Friday, 1 August 2008

Swiss Absinthe sent through mail is impounded!

Over the last decade, the growing American interest in absinthe has led to the formation and development of several internet businesses who ship from Europe to the USA (as well as elsewhere) by courier. Or, as they are known with affection within the absinthe community, by the flying monkeys.

With new absinthe brands coming into the USA legally every week or so, more Americans are likely to buy locally, or from US-based retailers such as DrinkUp New York, and there will certainly be an impact on the European absinthe internet retailers.

Maybe they will take heart from knowing that while some things evolve, others never change. I loved this story from the New York Times of August 13th, 1881.

Absinthe sent by mail from Switzerland to the USA in 1881? An early precursor of La Clandestine?

I love the last sentence:

"The law provides that no liquids or fluids shall be sent through the United States mails, consequently the samples will be forwarded to Washington."

James Garfield, twentieth President of the USA, was assassinated less than six weeks later: history doesn't record whether he had an opportunity to try these "samples" before he met his fate.


The Absinthe Review Network said...

"The law provides that no liquids or fluids shall be sent through the United States mails, consequently the samples will be forwarded to Washington."

*devilishy handsome grin*

Anonymous said...

Clandestine? Has the formula / wormwood content been changed for the US market?

You once said that Clandestine was >10ppm thujone. I know the figure but will not publish it as we all know you are shy about the subject.

Accepting your proposition that thujone does not matter -- please answer the above question with a YES or a NO.

Alan said...

No change to the recipe.

See comments on thujone etc in the FAQ on the new La Clandestine brand site.

I am not at all shy about the thujone subject: it's just not relevant. Except for those who can't sell on product quality.

"If someone can only enjoy a champagne because it has more bubbles, then that's their choice.

If someone can only enjoy an absinthe because it has more thujone, then that's their choice. Unfortunately they will be missing out on one of the most wonderfully complex drinks known to man ..."

Anonymous said...

Thank you for replying.

"it's just not relevant"

The issue of thujone is relevant to the US Govt. That is what we are discussing here and that alone in reference to a product called La Clandestine. Let us stick to the point:

1. According to the FDA, alcoholic beverages must be thujone-free pursuant to 21 CFR 172.510 - this means they MUST register zero even though a margin of error will allow a zero reading when thujone is present at <10ppm.

2. The product known as La Clandestine and sold by you had >10ppm thujone. This is not disputed.

3. You claim La Clandestine is made using a recipe from 1935 written by one Charlotte Vaucher. Ms Vaucher must have prescribed the amount of Artemisia absinthium used.

Therefore either (a) the recipe WAS changed.... OR (b) Bugnon is using a modified non-thujone bearing strain of Artemisia absinthium. OR (c) Bugnon uses post production chemical extraction

to comply with 21 CFR 172.510. The most sensible route is to lower the Artemisia absinthium content.

So which of the three is it? Easy question to answer a,b, or c!

There is another interesting fact to be found in the dry pages of US laws relating to alcoholic beverages, but more on that when you have answered the multiple choice question.

Stick to the point under discussion and do not obfusticate about bubbles and so on please.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I had wondered about that too. But then I read this on MySpace.

"I think there's probably significantly more benefit to topping the limit off at 10ppm rather than letting it go to 35ppm (although that also may happen sooner or later). Something Ted said about Nouvelle-Orleans got me thinking.

See, we were all wondering how it was that NO got approved for sale here, since it was tested to have around 20ppm thujone (roughly) and has to be sold as an "amer" in Europe. We figured it had to be reformulated. He said it has not, but that he has had to have a tighter handle ..s and be more exacting in order to meet regulations. I am assuming that this is not about bringing the level of thujone in NO down, but keeping it down. Different harvests of wormwood, different amounts of time spent drying the wormwood, different cutoff times during distillation, and a number of other things affect the amount of thujone that will get into the final drink. The amount tested in one bottle of NO is probably not representative of all bottles, with thujone levels going higher and lower. But if it hasn't been topping out at over 35ppm, there's been no reason to tightly control these factors for European sales and the thujone level has probably not been consistent. Now care has to be taken to do everything to a very specific standard to keep the levels pretty much the same and below 10ppm.

This may be a good thing from a taste standpoint, as well. There may be much more consistency between batches. The Jades have not been the most consistent absinthes on the market."

Maybe that explains it.

Brian Robinson said...

Sigh. Here we go again. Good to see you're still lurking, Absintheur or Tom Boyd, or Kyle, or Drabsinthe, or whichever one you are.

Given the fact that there has been many many studies (not to mention dozens of personal experiences) that show that the amount of thujone in Absinthe doesn't make a difference in the so called 'effect', we can surmise that the latest government ruling on the 'thujone free' label is based on antiquated theories and deep seated misunderstandings of absinthe itself.

There are plenty of people around the globe who still believe that absinthe makes you go crazy, or that it makes you hallucinate.

We all know that's not true. Including you. You've even admitted as much on your own (now defunct) blog.

What exactly ARE you arguing? Are you trying to protect your own brand by saying 'Yes, it DOES make you hallucinate! Yes, it IS an illicit drug! Yes, you should buy my product and drink yourself into oblivion!'

Sounds like a great marketing plan. It seems to have worked extremely well in New Zealand, where they are looking to ban absinthe because some shite brands advocated drinking irresponsibly. Great work!

It's fun how you always post as Anonymous as well. You'd think that if you held such great knowledge and such a strong argument, that you'd want to publicize who you really are so credit can be given where credit is due.

But sabotage and subterfuge seems to be your game. Seems to have worked really well for you so far. What, with so many authentic brands boosting their sales while so many crappy immitations have been hurting for business. ;)

Alan said...

It's a bit difficult to reply to all these people calling themselves "anonymous." Could one of you use a real name ... or at least something like "anonymous two?" Interesting to note tall bri's point that "anonymous" doesn't seem to have the courage of his/her own convictions.

Anyway, why would I want to discuss ANY details of the recipe in a public forum, especially knowing that our competitors read this? And why would I want to do that with someone who won't even say who he/she is, but who many suspect is intimately linked to a Czech "absinth" company?

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Brother Anonymous (it is a function of this blogspot interface if you do not have membership) -- you make some interstesting points.

The limit is actually not 10ppm as this is based upon the fact that the TTB uses a test (i) that is unable to register <10ppm. Rather alarmingly (especially for the investors in these US version absinthes) is the fact that the TTB have stated:

"should the FDA set a new standard for "thujone-free," in accordance with 27 CFR 13.51, COLAs that are not in compliance with that revised standard will be revoked by operation of regulation"

It is not likely that they will change the limit to 35ppm! This would require the agreement of the FDA who maintain that alcoholic beverages may not contain thujone per 21 CFR 172.510. What is being used is basically a loophole and one that could be closed down at any minute.

I am disappointed to see that we have a silly comment above with idle and erroneous allegations. I am also disappointed to see that the blog owner has used them to obfusticate again about this important issue. It is best to clear it up or you risk being accused of misleading consumers, if there are two versions of the same product -- a Euro version and a USA version.

Please answer the question. I admit you are not in the dock and I cannot force you to do this. It would be in your best interests to answer the question and not rely on crass "sound bite" style analogies or erroneous allegations about the genesis of these concerns to brush it under the carpet.

(i)The test, on which hangs the fortunes of many, may be of interest to those who find this subject of intellectual interest:

It is described in section 9.129 of the Official Methods of Analysis of the Association of Official Analytical Chemists.

The tests is not quantitative analysis, but rather an indicator test in which a sample is reacted with chemicals so that colour and smell identify the presence of thujone! If the result shows a red then there is thujone at >10ppm and a colour "from apple jelly or other light colored fruit" indicates thujone <10ppm and it passes as "thujone free". Like a classroom experiment being used to enforce Federal regulations! All European amers and the original La Clandestine would fail. The original Nouvelle Orleans from T. Breaux would also fail. This test has been been the subject of criticism since as early as 1936 and yet remain as the foundation of the US absinthe market! It is like a house built on sand. A better way would be to lobby the FDA to scrap the requirement of 21 CFR 172.510.

I would ask the blog owner not to allow anymore off topic remarks from silly people who do not understand this matter. It is important and needs to be discussed in a serious manner. If you read what I have read above you will see why.

Alan said...

I already wrote: "No change to the recipe."

Re. "it is a function of this blogspot interface if you do not have membership." I think you can just add in a name and a URL (if you want) when you post. Or say, in your post, "I am anonymous from Prague .. (or wherever).

At the moment it is difficult to understand what comments people are referring to. I don't know which posts the last anonymous thinks are "off topic."

Anonymous said...

"At the moment it is difficult to understand what comments people are referring to"

I mean this ill mannered person Tal Bri aka "Shabba" who is the habit of making disgraceful personal allegations online in order to prevent debate.

This is an important issue and deserves informed comment only.

Anonymous said...

"It is described in section 9.129 of the Official Methods of Analysis of the Association of Official Analytical Chemists."

The antiquated test protocol described in the quoted text has not been used in decades. U.S. labs that report to the TTB use the same modern method as used in Europe (and elsewhere).

Brian Robinson said...

What about what I said was a disgraceful personal allegation?

Why don't you sign up and create a username. It takes about 2 minutes.

Your voice should be heard. And we should know whose voice it is! You know our names; we should know yours.

You still haven't answered the question of what exactly it is you are arguing.

Anonymous said...

"The antiquated test protocol described in the quoted text has not been used in decades. U.S. labs that report to the TTB use the same modern method as used in Europe (and elsewhere)"

So what is the basis for calling readings less than 10 "thujone free"? The TTB just ignore 21 CFR 172.510 or how do they get around this? I also thought it was based on margin of error

Anonymous said...

"So what is the basis for calling readings less than 10 "thujone free"?

Because the 10ppm definition is 10X the practical quantitation limit (1 ppm), which is a comfortable fudge factor. The U.S. government realizes that we are talking about concentrations that are so ridiculously small (10ppm = 0.001%) that they are effectively regarded 'thujone free'.

Anonymous said...

"The U.S. government realizes"

Thanks for your informed answer. Do you know which arm made the decision that "thujone free" means 0-10 and not 0? Was it the FDA or the TTB?

What is the problem with up to 35? I would also be interested to hear your opinion on what causes "secondaries" ...if you accept that they exist that is :-)

Brian Robinson said...

I personally see no issues with up to 35ppm, or higher, even. That still wouldn't be enough thujone to feel any 'effects' from the chemical.

It's widely believed (and I subscribe to the theory as well) that the 'effects' or 'secondaries' relating to absinthe have to do with the essential oils and compounds from the herbs, mainly anethole and fenchone.

There are plenty of other liquors (herbal ones) and even things like herbal teas that will give you the same types of effect, and which contain no wormwood or thujone. A logical conclusion would be that, if you can get secondaries without wormwood, it's not the wormwood that's causing the secondaries.

Unknown said...

"Thujone-Free": Is it logically any different than "Alcohol-Free", relatively speaking? 'Pronouncedly Elevated' might be a working qualifier, since beverages of less than 0.05% alcohol contend per volume -- possibly higher, since there is a near-beer out with 0.7% ABV -- are not considered 'Alcoholic Beverages' for regulatory and tax purposes in the United States today.

Acquiring the US Federal definition of 'Alcohol-Free' beverages was daunting and not entirely satisfactory. However, we have, in 'US Patent 5308631 - Process of making alcohol-free beer and beer aroma concentrate' the statement of one who evidently had done his research preparatory to applying to the Patent Office, who states in that Application: ' ... alcohol-free beers that must contain less than 0.5% alcohol, and alcohol-free malt beverages containing less than 0.05% alcohol.'

Is there not, somewhere in Blackstone, a Maxim defining laws as obligated to be "reasonable in the sight of the ordinary person", in regard to the 'spirit and intent' of enforcement ability, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the desirability of the intended purpose of that law?

'Common Sense' would dictate that a Law must be written so as to be reasonably enforceable, and that would apply to every substance in an alcoholic beverage (or any other substance for which regulatory standards are considered to apply), such as naturally occurring Thujone present in herbal liquors. The culinary Sage leaf contains some double the amount of Thujone as Wormwood, therefore the allowed limit in breakfast sausage, for example, which contains Sage leaf, as do common Turkey stuffing recipes; therefore, we all can readily understand that allowance for trace Thujone content must be liberal, else the standard governing its concentration would be practicably unreasonable, and hence unenforceable.

The pertinent question then becomes whether and to what degree the standard of [virtually] 'Thujone-Free' ought to exist at all. As others have pointed out, in the United States it is for the FDA to make that determination and for ourselves to encourage it to be reasonable in light of the actual harmlessness of untainted Absinthe liquor (i.e., free of deliberate adulteration as by the colourant Copper sulphate, the louche enhancer Antimony chloride, &c.)

Is it not very reasonable and desirable actively to encourage the FDA to switch focus from Thujone content to prevention of deliberate adulteration, which, though not today so likely as in old turn-of-the-century France, be the far more plausible culprit of the evident dangers associated with Absinthe and Wormwood, the actual "Senegambian in the lumber yard" of potentially dangerous substances?

To suggest that the American Federal Government ought not to be in the business of "protection" of its citizens at the sacrifice of individual and States' rights, as described in the Ninth & Tenth Amendments of the Constitution -- our so-called Bill of Rights (though no rights were created by the Constitution at all, but are pre-existent, according to the Declaration of Independence and the Treaty of Paris, respectively, is obviously an entirely different and more difficult proposition. Fidelity to the "unalienable Rights" declared and established by the American Revolution of the patriots of bygone days does not seem to be very much more than an historical curiosity today, to the guardians of our liberties, does it?! Rights increasingly become "grants" for which licenses -- and moneys -- are demanded. Socialism and "social engineering" seem far more persuasive to the present generations than does Liberty and persuasion by exemplary leadership.

Alan said...

Brooks A,

You make some good points.

I am not qualified to discuss alcohol-free beer, but I think that the issues are very different.

I am afraid you lost me on the Senegambians ...

Unknown said...


Well, the point of course is that the focus ought to be on the real, not imaginary, potential dangers -- on potential adulterations rather than on Thujone content. The early 19th century was a heyday of food adulterations, as for instance the [relatively benign] addition of ordinary chalk (calcium carbonate) to watered Milk.

The adulterations mentioned above, Copper salts & Stibnite, are quite toxic -- the Antimony in particular being a cumulative heavy metal, over periods of chronic consumption, potentially additive in the blood unto eventually fatal proportions.

So then, the FDA, and historical anti-Absinthism crusaders, are looking for toxicology in the wrong places -- in the botanicals rather that the potential adulterants.

As it's said on an absinthe site somewhere, "You'ld have to drink so much Absinthe to become poisoned by the Thujone, that fatal alcohol poisoning would result first [before the fatal serum Thujone concentration could be reached]."

Thus, the safest think would-be regulators could do would simply be the requiring of testing and labeling of Thujone content on the commercial Absinthe product -- to provide that knowledge to people potentially sensitive to Thujone content, of which there are apparently some, for whom the content of synthetic sweeteners in soft drinks must be listed on the label.

Wouldn't the proper approach to regulation be the provision for information disclosure rather than prohibition? Now, in order to convince Government of the fact, the genuine economic realities of beaurocrats needing to find reasons to get paid -- like disbanded armies -- would needs be addressed, as it would have to be addressed regarding sensible changes in the "War Against Drugs" and the various tangents which drive consumer protection agencies when they can leverage financing through wielding the sword of the State. Employment concerns of career staffers, lawyers, and enforcement officers need to be addressed right along with the sensible changes proposed regarding reformation of drug policy, and of the agencies which oversee and profit from those policies.

Who doesn't know that the biggest blunder of the Iraq War was the non-compensatory dissolution of the career army of Iraq? Great Britain recognised this problem when they convinced the I.R.A. in Northern Ireland to lay down weapons and take up other paying careers, and in provision of adequate moneys for them to be satisfied in doing so.

Why government policy opposes legal opioid cultivation in Afghanistan, for the legitimate medical trade, through a complex system of monopolies,
the which apparently benefit only that pivotal Western ally, Turkey, if I've got my facts straight -- apparently virtually enshrined by the UN in what seems to be passing today for "International Law" (never mind the opioid free-trade principles supposedly settled through the Opium Wars at such great cost to China -- is a classic example, along with unpaid Iraqi Army dissolution, of failure to face reality. And these failures boggle the mind as to the lack of common sense and historical cause-&-effect! We all may be said to have just been "born yesterday", relatively speaking, but the educated person has no excuse for not practically applying his historical erudition; it would seem today that never has so much knowledge been amassed with so little profit therefrom!

Scholars, and the politicians and legal experts who are scholarly products, seem able to learn great masses of information, yet not to know how to apply that learning in practice. How is that, if it is true? We live in a curiously benighted world; only The Bible seems to have all the answers, such that all of the pieces fit together.

That is what a half century of study, since adolescence, has taught me, I believe -- and to each his own.

I'm very grateful and pleased to unite with all of you in these discussions centred around or suggested by La Fey Verte -- which recently I have learned is actually one of the best hepato-protective agents in nature, noty only a vermifuge but also a liver protector and detoxificant.

Thank you all for welcoming me on board, and hopefully to learn good things from all of you!

Alan said...

Hi again,

1. "Well, the point of course is that the focus ought to be on the real, not imaginary, potential dangers -- on potential adulterations rather than on Thujone content."

I agree 100% that thujone is an imaginary danger (i.e. it isn't a danger). However, the current risk of potential adulterations should be no more than for whisky, vodka or gin, so no need to focus on this in the case of absinthe. I speak, knowing more about Swiss absinthe than any other type: in Switzerland absinthe must be distilled and cannot contain any artificial colouring. A standard along these lines would be good globally.

2. "Thus, the safest think would-be regulators could do would simply be the requiring of testing and labeling of Thujone content on the commercial Absinthe product -- to provide that knowledge to people potentially sensitive to Thujone content, of which there are apparently some, for whom the content of synthetic sweeteners in soft drinks must be listed on the label."

I'm not aware of a sensitivity to thujone content in the levels used in absinthe or in other drinks (vermouths and some other herbal liquors) or in food (sage). Are you suggesting to label sage too?

I think this is unnecessary: the EU/FAO/WHO etc all work to common guidelines for thujone content:

Maximum thujone levels

* 0.5 mg/kg in food not prepared with sage and non alcoholic beverages.
* 5 mg/kg in alcoholic beverages with 25% or less ABV.
* 10 mg/kg in alcoholic beverages with more than 25% ABV.
* 25 mg/kg in food prepared with sage.
* 35 mg/kg in alcohol labeled as bitters.

Provided these limits are adhered to, I don't believe that there is a need for additional labelling.

Hope you don't mind if I don't respond to the political/social comments. They are outside my sphere of knowledge and my readers would spot the waffle if I embarked thereon.

What absinthes do you like, Brooks A?