Monday, 1 March 2010

It was five years ago today ...

Sorry that my headline may not scan as well as the famous Beatles song, but it's no less notable for that.

In fact, while 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of the Swiss ban,

today, March 1 2010, is the 5th anniversary of the Swiss re-legalisation of absinthe. The Swiss were the creators of absinthe in the late 18th century, and their decision to re-legalise absinthe in 2005 (some time after the EU and Australia, and just two years ahead of the USA), has had a similar impact on the category around the world.


"Absinthe suisse" was a term that had been used in the nineteenth century to describe the best absinthes, even if they were not always produced in Switzerland. It was fitting, therefore, that the Swiss re-legalisation of absinthe was accompanied by the strictest absinthe quality standards in the world: absinthe produced and/or sold in Switzerland cannot contain artificial colouring and must be distilled. Unfortunately such standards have not yet been adopted elsewhere.

While Swiss standards have not taken up more broadly, it is clear that many recognise Swiss quality. Swiss absinthe won the Golden Spoons yet again at the 2009 Absinthiades (held in France), and Swiss absinthe brands topped the polls in two 2009 surveys of American absinthe drinkers.


I am informed that one can now buy Swiss Absinthe in Uzbekistan! Just one of more than 20 countries globally where one can do so. The Swiss are a small nation of less than 8 million people and with a small domestic market, they have always needed to export. So maybe absinthe from Switzerland will one day be as famous as their precision-made watches.


Taking absinthe to the world from a land-locked nation requires road transport. And, no, this is NOT an encouragement to drink and drive! To mark the anniversary of Swiss re-legalisation, the Swiss have combined with the French to announce today the "Route de l'Absinthe," or Absinthe Road, as written up in this French blog and now being covered in the national Swiss media and local French media. Great to see the communities of the Val-de-Travers (where absinthe was born) and Pontarlier, France (where absinthe was most successfully commercialised) united in this cultural and tourist endeavour.

The road from Pontarlier to Fleurier in the Val-de-Travers already exists, but this new initiative will make it a much more important feature of the area with better signage, a website, and links to other operations that are related either directly or indirectly to absinthe. Scotland has at least two whisky trails, and the USA has a virtual American whiskey trail; the Route de l'Absinthe seems likely, however, to be the first initiative of its type that links two countries together.

The French and the Swiss hope that many will take the Route de l'Absinthe: the 2010 Absinthe Festival in Boveresse will provide a great excuse to try it.

In just five years, Swiss absinthe has moved "de l'ombre à la lumière" (out of the shadows into the light).

The next five years may be even more interesting for Swiss absinthe: where do my readers think they will lead?


Ron said...

Hopefully it will lead to some more vertes! Since the legalization, there is little need to maintain the clandestine tradition.

Having said that, it's proper to recognize how well crafted the Swiss absinthes are, and how deserving they are of the accolades thus far.

The birthplace of absinthe has rightfully taken the steps to protect the spirit through strict quality standards. It's almost as if they care, versus the tiring list of producers (even some with grand heritages) who continue to push the faux absinthes.

Life in marvelous times.

Alan said...

We've certainly had a lot of interest in Angélique, but in general the Swiss seem to be sticking to blanches.

And I wish the rest of the world could adopt Swiss standards. Failing that, we'd settle for the USA doing so!