Thursday, 27 October 2011

10 things you didn't know about Absinthe: Number 4

What came first? The chicken or the egg? A perennial puzzle which sometimes gets the answer it probably deserves.

So here's another question? What was created first, and what became a popular drink first? Wine or champagne? Easy: Champagne is a sparkling wine produced by inducing the in-bottle secondary fermentation of the wine to effect carbonation (Wikipedia), so evidently wine existed first.

The next question: what was created first, and what was probably sold first? Clear or "blanche" absinthe, or green or "verte" absinthe?

For those who know a little about making absinthe, the answer is indeed "clear." When absinthe is made, it always come out of the still as a clear drink. It only becomes green after a secondary process of "dunking a tea bag" of herbs in the distillate, releasing chlorophyll into the absinthe.

As wine had to exist before champagne could exist, so it is evident that clear absinthe had to exist before green absinthe could exist. In the case of wine and champagne, wine existed for hundreds, indeed thousands of years before champagne. The time between the first clear absinthe and the first green absinthe was definitely much less than that, maybe only a few years or a decade or so.



18th century documentation doesn't provide final evidence, but I know that at least one major absinthe historian agrees with this.

Of course, being first historically doesn't mean anything beyond that chronological fact. The green fairy remains "green," and even the Swiss who are more famous for their clear absinthes call her "green." What it does suggest, however, is that when the Swiss moonshiners produced clear absinthe during the time it was banned, they were not missing out the secondary colouring step. They were, in fact, going back to their roots and going back to the very first style of absinthe ever made.

For Part 5 of 10 things you didn't know about absinthe (How artificial colours are not needed in absinthe), click here.

For Part 6 of 10 things you didn't know about absinthe (How Absinthe boomed, died and was re-born, helped by a series of accidents), click here.

For Part 7 of 10 things you didn't know about absinthe (How even the French called their best absinthes "Absinthe Suisse" during the 19th century), click here.

For Part 8 of 10 things you don't know about absinthe (What happened when absinthe was banned, and how the Swiss bypassed that ban), click here.

For Part 9 of 10 things you didn't know about absinthe (The accident that led to full European re-legalisation of absinthe), click here.

For Part 10 of 10 things you didn't know about absinthe (The truth about the so-called Burning Ritual), click here.


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