This posting is inspired by yet another newcomer to absinthe asking on a forum "what is real absinthe," and an old hand there saying "Go google it." While Google, Yahoo or other search engines may work in other categories, they don't work so well for "real absinthe." Here are some of the top results and some comments:
Absinth.com: Their main product is Logan Fils which sells for $209.90 and is labelled as having a Swiss recipe but is apparently made in the Czech Republic. I haven't had to taste this yet but here is one review:
Overall impression: 1/10
My head hurts... I'm going to go eat some crackers now as my tongue is currently yelling obscenities at me.
Nate scores Logan Fils 15 out of 100
Reading further, it appears that I run the risk of being sued if I use a picture of Logan Fils without using nice editorial!
Real absinthe? As the review suggests that it doesn't louche, then it would appear not to contain anise, so, according to the old manuals for making absinthe, it should not be called absinthe.
Greenfairy.org. Now here's a dilemma: a site selling something that looks like real absinthe (Oliva from the Czech Republic) alongside others that aren't: The Green Fairy (highest thujone ever) and Fruko Schulz. The site FAQ says:
Is your absinthe "real" absinthe?
A. The Absinthe we sell is not only genuine absinthe, but the best of all the genuine absinthe available.
Sorry: not true. A lot of what is sold on that site is simply not real absinthe. No anise, not absinthe.
Bullz-Eye: One of many sites that acts as a front for King of Spirits and King of Spirits Gold: one of the most notorious products in the eyes of the absinthe community. Here's what Wikipedia says about such products:
"There are a few Czech products that claim to have levels of thujone, which would make them illegal to sell in Europe, as well as the rest of the world. Some of the most expensive Czech products go to the extent of macerating wormwood in the bottle quite similar to an absinthe kit. There is no historical basis for a high thujone level which in fact lends an overwhelming bitterness. Absinthe connoisseurs consider these drinks to be overpriced marketing gimmicks with no historical relationship to real absinthe." Read the Fee Verte article for further information.
On the positive side, there are some results such as ReasonOnline which gets the facts right, links to reputable absinthe vendors such as absintheonline.com, and to other good websites such as Markus Hartsmar's absinthe.se. Yahoo has my blog as a Top 10 result for "real absinthe" too, so the search engines don't get it all wrong!
So back to the original question: what is real absinthe? Look at the old nineteenth century texts for a direct answer. Real absinthe should contain the so-called holy trinity of wormwood, anise and fennel as well as other plants. The best real absinthes will be distilled with no artificial colourings added, albeit other absinthes which don't meet that criteria could still be considered real (just not as good). On a side note (for a later article) only Switzerland has laws insisting that absinthe made and/or sold in Switzerland is distilled and that it has no artificial colourings: the French do not have such a law in place.
If that is too complicated, then stick to the vendors recommended by the Wormwood Society and you won't go wrong.