In December 2007, I predicted that there would be at least 8 - 10 absinthes freely available in the USA by December 2008. While the word "freely" was a bit careless and open to misinterpretation, the words "at least" were chosen very deliberately. I also predicted, "One or two unlikely alliances between some of the main players will start to be seen." More of the second prediction later, but, firstly, I'll review the number of absinthes coming to the USA this year.
Bevlaw, a firm concentrating on the federal regulation of alcohol beverages. has been keeping track of the product and label permissions given to absinthes, and recorded 12 by May 2008, and subsequently updated. These include the early launches such as Lucid, Kübler and St. George, the more recent launches such as Grande Absente Originale, Le Tourment Vert, and La Fée Parisienne, and some that have yet to reach the market. The latter includes Mythe Absinthe Traditional, Libertine, and Mata Hari Absinthe Bohemian.
However there are a few more brands that Bevlaw didn't record by June 23, 2008 (but most of which have now been added to the site since the publication of this blog). These include some interesting developments such as the first absinthe cream liqueur: La Crème Kübler,
the first "big company" entrant,Vincent van Gogh Klasiek Absinthe from Luctor (of Vincent van Gogh Vodka)
Artemisia, from Fat Dog Spirits, Florida (which has nothing at all to do with the Artemisia Distillery of Claude-Alain Bugnon, the home of La Clandestine), and La Muse Verte.
Add the two Sirène labels from Chicago's North Shore Distillery, Denver's Leopold (all these shown on BevLaw), as well as Trillium and that makes the tally 17 launched or about to be launched absinthes.
I am also aware through contacts and forums of 5 other absinthes that are going through the US permissions process at the moment, with approved products and pending label applications with the TTB. These include Gwydion Stone's Marteau and Delaware Phoenix Absinthes.
Tempus Fugit Spirits, which states that they are "dedicated to importing the finest spirits from around the globe," also features Mansinthe, Vieux Pontarlier and Duplais, bringing the total of approved or apparently in process absinthes to 25! Pacific Distillery seems to be progressing an absinthe too, while the Seattle Times hints at more to come! 26, 27 ...
Of course, a good investigative blogger can go a lot further and it's interesting to do more research on US trademark registrations. A search for "absinthe" reveals some interesting issues of potential future launches, trademark clashes (putting it mildly!) and brand name ownership. Luctor International (of Van Gogh ) has registered several absinthe trademarks in the USA, while Emile Pernot seems to be registering every name they have!
And what is more surprising is the absence from the TTB and label registries of some of the really big names. Where is Pernod (apparently working on it, but nothing seems imminent)? And where are some of the Czech products that I have taken issue with previously, either here or on other blogs?
UPDATE: July 7th, 2008. The US launch of Pernod Absinthe announced. Reviews of this product at Fée Verte were fairly damning.
Did I say 17 absinthes launched or about to be launched? Did I say a total of 26, 27 ... including those "in process?" Well, that's not all ...
Today, after several months work in the USA and Switzerland, I am happy to announce a major initiative between two of the major forces in modern absinthe: Viridian (of Lucid fame) and La Clandestine (and that is the new approved label above).
In fact we have been talking for some while, starting in June 2007 when I emailed Jared Gurfein, President of Viridian to query some of the copy on the Lucid Absinthe website. In the space of a few emails, the tone went from formal to friendly, and it was evident that we had a lot in common: a love of real absinthe and a resolve to get the best absinthes into the USA.
So in late-summer 2007, Jared and Ted Breaux, the creator of Jade and Lucid absinthes, came to meet Claude-Alain Bugnon, the distiller of La Clandestine, and myself in Couvet, the birthplace of absinthe and the home of La Clandestine.
Firstly, we all tasted both Lucid and La Clandestine. Cheers, Jared!
Then as day turned into evening, we started to look into the long-term.
Within a day, we had the basis of an agreement that worked for both parties. More importantly, we could now begin the process of gaining US approval for the prize-winning La Clandestine, probably one of the most-loved of all absinthes.
Of course, that process was not 100% straightforward, and we had to make some very minor changes to the proposed US label. But following in the footsteps of Viridian, who had already launched the first absinthe in the USA for nearly 100 years, meant that the process was almost as smooth as we could have hoped and final label approval came through on June 16th, 2008.
Of course since we started this journey, several other companies have won permission from the USA authorities to launch their absinthes and absinthe lovers at the Wormwood Society have greeted some of them with less than total enthusiasm.
So we are delighted that one of the long-term favourites of absinthe lovers at the Wormwood Society, more generally (e.g. on MySpace) and of absinthe industry professionals will shortly be available in the USA.
Update (Summer 2012): La Clandestine Absinthe is now imported by Artemisia's new partners, DC Craft Spirits. They have been building on the start made by Viridian and have already extended distribution into new States such as Massachusetts and into new retailers such as BevMo!
Monday, 23 June 2008
Wednesday, 18 June 2008
UPDATE FEBRUARY 2013: The LCBO has been upgrading its absinthes. It is now possible to find Lucid, Vieux Pontarlier and, most recently, La Clandestine within the LCBO, or Vintages or, in the case of La Clandestine, Vintages Online! And the Absinthe Café in Ottawa (shown above) is probably the best stocked absinthe bar/restaurant anywhere in Canada!
Now back to the original post ...
Can this picture be true? Real absinthe? Available in Canada? Yes, but it's a long story and there is hopefully much more to come. To find out more, read on ...
I first went to check out the absinthe market in Canada in Spring 2006, visiting Nova Scotia and Ontario. I was very grateful to spend time with two absinthe lovers and artists/art lovers in Toronto, Scott and Lannie, who both took me round some bars. I saw there was obviousy a demand for real absinthe, but there was very little real absinthe in the market. Later I met with the LCBO, apparently the largest liquor customer in the world, and they told me that:
a) There was little demand for high quality absinthe (to this day, I don't know how they assess that since up to then and for some time afterwards they didn't stock what absinthe connoisseurs would consider to be real, high quality absinthe).
b) Any absinthe that they were to consider had to have less than 1 part per million of thujone in line with Health Canada "guidelines." Other Liquor Boards seem to have different interpretations of these "guidelines," ranging from no limit (BC) to the 1 ppm then quoted by LCBO, but now increased.
The highlight of my trip was when Scott and I had a private tasting of 10 or so different absinthes that I had brought in with me and I recall he loved the absinthes of the Clandestine distillery, a distillery I also knew and admired. At the time, however, I was not working directly with them.
Fast forward three years. I work on La Clandestine (and on other premium drinks) and we've just started to have our first real breakthroughs in Canada. Typically since I went to Nova Scotia and Ontario and have had talks with people in BC, our first success was in none of those provinces. It was in Montreal (that's in Quebec for any Americans!) and it's at the famous microbrewery pub, Dieu du Ciel. For me, it's perfect that a bar priding itself on hand-crafted smallscale beers should have been the first outlet in North America selling La Clandestine, hand-crafted in the birthplace of absinthe (Couvet, Switzerland). Many other bars in the USA are now also doing so, including the famous Please Don't Tell and L'Absinthe in New York. But that is another story ..
Stéphane Ostiguy, Président, Microbrasserie Dieu du ciel, reports excellent sales of La Clandestine, and has already re-ordered twice (bear with us, Stéphane!). Of course, his customers can only drink on the premises and cannot buy to take bottles home ... so hopefully this helps Stéphane keep his customers there for longer! Stéphane's story about absinthe is very interesting!
Montreal is just a few miles/kilometers away from the USA, so to all our friends in the USA, you now have one more good reason to vacation in Montreal this year. In fact, looking at the list of Stéphane's beers, including Aphrodisiac, Coal Woman and Hemp Smoke, I'd say you have many more reasons to go there!
IMPORTANT UPDATE: AUGUST 2009
More real absinthe is coming to Canada!
1. Frank Deiter's Taboo is now being sold on test in Quebec Liquor Board outlets. Ironically, Frank is probably going to find it easier to sell his popular Canadian absinthe in the USA, where he has just got label approval.
2. There is a very active group on Facebook, Canadians for Real Absinthe, that is leading the lobbying of the Liquor Boards .. and swapping a few horror stories on the way (Update: Facebook's changes to how Groups are set up removed more than 200 members recently).
3. Health Canada have now confirmed that they are reviewing their guidelines for thujone levels in absinthe. It may take a year to see the results of their review, but it does seem that they recognise that the rest of the world has a totally different perspective. Keep your fingers crossed!
4. And now back to explain the picture at the start of this article. The selection of absinthes stocked by Premier, Halifax, Nova Scotia. La Clandestine arrived in Nova Scotia end-November 2008. Just in time for a White Christmas! Since then Premier has expanded their portfolio and now has an interesting range of absinthes, including La Clandestine in two sizes (700 and 250 ml), Taboo 500 ml, and La Fée Parisian and Bohemian. Premier also stock a range of absinthe accessories, including
a fountain, spoons and glasses. With all that available, it's the nearest that Canadians have yet come to Absinthe Heaven. Not as good as the range available in many US stores, but better than that at any other Canadian liquor store currently.
5. And most exciting of all? The Quebec Liquor Board (S.A.Q.) is now stocking two Swiss absinthes, La Clandestine and Kübler, and La Clandestine can be found in more than 120 stores in Quebec NOW! I am told that they considered 11 different absinthes from France, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, but eventually decided that high quality absinthes from the very birthplace of absinthe were the most appropriate for their consumers. The Facebook group (linked to in 2 above) tells a bit more of this interesting story!
Cheers ... et santé, Canada!