Absinthe was never quite as popular in the United States as it was in Europe, but Absinthe USA was popular in the French part of the city New Orleans which even had specialist Absinthe bars serving the Green Fairy.
Absinthe is a liquor which was first created as an elixir or tonic by a doctor in Switzerland in the late 18th century. It was made from herbs such as grande wormwood, or artemisia absinthium, fennel and aniseed. Absinthe is traditionally green in color, apart from the Swiss La Bleue clear types, hence the nickname “The Green Fairy” or, in French, “La Fee Verte”. It is served in a special Absinthe glass with a sugar cube resting on a special slotted spoon. Iced water is poured over the sugar to dilute the Absinthe.
Drinkers of Absinthe claim that the drink gives them a strange “clear headed” drunkenness which may be caused by its curious recipe of herbs, some of which are sedatives and some which are stimulants. The essential oils of these herbs cause Absinthe to louche, or go cloudy, when water is added. The oils are soluble in alcohol but not in water. Absinthe is a very strong spirit, up to about 75% alcohol by volume, which is about twice the strength of whisky or vodka.
Absinthe USA and the Absinthe Ban
Absinthe was famously banned in many countries in the 1900s and Absinthe USA was banned in 1912. The French prohibition movement claimed that the thujone in Absinthe (the chemical in wormwood) was psychoactive and caused psychedelic effects. Absinthe was also linked to the loose morals of the Moulin Rouge and Montmartre with its courtesans, artists and writers, and, when an Absinthe drinker murdered his family, it was just the excuse the prohibition movement needed to get the French government to ban Absinthe. Many countries, including the United States followed suit.
Absinthe and drinks containing any plants from the artemisia family were banned in the USA and it became illegal to buy or sell Absinthe. Americans were forced to buy bootleg Absinthe, make their own, buy Absinthe substitutes, such as Pastis, or travel to countries like the Czech Republic where Absinthe was still legal and on sale in Absinthe bars.
Ted Breaux and Absinthe USA
Ted Breaux, from New Orleans, is an Absinthe distiller in France. His Jade collection of Absinthes has won many awards.
It was always his dream to be able to sell his Absinthe in his native country but the laws outlawed him doing so. Breaux had worked hard at recreating Absinthe from pre-ban recipes and had actually been able to analyze some vintage bottles of Absinthe. When he analyzed the vintage Absinthe, he found that it actually only contained minute quantities of thujone – contrary to the belief of the US government.
Breaux and his lawyer friend, Gared Gurfein, were able to meet with the US Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau and tell them about “Lucid”, an Absinthe that Breaux had created especially for the American market which only contains trace amounts of thujone. In 2007 Lucid went on sale in the US and since then a couple of other brands have also been allowed to go on sale in the USA. These Absinthes are available online or in bars.
It is great news that Americans can taste real classic, and legal, Absinthe in their home country for the first time since 1912 – Absinthe USA!