Saturday, 29 October 2011

10 things you didn't know about Absinthe: Number 2

Drinks originate for different reasons.

The first sparkling wine was probably a mistake, arising from secondary fermentation of wine. Brandy was created as a way of concentrating wine to make it cheaper to ship (just like concentrated fruit juice). And Scotch? Well, maybe it was just cold in Scotland and they wanted something to warm them up!

Wormwood has a long history as a medicinal product, starting with Lucretius in the century before Jesus:

"And as physicians when they seek to give
A draught of bitter wormwood to a child,
First smearing along the edge that rims the cup
The liquid sweets of honey, golden-hued."

There are further medicinal references to wormwood and to absinthe (also the French for the wormwood plant), so it is hardly surprising that the first uses of the drink absinthe as we now know it were of a medicinal nature. While the Henriods were probably the creators of the drink we know as absinthe, it was the legendary Dr. Ordinaire who apparently sold it to the villagers as he rode round. And then it became even more popular when it was used for its medicinal benefits for the French soldiers in Algiers in the 1830's and 1840's.

The therapeutic nature of the drink with its clear origins in Switzerland in the late 18th century seem to be very much at odds with the claims of Pernod to be the "creator of absinthe in 1805." Brian Robinson has already blogged about this and has asked Pernod to respond, but to no avail.

It seems to me that Pernod may be capitalising on an earlier book written by Marie-Claude Delahaye. While that book's title may previously have helped Pernod to justify their claim to be the creator of absinthe, her latest book, published in 2010, (L'Absinthe de Pontarlier au Val-de-Travers d'Hier a Aujourdh'hui) makes it clear that Pernod was NOT the creator of absinthe in 1805. Pages 228 - 233 give the following chronology:

1. Pre-1798: Major Dubied purchases a recipe for absinthe from the Henriod family.
2. 1798: First absinthe distillery established in Couvet, Switzerland by Major Dubied with help from Henri-Louis Pernod.
3. Next (no year given): Henri-Louis Pernod sets up his own absinthe distillery, also in Couvet.
4. 1805: Henri-Louis Pernod finally sets up his own French distillery in Pontarlier.

As Brian Robinson reported in his blog, Pernod's own promotional literature of 1896 gets the facts straight (with just a year's change):

"1797. It was at that time the first absinthe factory was built. The establishment was created under extremely modest conditions, even for Couvet."

while an early Pernod absinthe website (now taken down but still available via The Wayback When Machine archive) repeated the information about Couvet:

I'd welcome a response from Pernod as to why they choose not to believe their own company's promotional literature of 1896 and why they have now decided their earlier website needed to be taken down.

In the meantime, this fact seems clear to me ...



And absinthe historians will be delighted to know that Jacques Kaeslin and Michel Kreis have just published a new book: "L’absinthe au Val-de-Travers, les Origines et les inconnu(e)s." I understand that this book will go back a few more years into absinthe pre-history and I hope to review that here soon!


For Part 3 of 10 things you didn't know about absinthe (Why have women been so important in the history of absinthe), click here.

For Part 4 of 10 things you didn't know about absinthe (Clear absinthe was made and sold before Green absinthe), click here.

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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