Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Wormwood Society re-launch: interview with its founder



Later this month the Wormwood Society, the world's liveliest and most user-friendly absinthe forum, is re-launched. For those of my readers who don't know it, you must check it out (even if it means you spend more time there than here in future!). The crowd who meet up there are highly informed, very receptive to newcomers (they even welcomed me!) and have the liveliest discussions on absinthe (and a few other completely unrelated subjects from time-to-time).

If you've any absinthe question at all, they've probably got the answer (so check the FAQ before you ask the 800+ members the same old question).

I wanted to ask some "IAQ" (infrequently asked ...) and I recently managed to grab a few minutes between louches with the founder of the Wormwood Society, Gwydion Stone, otherwise known as Hiram.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your habit, your family etc?

"I'm 50 years old, married to Trinity, and I call myself a Cincinnati expat living in Seattle. I've been here 19 years.

Two adult children, 30 and 32. My daughter really likes absinthe, but my son doesn't care for it (eew ... licorice!). I worked briefly in the food industry through the late 80's and early 90s cooking in a series of cafés and trattorias. I've considered opening a café, but I decided I'd rather cook at home."

Hiram's love of food was always evident within the "What ya drinking tonight" thread on the Wormwood Society discussion forum, over 9,500 member postings, describing their drinking and eating habits and including many of Hiram's own creations (food). A new Cookbook section has recently been added.

And on the drinking subject ....

"Aside from absinthe I love good whisky. I was a scotch and gin man for years, until I became interested in classic cocktails. I still like scotch, but now it's mostly bourbon and rye. My favorite cocktails are the Sazerac, Ramos Gin Fizz, Theda Bara, Obituary, Gin & Tonic, Dry Martini and a bourbon & ginger ale highball."

It is recommended you don't offer Hiram a vodka martini. I intend to try this when I meet him face-to-face and will keep readers informed!

Could you give a short history of the Wormwood Society? Why did you start it? When?

"The Society was first announced on January 6th, 2004. We had our first event just over three years ago (March 13, 2004). The online forum started later that year."

Why did you start the Wormwood Society?

"The reason I founded The Wormwood Society is simple: I wanted to be able to have absinthe parties and associate with others who have an appreciation for absinthe, both experienced and novice alike. It was a purely selfish gesture, really. It also has the added benefit of being instrumental in spreading absinthe culture and giving people an opportunity to explore their interest in this unique beverage further than they might do on their own."

And this is from the current "mission statement":

"The Wormwood Society started as a casual, local (Seattle) absinthe club. As interest grew, and after many requests, the doors of the previously private discussion forum were opened to an international audience. Soon it became apparent that there was a need for an organization with an independent voice which could help educate consumers, guide them in their absinthe choices and help them avoid unscrupulous profiteers in a new industry."

From Gwydion's Bio:

Gwydion Stone, aka "Hiram"



Gwydion has long been intrigued by arcane and obscure topics, from alchemy to freemasonry, from gnosticism to herbalism. It was only natural that when he encountered this intriguing green spirit he should try to get to the bottom of its romance, allure and mystique. He soon learned that most information available was misleading and inaccurate. This prompted his journey toward discovering the truth behind the "Green Fairy" and gaining a deeper understanding of what absinthe was, and wasn't.

Featured in radio and TV segments, newspaper and magazine articles, and included among Imbibe magazine's "Imbibe15" innovators of the drinks world, Hiram is constantly working at dispelling the myths and misconceptions surrounding this fascinating drink. He hopes to help bring absinthe back to its rightful place in cocktail culture as a traditional ingredient in classic cocktails as well as a drink in its own right.

That's an aim I fully endorse: I am currently reading The Savoy Cocktail Book (a re-print of the 1930's classic) which contains over 100 different cocktails containing absinthe. Just think how today's mixologists in the USA will thrive given easier access to absinthe!

So what makes the Wormwood Society different from other absinthe forums?

"Well, the Wormwood Society is an actual organization, intended to bring people together at real-life events, So in that respect, Wormwood Society isn't just a forum, it's an organization with a forum.

Aside from that, the Wormwood Society has always been geared toward both novices and experts, much to the exasperation of some of the less patient veterans! It's always been my aim to make absinthe knowledge and the absinthe culture accessible to anyone who's sincerely interested, giving novices a place to learn and experts a place to share. Some online absinthe venues have become somewhat insular and protective of their boundaries—not that there's anything wrong with that—and are geared more toward being a haven for connoisseurs and insiders. There are only a handful of worthwhile absinthe forums on the web and each serves its own purpose and occupies its own particular niche.

Many, many more online groups are lacking in experienced guidance and often seem not to know just how much information is already out there. Unfortunately some of these groups do more harm than good to absinthe's reputation, as they perpetuate the same old myths about absinthe. A lot of those folks simply use absinthe as a social accessory. These are mostly the "I don't drink it for the flavor, I drink it for the effects" crowd."



Why are you re-launching and what will be different it in future?

"The forum has gotten a much-needed facelift and has had one or two new areas added, but otherwise it'll stay pretty much the same. There is a new forum for cocktail-oriented discussion, an area which I think has been very sadly neglected in the absinthe world so far. There will also be new sections for discussion of other topics which seem to frequently overlap absinthe culture: cooking, cigars, other liquors, beers, etc.

The Wormwood Society, as an American organization, is uniquely situated to bridge the gap between the Cocktail Revival, already well under way, and the Absinthe Renaissance which is still quite embryonic. Part of the way we're doing this is by participating in Tales of the Cocktail, an annual event produced by the New Orleans Cultural and Culinary Preservation Society. This gives us a chance to work with food and drink professionals all along the spectrum of the industry from bartenders and chefs to liquor industry executives. Getting the word out to these people about absinthe can have an enormous impact on its perception by the public.

The biggest change is to the main site. WormwoodSociety.org has been an HTML-only site from the beginning, but it's gotten to be unwieldy that way, and I found myself falling behind in keeping things up to date, mostly because it was such a pain in the ass.

I've moved to an entirely database-driven site, which was a huge challenge, because I'm not a programmer of any sort. It's been a huge job converting the whole site, and I'm glad it's almost done.

The most exciting thing for me about the new site is the Absinthe Review System. Readers can now post their own reviews and absinthe scores using the online scoring utility. The component uses Wormwood Society absinthe scoring system, which is based on the UC Davis wine scoring system. I started working on a system back in early 2004, but put it on a back burner. A while back, Robert "DrinkBoy" Hess rekindled my interest in the idea and I let him run with it. It's an easy and simple system anyone can use and will actually be a learning tool for those new to absinthe."

What can you tell me about your current members: how many are there, how many are active, what do you know about them?

"Of course people come and go, but we currently have around 800 members, about half of which have been active at some point with the rest just 'lurking,' and an active core group of around 70 members. Our active member ratio is pretty good.

Most of us are in the US, but we have members all over the world; the internet is handy that way. Diversity has been important to me from the beginning since I have a pretty diverse background myself. You name it we have it: ages from 21 to upwards of 60; all sexual/gender orientations; many ethnicities and religions, conservatives, liberals, old hippies, young rappers, and all points on the economic spectrum. Well, to be fair, not all points—you pretty much need to have a computer."

In the 21st Century, many people seem to live exclusively on the internet: how many of your members have you met?

"Oh, jeez. I remember at one point mentioning that I'd met 30% of them. But I think that was when there were only 150 or so. As of right now I've met 185 of our members, and I expect to be meeting a few more in the coming months, as many as a dozen or so."

How do you see the future of absinthe? Given the aims of the Society, you must be delighted at the news on Lucid and Kubler.

"A year or so ago I said I thought legalization would be within the next five years. Now I'm really excited. I really hope this flies."



A banner developed for the Society re-launch, with a slogan that is now not needed!

"When it comes to bureaucracy, 'public safety' is no match for economics. If there's revenue to be had, you can bet the government agencies will acknowledge what we've known for years: absinthe isn't any more harmful than gin and there's no reason it shouldn't be available on the US market."

And finally some real crystal ball gazing. How do you see the market evolving? High end brands or low end? Maybe market polarisation both ways?

"I think the market will stay pretty much the way it is, only bigger. The US has strict labeling and marketing laws about alcohol, so many of the Eastern European distributors will have to adjust their marketing vectors substantially.

I do think the up-market space will expand quite a bit. But that will happen globally anyway. As good as the current top shelf absinthes are right now, they're only going to keep getting better, with more and more new brands appearing all the time. What a wonderful thing to look forward to!"

Thanks, Hiram, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the site develops!

UPDATE: July 27th: The site has been re-launched and looks great. Well done to all concerned!

4 comments:

Alan said...

Comment from Ari:

"One correction, as far as I know (since the people who have made the big statements are keeping the actual information secret) legalization is still quite needed. The most recent twist is just a loophole in red-tape. A number of things still need to be changed, like the actual regulations and perhaps even a good legal definition of absinthe (hopefully all of that is coming in the future).

The funny thing is that while the US appears behind the times in absinthe regulations, we are sitting at the right point in the revival to get it right from the beginning. Unlike europe which was/is swamped with fake products."

The Fox said...

Ok, as a connaisseur of the Two Buck Chuck, I have to admit one thing:

Aside from everything else, a good rating system is needed for absinthe. And from the interview that's what struck me the most--a standards based rating system!

I've ingested a lot (note: A LOT) of bad absinthe in my quest and even knowing what I was going into would have at least gotten me ready for the impending doom, so to speak. Mind you, the quest began before I ran into the Wormwood Society, but, having found the site, this information is honing my taste buds and helping me immensely. Keep up the good work guys! And awesome interview Alan!

becky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
becky said...

A debate unnecessary.

Just because the liquor industry went down due to rise of Absinthe, should ban it. Well yes of course they would. But does this change the attitude of those people who love the drink.
I've been buying absinthe by whatever way I can, just for the love of the drink.

My group moves around looking for these different versions and rituals.

And the response we see from people is great. We don't care what people on those high places think, because for us we just need what we like and we get it.

And sure internet is a great source, just click and have a bottle at home in some weeks time.
I've been to some of them like
www.originalabsinthe.com.

absinthe24.net.


buy absinthe
They do sell some good stuff.

Just need to work on their spellings or it's French I think.