Absynthe...the history

Since 1999, it has been once again allowed to cultivate, distil and consume ABSINTHE, and in spite of its reputation, in the same way as was done in the 19th century.

Since the dawn of time, the plant “absinthe”
(picture) has always been known for its asepticizing power in the intestines, and has been consumed in “decoction” (the process of boiling a substance in a liquid, in order to extract soluble materials), infusion, maceration and distillation and this from ancient Greece to the North Africa coast, from the jurassian mountains to the Pyrenees.
At the end of the 18th century, the fashion is so-called “bitter” drinks. It was very natural that a grandmothers’ recipe from the Jura mountains should produce a distilled drink, composed essentially of green anis, great and little absinthe, melissa and hyssop. In 1790 major DUBIED founds the very first distillery
(picture) using this ABSINTHE formula at Couvet in the Swiss Jura. In 1805 he empowers his son-in-law Henri Louis PERNOD to use the recipe in France. So it was that the first PERNOD distillery (picture) was founded in PONTARLIER and had a local success. In 1830 colonial troops sent to North Africa discovered in mass the medicinal properties of absinthe, and also its implacable power as 68° alcohol mixed gently with water. Once returned home, the soldiers, (picture) who had gotten used to ABSINTHE, spread the good word. Very soon the growing demand for it creates distilleries everywhere in France. All layers of society appreciate and consume ABSINTHE. Artists, always searching for strong sensations, take it over. The myth is born.

In 1865, French wine-growers fall pray to the attack of phylloxera (a vine parasite). Wine-production falls by 75%. ABSINTHE which, up to that point, had been distilled from a base of wine alcohol (distillation from juice, not from must) needs a different alcohol base. Beets offer an alcohol which is neutral and stable. ABSINTHE will survive and will pass wine in terms of production and consumption and will become the number one alcoholic beverage at the beginning of the new century (the 20th).
The wine-growers recover from their ills, and for business reasons go to war with the ABSINTHE producers,
(picture) finding themselves thereby allied with the anti-alcoholic leagues and the morality groups. In this beginning of the 20th century, ABSINTHE is the designated scapegoat and is badly wounded. But it will only be in 1914, the beginning of WW1, that the authorities will outlaw, first, all beverages of more than 16° in 1914, and by decree, in 1915, ABSINTHE (picture). All cultivation, work on the product or publicity are absolutely forbidden. Only Switzerland in the greatest illegality will continue to produce its “blue”. The PERNOD company will try to move production to Spain, but it efforts will be foiled. The border is blocked.

From this moment on, reality gives way to myth ; the image of cursed artists, thirsty for inspiration, and prey to hallucinatory visions, obscures the original and subtle taste of this prodigy of a drink, always and forever synonymous with liberty. There exist as many ways to consume ABSINTHE as there are drinkers of ABSINTHE. Each one transforms it to his preference: light or strong, sweetened or not. Today and starting ten years ago, all scientific investigations and analyses give the same answer: ABSINTHE is not any more toxic than PASTIS and is not hallucinatory. It is therefore not a drug and is without “pink elephants”: it is a strong drink, to be taken with respect and good humor.
In 1999, date of the re-authorization, several Absinthes, called « macerated » (that is, made from macerated plants of absinthe) re-appear, followed finally by the absinthes distilled under the influence of François Guy, and by several generations of absinthes which have been re-constituted from the same basis as in the very beginning.

La MAISON DU PASTIS now produces: a white, winning the “Cuillère d’Argent”
(picture) at the ABSINTHIADES of PONTARLIER in October 2005, a green (new) and a Marseillaise Absinthe (picture) (distilled from a mix of star anis and liquorice, missing link between Jurassian ABSINTHE and what will become the PASTIS of MARSEILLE).


Frédéric BERNARD and his team

Thanks to
: Marie-Claude Delahaye, Peter Shaff