs, including the flowers and leaves of the herb Artemisia absinthium, commonly referred to as '' grande wormwood '' . Absinthe traditionally has a natural green color but can also be colorless. It is commonly referred to in historical literature as '' la fée verte '' (the Green Fairy).
Although it is sometimes mistakenly called a liqueur, absinthe was not bottled with added sugar and is therefore classified as a spirit. Absinthe is unusual among spirits in that it is bottled at a very high proof but is normally diluted with water when consumed.
Absinthe originated in the canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. It achieved great popularity as an alcoholic drink in late 19th- and early 20th-century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers. Due in part to its association with bohemian culture, absinthe was opposed by social conservatives and prohibitionists. Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Amedeo Modigliani, Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Aleister Crowley, and Alfred Jarry were all notorious 'bad men' of that day who were (or were thought to be) devotees of the Green Fairy.
Absinthe was portrayed as a dangerously addictive psychoactive drug. The chemical thujone, present in small quantities, was singled out and blamed for its alleged harmful effects. By 1915, absinthe had been banned in the United States and in most European countries except the United Kingdom, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Denmark and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although absinthe was vilified, no evidence has shown it to be any more dangerous than ordinary spirits. Its psychoactive properties, apart from those of alcohol, have been much exaggerated.
A revival of absinthe began in the 1990s, when countries in the European Union began to reauthorize its manufacture and sale. As of February 2008, nearly 200 brands of absinthe were being produced in a dozen countries, most notably in France, Switzerland, Spain, and the Czech Republic. Commercial distillation of absinthe in the United States resumed in 2007.
The French word absinthe can refer either to the alcoholic beverage or, less commonly, to the actual wormwood plant (grande absinthe being Artemisia absinthium, and petite absinthe being Artemisia pontica). The Latin name artemisia comes from Artemis, the ancient Greek goddess of the hunt. Absinthe is derived from the Latin absinthium.
The use of Artemisia absinthium in a drink is attested in Lucretius De Rerum Natura (I 936950), where Lucretius indicates that a drink containing wormwood is given as medicine to children in a cup with honey on the brim to make it drinkable. This was a metaphor for the presentation of complex ideas in poetic form.
Some claim that the word means undrinkable in Greek, but it may instead be linked to the Persian root spand or aspand, or the variant esfand, which meant Peganum harmala, also called Syrian Rue although it is not actually a variety of rue, another famously bitter herb.
That Artemisia absinthium was commonly burned as a protective offering may suggest that its origins lie in the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European root *spend, meaning to perform a ritual or make an offering. Whether the word was a borrowing from Persian into Greek, or from a common ancestor of both, is unclear.
The precise origin of absinthe is unclear. The medical use of wormwood dates back to ancient Egypt and is mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus, circa 1550 BC. Wormwood extracts and wine-soaked wormwood leaves were used as remedies by the ancient Greeks. Moreover, there is evidence of the existence of a wormwood-flavored wine, absinthites oinos, in ancient Greece.
The first clear evidence of absinthe in the modern sense of a distilled spirit containing green anise and fennel, however, dates to the 18th century. According to popular legend, absinthe began as an all-purpose patent remedy created by Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor living in Couvet, Switzerland, around 1792 (the exact date varies by account). Ordinaires recipe was passed on to the Henriod sisters of Couvet, who sold absinthe as a medicinal elixir. By other accounts, the Henriod sisters may have been making the elixir before Ordinaires arrival. In either case, a certain Major Dubied acquired the formula from the sisters and in 1797, with his son Marcellin and son-in-law Henry-Louis Pernod, opened the first absinthe distillery, Dubied Père et Fils, in Couvet. In 1805 they built a second distillery in Pontarlier, France, under the new company name Maison Pernod Fils. Pernod Fils remained one of the most popular brand of absinthe up until the ban of the drink in France in 1915.
Absinthes popularity grew steadily through the 1840s, when absinthe was given to French troops as a malaria treatment. When the troops returned home, they brought their taste for absinthe with them. It became so popular in bars, bistros, cafés, and cabarets that, by the 1860s, the hour of 5 p.m. was called lheure verte (the green hour). Absinthe was favored by all social classes, from the wealthy bourgeoisie to poor artists and ordinary working-class people.
By the 1880s, mass production had caused the price of absinthe to drop sharply. By 1910, the French were drinking 36 million liters of absinthe per year, which contrasts against their consumption of almost 5 billion liters of wine.
Spurred by the temperance movement and the winemakers associations, absinthe was publicly associated with violent crimes and social disorder.
A critic said that: Absinthe makes you crazy and criminal, provokes epilepsy and tuberculosis, and has killed thousands of French people. It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant, it disorganizes and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country.
Edgar Degas 1876 painting LAbsinthe, which can be seen at the Musée dOrsay, epitomized the popular view of absinthe addicts as sodden and benumbed. Although Émile Zola mentioned absinthe only once by name, he described its effects in his novel LAssommoir:
Boche had known a joiner who had stripped himself stark naked in the rue Saint-Martin and died doing the polka he was an absinthe-drinker.
In 1905, it was reported that Jean Lanfray murdered his family and tried to kill himself after drinking absinthe. The fact that Lanfray was an alcoholic who had consumed much more than his usual two glasses of absinthe in the morning, was overlooked; the murders were blamed solely on absinthe. The murders were the last straw, and a petition to ban absinthe in Switzerland was subsequently signed by more than 82,000 people. The prohibition of absinthe was then written into the Swiss constitution in 1907.
In 1906, Belgium and Brazil banned the sale and distribution of absinthe, although they were not the first. Absinthe had been banned as early as 1898 in the colony of the Congo Free State. The Netherlands banned absinthe in 1909; the United States banned it in 1912, and France in 1915.
The prohibition of absinthe in France led to increased popularity of pastis (and of ouzo, to a lesser extent), which are anise-flavored spirits that do not contain wormwood. The Pernod brand resumed production at the Banus distillery in Catalonia, Spain, where absinthe was still legal, but slow sales in the 1960s eventually caused them to shut it down.
In Switzerland, the ban drove absinthe underground. Clandestine home distillers produced absinthe after the ban, focusing on la Bleue, which was easier to conceal from the authorities.
Many countries never banned absinthe, notably Britain, where it had not been as popular as in continental Europe.
La Fée Absinthe, released in 2000, was the first brand labeled absinthe distilled and bottled in France since the 1915 ban, initially for export from France, but now one of roughly 50 French-produced absinthes available in France. This has resulted in the re-emergence of French absinthes, which now must be labeled as spiritueux aux plantes d'absinthe, absinthes distillées or equivalent. Absinthes marketed openly in other countries must be relabeled to meet these guidelines to be sold legally in France. As the 1915 law regulates only the sale of absinthe in France but not its production, many manufacturers also produce variants destined for export which are plainly labeled absinthe.