The first accidents which led to absinthe's growth in the 19th century were the prescription of absinthe to French soldiers in Algeria from the 1830's onwards and the outbreak of phylloxera which decimated the French vineyards after 1868.
But my favourite accident came in 1988 from the bureaucrats of the European Union.
ABSINTHES WERE EFFECTIVELY RE-LEGALISED ACROSS EUROPE BY ACCIDENT WHEN THE EU STANDARDISED THE USE OF ADDITIVES IN FOOD AND DRINK FROM 1988 ONWARDS. THE IMPACT OF THIS AS FAR AS ABSINTHE WAS CONCERNED WAS ONLY REALISED IN FRANCE ABOUT 11 YEARS LATER!
Deciding there was a need to standardise the use of food ingredients across the European Union, 22 June 1988 saw the Council Directive on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to flavourings for use in foodstuffs and to source materials for their production.
Page 10 of that document sets out the limit for Thujone use:-
- 5 mg/kg in alcoholic beverages with not more than 25% volume of alcohol
- 10 mg/kg in alcoholic beverages with more than 25% volume of alcohol
- 25 mg/kg in foodstuffs containing preparations based on sage
- 35 mg/kg in bitters
There seems to have been no thought at the time that this had anything to do with absinthe. Indeed it did not lead directly to the onset of or any increase in absinthe production in the European Union. But 10 years later when companies within the EU started looking at the possibility of importing absinthe from outside the EU and selling it more widely within the EU, this document provided full legal justification for doing so. "Absinthe," or more correctly "Bohemian Absinth" came to the UK in 1998, and the first products bearing the word "absinthe" on the label were produced in France in 2000.
It is not often that one has cause to thank the bureaucrats of the European Union. But this is definitely worth a big "Thank You" and an even bigger "Santé!"
For Part 10 of 10 things you didn't know about absinthe (The truth about the so-called Burning Ritual), click here.