Friday, 31 January 2020

What has the European Union ever done for us?

I have long thought that politics and drink (and in particular absinthe) don't mix well. Alcohol - especially absinthe - has been badly hit by politics in the past.

So I was interested to see this new cocktail book a few weeks ago:

Attempting to be politically neutral, I have hidden the subtitle of the book in the photo but if you're curious you can see it and read brief extracts here.

I love the idea of making absinthe great again, and have been trying to do so for more than 15 years. There are some interesting cocktails here, but sadly too few absinthe cocktails. If you want to get better books about absinthe cocktails, then we have a few recommendations here.

Back to politics and to the title of this post. What has the European Union ever done for us? Some of you may remember this from Monty Python's Life of Brian:

For me, a UK citizen, today is a day of reflection: it's the day we leave the European Union. I'm not going to provide a long list of things the European Union has done for us. There is one important action, however, that they took back in 1988, which has profoundly changed my life and maybe that of my readers too. In 1988, European Council Directive No. 88/388/EEC was enacted and it had one very interesting and unintended consequence. It set a limit for thujone (spelt as "thuyone" in the directive) in drinks, primarily aimed at bitters, vermouths, and herbal liqueurs:

10 mg/kg in alcoholic beverages with more than 25 % volume of alcohol

35 mg/kg in bitters

and these would lead to the complete re-legalization of absinthe across the European Union, in Switzerland in 2005 and in the USA in 2007.

Astonishingly no-one seemed to realise the effect of this legislation in the EU until several years after 1988. The EU probably didn't realise that their limits re-opened the door to absinthe, with 19th century samples shown to be within these limits. There are different claims as to who first realised this, and some of the first "absinthes" sold as a result were not good examples of what could be produced.

However it seems clear that this first re-legalization within the EU was not as a result of any pressure from distillers: it was a completely unintended consequence, one could almost term it a "mistake." Swiss and American companies were later able to capitalize on this, but, without it, absinthe might still be a curiosity produced in very small quantities for tourists to Spain and Prague. Without it, most of my readers might never have enjoyed this wonderful drink. So tonight as the UK leaves the European Union, I will be drinking an absinthe toast to the EU politicians and bureaucrats who helped to start absinthe's journey from the shadows to the light. Cheers! Santé!

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