Friday, 9 December 2011

Absinthe's bright (but not artificially bright) future?

Hidden away in a prospectus for a report on the Global Absinthe Market, I came across the following quote:

Pernod Absinthe international director Jean-François Collobert says: “Although we did have an absinthe-like product on the market [before the lifting of the French ban], we weren't comfortable marketing a product that was not exactly authentic absinthe. Since the restrictions were lifted in France in 2011 we decided to accelerate the redevelopment of our absinthe brand both in terms of the product itself, but also in terms of geographic expansion.

It's a very surprising announcement to make ... I have already seen it described as a confession. So what does it actually mean? And what are the implications for the absinthe category?

Firstly there does not yet seem to be a new Pernod Absinthe on the market, although there has already been one new label design approved by the TTB in 2011. Here are the labels approved in 2009:

and here are the labels approved in 2011:

There is no evidence of a product recipe change here, and the only major alteration comes in the first paragraph of the back label (from Pernod opening the "first absinthe distillery" in 1805 on the old label to opening the "first French absinthe distillery" in 1805 on the new label). So if the promised product "redevelopment" has not yet been made, what might it be? Could it really be the re-introduction of the old Pernod Fils as speculated (somewhat jokingly) here? Or maybe a partial move in that direction, by removing artificial colours? It's impossible to know exactly what Pernod will do, but the next few months will be interesting, and real absinthe lovers will be keenly following these developments.

Of course, if Pernod does go all the way to its historical 19th century recipe book, that will be almost universally welcomed. In that case, within just two years, one infamous artificially coloured absinthe (Le Tourment Vert) will have started to disappear from US shelves and bars, and another artificially coloured absinthe will be completely replaced. The US market will still have another dozen or more artificially coloured absinthes, while globally some countries are dominated by such products. Will the demise of Le Tourment Vert and the re-formulation of Pernod persuade others to up their game? It could do, and it should do. And if one more of the big players in the category drops artificial colours, it could help the framing of any future legal definition of absinthe. Maybe other countries could even move towards the uniquely high standards of Switzerland (absinthe must be distilled and cannot be artificially coloured).

It's too early to take this promised redevelopment as a Christmas present for the absinthe category, but it certainly looks encouraging!


Mixologist said...

So Pernod-Ricard claims they weren't comfortable marketing a product that "was not exactly authentic absinthe"?

I beg to differ.

Pernod Ricard has proclaimed themselves "the creator of absinthe", and have been perfectly comfortable marketing their bottle of cheaply flavored dye over the past ten years in the EU, while promoting it in the USA with comments like "based upon the original recipe", and bilking retail buyers to the tune of $70. And yet, this product isn't even fit to be sold as absinthe in the one country (Switzerland) where the spirit is legally defined.

So now, only after consumers, bartenders, and the industry are quickly becoming wise to the false promises of Pernod Absinthe, does Pernod Ricard attempt to backpedal and distance themselves from their cheaply made imposter. I can't help but wonder if they plan to offer a full refund to all the consumers they've been defrauding over the past decade?

Seth Pylad said...

Quote: "if Pernod does go all the way to its historical 19th century recipe book, that will be almost universally welcomed."

It certainly would be! But I guess that in the meantime we'll have to do with Jade PF, although somewhat expensive.

If you ask me, I would highly appreciate a kind of Swiss standard on what a descent absinthe is and a standard for naming. So all those other crapsinthes should only be allowed to call themselves just "Crapsinthe".


For the moment international Absintheurs are not at all into Pernod. Who cares for an industry product when there are artisanal products much better. If you're out there for the real deal, you know that you can easily find it - and it doesn't need to be overpriced. There's always the Duplais that beats the hell out of most other products.

Seth Pylad said...

@ Lion:
Duplais is one good brand. But I think it would also be interesting to have Pernod Fils back again, but from what I've read the only substitute to date is Jade PF 1901?

The day Pernod start making a true absinthe they'll probably be a company to reckon with.

Alan said...

Thanks for your comments!

Mixologist certainly makes some very interesting points. I have a pretty good idea of the cost of cold mix, artificially coloured absinthe and it's much less than the cost of distilled, naturally coloured absinthe. Yes, it seems strange that lower cost products can cost the consumer the same as more artisanal absinthes, which means some companies are spending a lot on marketing and/or making very high profits.

Seth, I agree 100% that we need clear definitions along the Swiss lines.

Markus, I agree with what you say about the quality of artisanal products, but in many places they are difficult to find. For people buying online, no problem, but most consumers won't do that. Especially in some of the developing countries.


I'm the exclusive importer for Jade in Germany since 2004 and I really like these products, but times change and Jade is not the only brand close to historical products.

So if you have READ something about a product, does this qualify you judging on it? I'd say no. You have to taste and compare products to seriously judge on them. What you describe is a second hand experience. Can't take this serious. Sorry!


completely agree with you! There's a major difference between online- and offline customers, or at least their education about Absinthe.

Seth Pylad said...

@ Markus
I have to correct myself. Jade PF of course isn't the only (!) substitute to pre-ban absinthes. But my impression is that it's (perhaps) the closest to pre-ban Pernod Fils specifically. But anyway, this is certainly a second hand opinion.

I definately have a lot more of tasting and comparing to do. And it's an exciting venture. :)

Andrew - said...

Maybe Pernod Ricard are repositioning Pernod Absinthe to replace the Pernod Anise Aperitif which was once popular but whose sales are now dwarfed by Pastis 51 and Ricard. It'd be a remarkable turn of events.

Alan said...

That's an interesting thought, Andrew. Pernod Anise sales are a fraction of the market and they have little to lose by doing what you propose. In the USA, Pernod Absinthe is probably already a bigger seller than Pernod itself. Germany and UK are the only big markets for Pernod, so those might be difficult for them.

Andrew - said...

It'd be interesting to know how much Pernod is sold in the UK and Germany. It's in every bar, but I'm not sure if I've seen anyone order it, or have it in a cocktail.

Maybe I've had it once or twice, although depending on the place you have to explain what to do with it. Sounds a bit like another drink we know well!

Alan said...

I have a good idea of Pernod sales in Germany & UK, but if I told you, I'd have to kill you.

Andrew - said...

But then who would sell La Clandestine online?

Alan said...


Adam said...

Anyone noticed that the new back label still has FD&C yellow?

pikesville said...

Off-topic but since the wonderful Jade was already mentioned - does anyone here know why the quality differs so much from batch to batch? I'm referring to "the funk" of course.

Alan said...

Adam: yes, I noticed. That's why I referred to the "ONLY major alteration" being the statement about the first FRENCH absinthe distillery.

Pikesville: Not sure I can help you with your question about Jade. Perhaps you could try searching the main absinthe forums?

TipsyTexan said...

What is the significance of the distinction between "aux plantes d' absinthe superieure" on the older label and simply "absinthe superieure" on the newly approved label?

Alan said...

Hi Tipsy,

I don't know what the significance of that move is. One could come up with a hypothesis (or two) for that, but it may be unfair to do so.

What do you think?