Tuesday, 1 March 2022

Swiss Absinthe Day, meet Mardi Gras!

(Photo from The Old Absinthe House, New Orleans) 

March 1 is an important date in Switzerland, well for some of Switzerland. It is Republic Day in the canton of Neuchâtel: the Val-de-Travers is located within this àrea and this is where absinthe was born and where most Swiss absinthe is made today. March 1 2005 was chosen as the date on which absinthe was re-legalised in Switzerland: I guess the authorities assumed, correctly, that many people would be drinking a lot of absinthe that day, so choosing a holiday for re-legalisation seemed a good idea. I know that my distiller had good cause to celebrate in 2005 when he was finally able to move out of his clandestine distillation facilities!

I have written previously about absinthe being re-legalised in Europe by mistake in 1988, meaning that other countries in Europe do not have a date to celebrate. European action and the clearer action in Switzerland were part "door openers" for the next re-legalisation which is celebrated on March 5 in the USA. This marks the date in 2007 when the first Lucid label was approved. I have suggested that countries should take these two dates and use them as the basis for an "Absinthe week" from March 1 to March 5, but right now may not be the best time for such an event.

Mardi Gras, of course, doesn't have a fixed date as it depends on the date of Easter which depends on the phases of the moon. This year, however, marks the first time that Swiss Absinthe Day and Mardi Gras have fallen on the same day (interesting to note that the dates also align in 2033 and 2044, but not again until the 22nd century).

Mardi Gras can be celebrated anywhere, but it is most closely associated within the drinks trade with New Orleans which is the historic American centre of absinthe consumption and absinthe cocktail creation.  The histories of the Sazerac and the Absinthe Frappé are well-known but there are other less appreciated absinthe cocktails from New Orleans that are definitely worth trying. The Suissesse is described in the first  Dead Rabbit cocktail book as "the culmination of absinthe in the mixed drink format ... a simple and delicious beverage that many (especially in New Orleans) select for their daily eye-opener."

More about this cocktail, including different recipes on Instagram.

New Orleans may have a strong connection to France but, as this newspaper ad in Le Meschacébé from February 1898 shows, New Orleans also enjoyed Swiss absinthe.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans has suffered during the pandemic but 2022 looks set to be a special event.  If you are there this year, you shouldn't be reading this! You should be with the people in the picture at the top which shows the view from the Balconies above The Old Absinthe House. Or you should be in the picture like the one below which is one of my favourite shots from inside The Old Absinthe House (original here).

The last time I was in New Orleans, I selflessly devoted myself to absinthe cocktail research and creation. I don't recall what all of these were ..

I do recall Jackie at The Old Absinthe House making me a very nice Clandestino:

And I also recall some excellent Bloody Fairies at Pirate's Alley Café/Absinthe House. This photo with Virginia was taken a few months later:

Still to return to New Orleans, post Covid, is the Belle Epoque bar within The Old Absinthe House. The Belle Epoque looked set to be the most exciting new absinthe bar in the USA and we hope it will return soon. In the meantime, there have been some exciting absinthe bar openings in San Diego and in New York.

In San Diego, autumn saw the opening of Wormwood: they have a great absinthe selection, all served beautifully. This photo shows Chris Hampson from my US importer enjoying a glass of Butterfly, served with chilled water from one of their fifteen absinthe fountains! 

Also opening in the autumn was New York's Café de L'Enfer. From the team behind Amor y Amargo. 

We've heard some great reports about this and hope to bring more news from these new absinthe bars on West and East coasts soon.

Remember: 2022 gives you two good reasons to celebrate with absinthe. Swiss Absinthe day and Mardi Gras combined. You won't have an excuse like this for another 11 years. So, santé and laissez les bons temps rouler! 


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