Sunday, 23 December 2007

Real Absinthe: 2007 Review & 2008 forecast

To say that 2007 has been an interesting year for real absinthe would be something of an understatement.

2007 was the year that real absinthe returned to USA bars and shops for the first time in nearly a century. First Lucid from France, and then Kübler from Switzerland.

And more followed. The month before Christmas saw American-made absinthe arrive in San Francisco and locally-distilled absinthe hitting the Canadian market too!

St. George Spirits Absinthe Verte hit the headlines at the end of the year with the press featuring pictures outside the San Francisco distillery.

This photo shows the "St. George Tactical Alcohol Consumption Squad" hard at work!

And yet when 2006 moved over to allow 2007 in, there was no sign that absinthe would become as freely available in the USA as it is now.

Absinthe lovers at the main absinthe forums had enjoyed long debates about La Fée X.S.; they had complained about the £/$ exchange rate, the San Francisco Absinthe Party was raided, and then on January 3rd, the New York Times prophetically ran an article entitled Trying to clear absinthe's reputation.

The Real Absinthe Blog started operations on January 14th, 2007, followed 12 days later by the Czech Absinthe blog. A growing number of bloggers chronicled developments throughout 2007: by December 2007 there were well over 20 regular absinthe blogs offering their writers' perspective on the absinthe business, absinthe events on several continents, with the occasional foray into absinthe's cloudy - one could call it louched - history.

February saw the story of the USB Absinthe Spoon.

Unfortunately this seems to have been a hoax, but we all enjoyed reading about it.

On March 1st, the second anniversary of absinthe going legal in Switzerland, the San Francisco absinthe party organiser heard that no charges were to be made against him (he eventually got his absinthe back!).

And on April 29th, the New York Times broke the Lucid story. The men behind Lucid, Ted Breaux and Jared Gurfein, did not reveal too many details at that stage about Lucid, and this may have been responsible for some of the more ridiculous speculation as to whether it was real absinthe, what the thujone content was, etc. Ultimately the creators of Lucid had the last laugh as it became clear to most neutrals that Lucid was very real with a thujone level that may have counted as zero as far as the US authorities are concerned, BUT that this allows a level of up to 10 ppm of thujone ... exactly the same as any real absinthe in Europe.

In May, the forums and blogs were busy debating Lucid, with the Czech "absinthe" blog beginning its long misinformation campaign on the brand and on Ted Breaux.

June saw the Boveresse absinthe festival in Switzerland.

Two of absinthe's most famous distillers (Ted Breaux and Claude-Alain Bugnon) are shown at the event where the latter's Angélique was launched.

I enjoyed July but not for England's terrible weather! This was the month where I published my interviews with Hiram of the Wormwood Society and Louched Liver of the Louched Lounge. More significantly it was the month of Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, an event which saw many of America's absinthe lovers get together for work and for play.

August and September were superficially much quieter, but behind the scenes absinthe distillers were preparing for new events in the USA, and absinthe consumers - especially in the USA - could hardly begin to believe what was happening with news of more launches starting to spread.

The October Absinthiades saw Claude-Alain Bugnon winning his third consecutive Golden Spoon, with La Fée X.S. also winning gold and silver.

November saw the launch of Kübler in the USA after a lengthy legal process in which the product itself was cleared long before Lucid, but in which the Swiss decided to launch only when they had full agreement for the label they wanted with its clear "absinthe" nomenclature.

And so to December, with the St. George launch, rumours of more absinthes coming to the USA, and, in two events that saw the news come full circle, the revelation of La Fée's new 38% NV, and Paul Nathan's latest, legal (?) absinthe party.


Before coming onto my forecasts for 2008, I want to make some awards to those people who made their mark on the absinthe world in 2007.

The Lion's Den Award

This award is for utmost bravery in going to meet the enemy and there are three potential candidates in 2007: Ted Breaux for braving the censorious Czechs, Elliot Novak for coming to discuss the new Oliva (Czech) Absinthe at Fée Verte, and finally to Tom Hill for coming to defend his family's absinth at the Wormwood Society. Personally I feel that Tom's initial willingness to discuss the issues in a relatively alien language should win this award.

The Kofi Annan award for diplomacy (or should that now be the Ban Ki-moon award)

This award goes to Oxygénée for trying to engage with those writing on L'Absinthe Rend Fou, and for his proposal that non-French/Swiss styles of absinthe could use the Bohemian designation.

The Absinthe Writer of the Year

Ultimately there can only be one winner of this: for sheer volume of materials, all written by a person/people who professes/profess no commercial link to absinth(e), but who nevertheless has time to participate on countless blogs (including his/her own), on Wikipedia, Tribe, etc etc. The winner is .... Anonymous, otherwise known as Absintheur, DrAbsinthe, Dr. Sam, Dogtanian, RedSalmon etc. All that is publicly known about this person is that he accesses the internet in the Czech Republic ....

Absinthe Launch of the Year

There are many candidates including Belle Amie from Vert d'Absinthe, Roquette 1797 from Archive Spirits, and Claude-Alain Bugnon's Angélique.

While opinions on the tastes of these - and others - may be quite subjective, the sheer historical significance of Lucid Absinthe Supérieure makes this the clear winner in this category.

Absinthe Photo of the Year

And so we return to the defining theme of the year in which real absinthe finally returned to the USA. This is best illustrated by the queue of those waiting to buy the new absinthe from St. George Spirits:-


Reviewing the past is relatively easy; predicting the future (even with a little inside knowledge) is a lot more difficult.

My main predictions for absinthe in 2008 are as follows:-

1. By December 2008, there will be at least 8 - 10 absinthes freely available in the USA. They will include more absinthes from France, Switzerland, the USA and the first Czech absinth to launch officially in the USA.

2. At least one of the big multi-national companies, probably Pernod-Ricard, will start to show more significant interest in absinthe. Pernod Absinthe is becoming slightly more prominent within Pernod's portfolio in some countries and the US interest in absinthe will have been noted. And if a second multi-national starts to get interested, then anything could happen!

3. One or two unlikely alliances between some of the main players will start to be seen. Consolidation is happening throughout the drinks business and absinthe will follow this trend.

4. Prices will fall, whether on the internet or in the retailers selling absinthe around the world. Some of this will come from greater production efficiency in the business and from greater competition; some will come from specification changes with suppliers reducing the alcohol strength as has been observed in at least one key market (the UK) in recent months.

5. More absinthe blogs will start (and many will wither); membership of the absinthe forums will continue to grow, and many of the longer-established members will tire of the inability of newcomers to read the FAQ's (that's an easy prediction)! However at the Louched Lounge, change will be less obvious!


To those readers who stumbled across me while searching "real absinthe" in 2007, I hope you have found what you were looking for. To those readers who stumbled across me while searching for "absinthe effects" and "absinthe hallucinations," I hope you have found something better than you were looking for.

Santé et bonne année!

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Censorship is still alive in the Czech Republic

I don't like to give them a link, but I have to refer today to the Czech "absinth" blog.

Having written eight negative articles about Lucid absinthe in the last few months, the blog authors finally persuaded Ted Breaux, the distiller of Jade Absinthes and of Lucid, to join a debate on the blog.

Now frequent visitors to the Czech blog are well aware that posts disappear, which the blog admin blames on the system. I have had responses edited.

This time, the blog admin posted one of Ted Breaux's answers, and soon afterwards it disappeared. I had saved a copy of Ted's answer, so it was clear to me that this was blatant censorship. I had thought that censorship had died in the Czech Republic, but absintheur, our "host" at the Czech "absinth" blog, seems to be doing his best to keep it going!

Ted Breaux's deleted post follows below. The first part is shown on the screen grab: click on it to see the details.


I appreciate your professionalism and candor.

The comments I made 7+ years ago concerning thujone and vintage absinthe were based upon *assumptions*. Unfortuntately, I *assumed* those who published such figures did so from actual analysis. When the results of my first actual analyses proved to be in complete disagreement with what had been published up to that time, I contacted the researchers (Arnold, etc.) to discuss. Upon doing so, it became clear that their figures were dependent upon essential oil studies and not actual analyses of finished spirits, old or new. At that time, I realized that I was the first to analyze actual spirit samples, and I realized that everything I had assumed, AND everything they had published prior to that point was without actual proof. At first, I was hesitant to contradict myself without further investigation. When other researchers followed suit and demonstrated results similar to mine, I became more convinced that the old estimations did not consider many details that were not apparent from paper research. These details would eventually clarify themselves to me, but not until I actually had a hand on real-world distillation, from cultivation of herbs through a finished distilled product – something the prior research has never considered nor conducted.

Again, no 'shop' was ever mobilized in Thailand. An associate there offered a quick, low-cost, low risk solution toward getting production initiated in a country where there was no public perception of absinthe, good or bad. This remained a possibility during a time when it was unclear how absinthe would be received by regulators and the public in France.

I created Lucid for the purpose of introducing the U.S. to something that was handcrafted, made true to antique methods, using correct materials and original equipment, free of industrial adulterants, artificial dyes, etc. It had to be possible to produce it in sufficient quantity to secure nationwide distribution (a real challenge), and the price point requirements determined that it should be a mid-level offering. It remains an ongoing challenge, and the unfavorable exchange rate makes things even more difficult.

John Q. Epoch:

Like any genuine absinthe, Lucid contains a trace of thujone. Some absinthes contain a little more, some a little less. I can't give you an exact figure for Lucid, as it varies a little from batch to batch. It tests consistently <10 mg/l, which satisfies the 'thujone-free' requirement of the U.S. government. Nevertheless, we employ as much absinthium in its crafting as one finds in any of the best protocols in the old treatises. Lucid's construction involves NO alteration of the details of the traditional methods, and no reduction in the quantity of materials used.


Either I wasn't entirely clear in my previous account, or you misread it. Allow me to clarify.

I happened to have a telephone conversation with Dr. Arnold just before I was notified of the Time blurb. It became clear to both of us in our conversation that he had been under the impression that we were not using traditional absinthe distillation methods (e.g. Duplais, Brevans, Fritsch, etc.), primarily because a journalistic account of my distillation activities in an older article omitted certain details. Upon his expressing the nature of his impressions from that article, I corrected and clarified them. We discussed other points of misunderstanding as well, which I went to great lengths to correct and clarify. I sought nothing else from the conversation. It isn't the first conversation we've shared over the years, and it won't be the last.

Let's refer to the BMJ article reference by the TIME journalist. In that article, we find the following statement:

"The thujone content of old absinthe was about 0.26 g/l (260 ppm)8 and 350 ppm when the thujyl alcohol from the wormwoods is included.3"

8 – References Duplais – a 19th century treatise.
3 – Arnold references himself

If we apply simple logic:
This statement doesn't say, "our best estimates imply that . . . ", and it doesn't say, "we have reason to believe that . . . ", and it doesn't say, "barring any unforeseen details that may influence our estimations . . . " It says, "the thujone content of old absinthe WAS . . . "

This statement was made as an absolute, without any 'safety valve', and was not based upon actual testing of the very substance to which it referred (old absinthe). Clearly one can see the potential precariousness of this statement. We ALL assumed it to be correct (as did I for many years), but actual testing revealed something very different, and continues to do so.

As for Jad Adams, AFAIK, he is a journalist, not a scientific researcher. I know of no scientific research/analysis undertaken on his part. I don't recall seeing anything in his writings that reflect the revelations of new research, possibly because much of what he wrote (IIRC) was done *before* the latest research.

I cannot stress how important it is to realize that anyone who has pubished writings and theories that are heavily dependent upon thujone for sensationalism would have reason to NOT WANT to accept all the latest revelations, and some will undoubtedly refute that which contradicts their beliefs beyond a reasonable point. This is simply human nature. As for the rest of us, we had our beliefs, we tested our beliefs, we admitted our beliefs were wrong, we attempted to resolve the facts that make the truth what it is, we adapted our thinking to accommodate the truth and moved on.

And on that note, I can tell you there is more coming . . .


(1) I checked two original samples of B-65 for glycyrrhizinic residues some years ago, with interesting results The analytical data from my original samples concurs precisely with the written protocol (from an original distiller's notes) that came to me from Switzerland some time later.

(2) The wine spirits I use are indeed expensive and in short supply, but I wanted something distilled using the appropriate varietals and to my exacting standards in the interest of being as historically correct as possible. You can take comfort in the fact that the spirits I use exhibit a methanol content that is well within the contemporary health standards."

Why would this post be censored? Maybe because it shows the blog's eight attacks on Lucid were misfounded?

I doubt that the debate at the Czech blog will progress now, so for further information, read the coverage on the Wormwood Society.