Did you ever wonder why La Clandestine bears that name? If so, this video makes it quite clear. It was filmed for the Thirsty Traveler in Switzerland in 2004 (when many of today's absinthes had not even been conceived), while La Clandestine was still illegal and while Claude-Alain was distilling in the laundry room in his house! Kevin, thanks for the film.
But, now, let's go back to the very beginning ...
Switzerland was the birthplace of absinthe at the end of the 18th century, and, over the years, the Val-de-Travers region was famous for producing some of the best absinthes. Some French absinthes even used the designation "suisse" to denote the highest quality absinthe.
The area of the Val-de-Travers and around the nearby French town of Pontarlier is reputed to have the best conditions for growing wormwood and some of the other plants used to distill absinthe: the combination of topography, soil and climate are ideal, in much the same way as the areas around Cognac and Champagne in France are ideal for the grapes used in those drinks.
The popularity of absinthe in late nineteenth century France and other countries took substantial sales from the French wine companies whose business had already been badly affected by the phylloxera outbreak. Absinthe was so popular that the temperance movement and wine makers characterized absinthe as dangerous and addictive. In fact, the most famous brands of absinthe were produced to exacting quality control standards and were certainly not dangerous!
After the 1910 ban of absinthe in Switzerland (that subsequently spread to many other countries), the distillation of absinthe moved underground. Distillers produced clear absinthes, allegedly in part to fool the Customs officers that they were really vodka: these absinthes turned a milky white when water was added, and the clear blue Swiss skies were apparently reflected in the absinthe. This led to the nicknames of "blanches" or "bleues" to describe fine Swiss absinthes, while the term "Clandestine" absinthe was also used.
One of the more famous distillers, Claude-Alain Bugnon, began distillation at home in 2000, fighting for space in the laundry and kitchen with his wife (both laundry and kitchen are shown in the video at the top)! As legalisation of absinthe spread throughout Europe, he became one of the first Swiss distillers to be granted a licence to distill legally on March 1st 2005. Every batch remains hand-crafted, and every bottle is still hand-filled. His most famous absinthe label depicts a lady in blue whispering "Charlotte," the name of his friend's aunt. Charlotte was the inventor of the absinthe's 1935 recipe.
La Clandestine is now sold in fifteen countries globally, from USA and Canada to Asia and Australia. If you cannot find a local source, Claude-Alain's La Clandestine absinthe is also one of a carefully selected range of fine Swiss absinthes (and an even smaller range of French absinthes) available in Europe through his internet boutique, absinthe-suisse.com.
His Recette Marianne, launched primarily for the French market, has won the Golden Spoon four times at the Pontarlier Absinthiades which are, according to some, absinthe's Oscars.
More about the 2009 Absinthiades in which Claude-Alain's absinthes were the top rated products in both verte (green) and blanche (clear) sectors.
La Clandestine has long been a favourite of many absinthe lovers, so the opportunity to buy directly in the USA, Canada, Japan and elsewhere will be an attractive option for many. And those looking for their first real absinthe will be delighted to sample a fine drink from the birthplace of absinthe with a heritage and history that is unique in today's absinthe world. The fuller story of La Clandestine can be found on the brand website, including more "clandestine" videos!