Thursday, 30 April 2009

"Absinthe" kits

Like many others in the absinthe trade, I get absinthe news and blog alerts every day from Google. And over the last few weeks, the number of alerts that pretend to answer:-

1. What percentage alcohol is absinthe?
2. What are the effects of absinthe?
3. Sites for purchasing absinthe

has grown from a trickle to a flood. Either business is good, or very bad for these spammers who trick readers to read an article that links to a site selling so-called "absinthe" kits.

Now if this company was honest in its approach to other real absinthes, and to the nature of its own product, then I would just get bored of the blogs and hope that others would too. But their blog articles are wrong in so many ways, I feel I have no alternative but to comment. Here goes:-

Quote: Cost of bottled Absinthe can be quite high, over $100 sometimes, and you may not be able to get it delivered to your country.

Fact: very, very rarely over $100, and there are very few countries where you can't now easily buy or order a high quality absinthe for $80 or less.

Quote: Also, you may find it very hard to find real wormwood Absinthes because according to some countries legislation restricts wormwood as it contains the chemical thujone.

Fact: Most countries around the world (including USA) allow a level of thujone that is identical to that found in 19th century Paris. But, in any case, this is not relevant since the level of thujone in Absinthe Kit's "essences" will not produce any "green fairy effects" unless you drink enough of it to die from alcohol poisoning. Absinthe Kit's suggestion that thujone level is important is blatant deception.

Quote: sell Absinthe essences, that contains real common wormwood , both to the Absinthe industry and to general customers.

They may sell to companies that sell essence-based absinthe, but none of those companies are selling products that absinthe drinkers would recognise as real absinthe. I challenge Absinthe Kit to produce a list of Absinthe brands made with their essences.

Quote: To make your very own bottle of the Green Fairy, mix 20ml of essence with 730ml of neutral alcohol such as vodka or Everclear and add some sugar (about 75g) if you want a smoother Absinthe. Shake the bottle until the sugar has dissolved and there you have it, your very own Absinthe.

Fact: this is not real absinthe, anymore than grape juice and vodka can be blended to make wine (or blended together with soda to make champagne!).

And so on.

Does this matter? Yes, because it deceives those who buy these products into thinking they are getting real absinthe. It preys on the ignorance of some consumers, probably of younger, poorer and more susceptible consumers too.

However it gets even worse: the Wikipedia article on absinthe states this:

"Numerous recipes for homemade 'absinthe' are available on the Internet. Many of these require mixing a kit that contains store-bought herbs or wormwood extract with high-proof liquor such as vodka or Everclear. However, it is not possible to make authentic absinthe without distillation. Besides being unpleasant to drink and not authentic absinthe, these homemade concoctions contain uncontrolled amounts of thujone and absinthins, and may be poisonous — especially if they contain wormwood extract. Many such recipes call for the use of a large amount of wormwood extract (essence of wormwood) with the intent of increasing alleged psychoactive effects. Consuming essence of wormwood is very dangerous. It can cause kidney failure and death from excessive thujone, which in large quantities is a convulsive neurotoxin. Thujone is also a powerful heart stimulant; it is present in authentic absinthe only in extremely small amounts."

In other words, the products of Absinthe Kit could kill.

The Wormwood Society comments as follows:-

Important Note: DO NOT BUY ABSINTHE “KITS”! These are gimmicks aimed at the gullible. They will not make absinthe or anything remotely like it. The people selling these kits either know nothing about absinthe or how it is made, or simply don't care. The results of these kits are a positively vile-tasting, insanely bitter, potentially poisonous mess.

Looking further at the Absinthe Kit site, I find that it is owned by Gert Strand of Sweden who also operates Partymanshop. This site sells Scotch whisky oak chips, which, it is suggested, will turn vodka into scotch, as well as a wide range of liqueur essences, all to be added to vodka to produce drinks that are labelled to look like Malibu, Southern Comfort, Passoa, etc.

Now in case Absinthe Kit feel that I am unfairly picking on them, I have looked at other similar companies.

Green Devil states: "There is a chemical in traditional absinthe called Thujone, this chemical is banned in food products by the FDA. This one chemical is what makes absinthe illegal to sell.

Companies and the liquor industry have found that by filtering out this chemical they can legally sell their brand of absinthe in the USA."

Not true.

And "Absinthe is legal in many countries in Europe. But it is not the same as the absinthe of old."

Not true.

Now maybe I am being unfair to these companies. I have to admit to not having drunk their products. They may be excellent wormwood flavored vodka. But they are not absinthe, and the sooner they stop deceiving consumers, the better. Do any of my readers have any nice things to say about these products?


Brian Robinson said...

I've tried most of the absinthe kits on the market as part of my research. I haven't found one that is comparable to even a mediocre absinthe. Most either are horribly bitter, or resemble a pastis.

Aman said...

I wouldn't dare try to create my own absinthe with these essences. It sounds like a terrible idea to begin with.

Carla said...

I've used this absinthe kit from Gert Strand several times. I've mixed it with Everclear, a little more sugar than it calls for and about 2 ozs. of peppermint schnapps, which mellows out the anise flavor a bit. I'm sure it's not a true absinthe by any definition, but it actually does produce a tasty beverage and louches quite well with cold water. As for the thujone content, I have no clue. They claim 35 mg/L. I know that I haven't poisoned myself by drinking a lethal amount of thujone. Perhaps it has no thujone. I've had several high-quality absinthes (La Valote W. Bovet being my current favorite). What this essence creates is more similar to La Fee Parisian. I would not go so far as to say it's terrible, and it can be doctored up to be quite pleasant in taste.

However, anyone who drinks large amounts of extremely high-level alcohol (which is true of both Everclear and most brands of absinthe), is running the risk of alcohol poisoning. I doubt if this essence is any more likely to cause damage than drinking straight Everclear or any absinthe around 68% alcohol.

So, although it's not a true absinthe, using your definition that absinthe must be a distillation, it beats Hill's (and most other Czech absinths), as well as products like La Tourment and Grande Absente, particularly in taste.

Alan said...

Hi Carla,

Thanks for your comment. Good to hear that your experience of kits was OK.

One of the problems of kits and of consumers not really understanding the thujone issue is that some will deliberately overdose (i.e. put too much of the kit in the finished product). Not everyone is as sensible as you.

It's the Swiss who insist that absinthe is distilled; other countries do allow cold mix. So it's not really "my definition." Having said that, I would love to see a clearer definition and I am sure clear standards would result in better products.

Monique Marie Sauniere said...

Bravo, Alan, for that concise description of what absinthe ISN'T. Unfortunately it is not only as P.T Barnum never said, "There is a sucker born every minute", but there is a percentage of the population who knows better than everyone else about everything else. We can only hope they don't hurt themselves proving how right they are.

Jade Clark said...

This is an older article, but I just wanted to say thanks. I was considering purchasing one of these kits from the website you talked about. I was however suspicious of it being too good to be true. Thanks for the info.

Alan said...

Thanks for your comment, Jade.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the info! My roommate recently gave me a green devil kit that was given to him but he had no interest in making it. So I decided to do some research before making it and they all said the same thing as you: this stuff is disgusting and dangerous. In fact the reviews for green devil were so bad on amazon they pulled the product from their store! Thanks again for the scoop! Glad I didn't waste money on the liquor required to make this or worse, become ill from consuming it.

Unknown said...

Modern "Pernod" and "Ricard" are basically absinthes without the wormwood. They are now known as a "pastis" (regional for "melange" or mixture). As a substitute for wormwood, the modern drink uses increased amounts of aniseed. Pernod includes aniseed, fennel, hyssop, lemon balm along with lesser amounts of angelica root, star-anise, dittany, juniper, nutmeg, veronica. Different absinthe manufacturers used slightly different ingredients, sometimes using nutmeg and calamus, both of which have purported psychoactive effects. basically there are so many ways to do this process. and some of them date back the the 1600s.. I have found most of the stuff on the market is far from true absinthe..

Alan said...


Pernod has a real absinthe brand in addition to its pastis. Search this blog for Pernod and you will see that they have gone some way to improving their absinthe in the last year or so.

Unknown said...

Bah, since you moderate the comments please excuse my last one and don't bother posting it. I misread what you had written and after some simple research stand correct. Absinthe is a spirit and not a liquor since the flavoring is added via distillation of the herbs with spirits...

As a side note I seriously doubt Absinthe ever made anyone hallucinate... ever. You would likely get alcohol poisoning before you would ever consume enough of the lesser ingredients that would trigger such hallucinations if they could. The whole campaign against Absinthe was based on hyperbole and sensationalism which seems to continue to this day.

Sophia said...

I would really like to buy an absinthe to enjoy at Christmastime but I am left confused and a little crestfallen. Is there a good absinthe on the market that I can buy that goes some way to providing the effects that absinthe is so famous for? Thanks.

Alan said...


Don't look for effects when you are drinking absinthe. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, people were drinking absinthe for its taste. Yes, some of the poets may have eulogised about it, but they didn't say you would see things. Absinthe effects are a late 20th century gimmick designed to get unwary drinkers drinking more. Some may have experienced a placebo effect. Read again what the poster immediately before you wrote. Sorry if that disappoints you.


Sophia said...

Thanks for your answer Alan. I have since been reading up on it all and I realised it was quite a foolish question to ask! But I still would like to buy a bottle as it seems like a very special drink that I would like to try. Is there a brand or two that you would recommend? I am based in the UK. What's your favourite?

Alan said...

Hi Sophia,

I have to confess to a little bias since I am co-owner of La Clandestine!

Generally the better the absinthe, the more likely it is that you'll have to buy online.

Try or or Whisky Exchange.

Hope that helps.

Linda May said...

Excellent Comment. I'm a witch. I have been making Absinthe since I was old enough to measure. I use a recipe my herbalist great great gran used.. there is absolutely no hallucinogenic properties in authentic drink.

Unknown said...

I already bought two of these kits... I'm glad I researched it before drinking it, but very upset I didn't do so before buying.