There has been much debate and controversy during the past few years over the question “Is Absinthe legal in the US”. It has always been thought that Absinthe was illegal due to its thujone content.
Absinthe, or the Green Fairy (La Fee Verte in French) is a strong alcoholic distilled drink usually made from a wine base and flavored with natural herbs such as wormwood, aniseed and fennel. It is much stronger than other spirits and fermented beverages like beer and cider. Absinthe has an anise taste and is famous for its “louche” or clouding when it is diluted with water. Iced water is poured over a sugar cube on a slotted spoon to mix with the water.
Thujone is a chemical found in the herb wormwood (Artemisia Absinthium) and was in the past thought to be psychoactive and to cause psychedelic effects, convulsions, insanity, brain damage and ultimately death. Wormwood is a key ingredient in Absinthe, it is the herb responsible for the characteristic bitter taste of the liquor. It was claimed that vintage pre ban Absinthe, like Pernod Absinthe, contained up to 350mg of thujone per liter.
Absinthe and alcohol containing thujone were made illegal in the United States in 1912 and only thujone free beverages were able to be bought, sold or shipped to the US such as Pernod Pastis, an Absinthe substitute.
The claims of the prohibition movement and doctors of the 19th and early 20th centuries, regarding the effects of Absinthe drinking, have since been disproved by further research and studies. Absinthe with up to 10mg/kg of thujone was made therefore made legal in the European Union.
But what about the US? Many people in the United States became frustrated with the laws regarding thujone and Absinthe. Absinthe distiller Ted Breaux, an American but distilling Absinthe in France, was determined to see Absinthe, the Green Fairy, being sold legally in the US. Breaux tested vintage bottles of Absinthe from the pre ban era by gas chromatography and was surprised to find that they actually only contained very low levels of thujone, a maximum of 6mg.
Lux and Fire Erowid contacted both the FDA and the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to seek clarification regarding the US laws on Absinthe and found that a thujone amount was not specified and “thujone free” meant less than the limit of detection in the testing that was used – less than 10 parts per million in this case. So, Absinthe with less than 10ppm would be legal in the US!
Ted Breaux and lawyer Gared Gurfein also spoke to the US authorities and Veridian’s brand of Absinthe “Lucid”, made with Breaux, was legalized for sale in the US in 2007 along with other brands containing less than 10ppm of thujone.
Suddenly, the Green Fairy was back in the US!
US citizens still cannot buy stronger Absinthe in the US although the website for Sebor Absinthe says that they can get around the law by shipping their Absinthe to consumers in the US for personal consumption as they interpret the law as only applying to resale of Absinthe.
There are kits available for people to make their own Absinthe at home without the need for distilling which is illegal in the US unless you have a license. These kits allow you to make a drink with a slightly higher thujone level than commercial Absinthe on sale in the USA.
The company Green Devil make kits which contain herbs that you have to mix with alcohol and then filter. AbsintheKit.com produce essences which they sell to the Absinthe industry and to consumers world wide. These essences are already distilled from the traditional Absinthe herbs, all you have to do is to mix the essence with Everclear or vodka for a real wormwood Absinthe.
So, is Absinthe legal in the US? Yes, it is, at last!