“Absinthe” the Queen of poisons

There are different versions of story on the Absinthe existence. Historians have different views on the subject; most assume that the Absinthe was found in 1792 in Couvet-Switzerland– not far away from French border – exact same place where Henriod sisters made medications for common people. The most used remedy was made through tincture distillation based on anise and wormwood and was named as ‘Bon d’Absinthe’. One of the remedies was made from combination of chamomile, parsley root, fennel, hyssop, speedwell, coriander, spinach and Melissa. This elixir was being sold by the sisters through the French doctor Pierre Ordinaire who had runaway to Switzerland during French Revolution. The other group of historians is of view that Dr. Pierre was the only one that set the remarkable secret of Absinthe. It was prescribed as a cough medicine as well as a restorative tonic for throat.
Henri Dubied- a French businessman had secretively bought the recipe either from Dr. Ordinaire himself or from Henriod sisters. In 1798, with the assistance of a friend called Henri Louis Pernod began huge production. In the same year, in Couvet these friends made the very first absinthe distillery by the name of “Dubied Père et Fils”. The sales steadily started to rise; soon they built another distillery to serve the increased demand. The third was setup in Pontarlier, France; named “Maisson Pernod Fils”. This distillery still exists in France. Absinthe is still known as a remedy for all ailments.
Absinthe Spread in Rest of the World
The remedy gained recognition during the colonial wars by French at North Africa in (1830-1847). The soldiers used it to disinfect water for drinking and for the prevention of dysentery, malaria and many other diseases. As it was really effective therefore it was adopted as a part of everyday routine in French army life from Indo-China to Madagascar. With the rise in number of paranoid schizophrenia cases among the military men in North Africa; the habit to drink Absinthe also rose. The disease caused by absinthe was called “le cafard”. In 1881 the drink became extensively outspread. By 19 century the drink gained popularity equal to that of wine. Later on, number of cases of disease named cirrhosis increased in French girls between the age of teen and early twenties on research an astonishing fact came to surface. The girls that consumed Absinthe were at higher risk of developing the disease. Furthermore, the research revealed that these girls were drinking undiluted absinthe and wore corset. White wine was assumed as impure as compared to absinthe. Some absinthe lovers compared its taste to menthol cigarette.
In addition to this, soldiers got addicted to absinthe and soon drinking it became a habit of French people, more specifically in Paris. For the French people having a lunch break is not just to have a sip of coffee in fact it’s an escape from work that too for a whole hour. The French employers and employees considered taking aperitif, the choice of drink was the same for all. The routine of drinking absinthe was the same for all no matter what age group they belonged to.
After gaining popularity in France the drink made it to the heart of each European; crossed the ocean and made Americans the enthusiast of Absinthe. Absinthe had a set of properties – it sparked creativity among the Parisian artiste. The working class felt lighter after drinking it, refreshed bourgeois in summer hot weather, some even consider it to be a strong aphrodisiac. The time between 5 Pm -7 PM was called as “the green time” as people felt really light and romantic after drinking Absinthe.
The other part of the world where absinthe gained love was also started from the soldiers. Algerian soldiers and bourgeois drank shady potion which really smelt as a mouth rise to stay up. In 1860, the drink gained popularity among the simple commoners alike. In the olden days absinthe was an expensive drink and was based on vine. Later on, cheaper versions made from grain spirit or alcohol were introduced which made the drink accessible but also harmful at the same time. The un-distilled absinthe was the bitterest.
The bourgeois got infected with the drinking habit as the working hours got reduced and pay was raised; having spare income allowed these people to drink wine due to this the prices were raised. Due to this, the core ingredient of absinthe was replaced with denatured wine – further decreasing the price.
In 1880, the negatives of the drink were brought to lime light. Schizophrenia, different ailments and even death were associated with the drink. Irrespective of its side effect the enthusiast continued consumption; with each passing year the consumption rose. With time the opposition side gained more and more followers- “if drinking absinthe isn’t banned, the country will soon become giant padded cell where half French people will be clothed in straitjackets by the remaining half”.
According to rumors the middle class individuals wanted to reach the state various painters, poets and writers reached after drinking absinthe. It was claimed that these artist admired green fairy (fr. “la fée verte”). The rumors have it that this very muse had inspired great creations in painting and poetry. In the year of 1859 Édouard Manet, made a remarkable painting and named it “The Absinthe Drinker”; this painting got him a spot at “The Salon” – place where intellectual painters wanted to be. Zola, Modigliani, Baudelaire, Verlaine, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Victor Hugo and many others had praised the wonders of absinthe. The “absinthe lovers” mostly started and ended their day with a glass of “la fée verte” at cafes in Montparnasse. Solid facts are known that show Toulouse-Lautrec wasn’t strong enough to bare separation from the beloved drink; even carried it with him filled in a special flask. This flask was capable of containing half a liter of absinthe!!!
Among the “craziest” followers of the drink were Rimbaud and Verlaine… Lovers didn’t feel even slightest embarrassment to drink absinthe in broad daylight even reading poetry to each other. All this turned into madness in the darkness of night. Together Rimbaud and Verlaine approached brothels where unbelievable misdeed was committed.
This was the time when all evils like opera, prostitution, massive laughter and embarrassing events took place. The historians are unable to give exact number of French, English, poets and German painters were hooked and were in love of the green fairy. However, it came to an end!
In month of July Jean Lanfray, a Swiss farmer, as he was under the spell of alcohol and two glasses of absinthe he actually killed his own beloved family. He had consumed 7 glasses of it and six of brandy along with this he had consumed two glasses of mint liker and a coffee as well. The first two glasses of absinthe were blamed but the other glasses were ignored. The case made it to the front pages of all major European papers and the outcome was 82,450 people signed appeal to ban the drink in Switzerland. In 1906 it had been satisfied.
Among French the mass alcoholism and lacking of army due to overall deterioration in health of workforce associated with repeated consumption of the drink led to fact that August 16, 1914 French government made efforts to ban absinthe. In March, 1915 on gaining support from “wine lobbying” had not only made the prohibition on the sale but also the production of absinthe.
In 1912, the American senate voted the prohibition of all those beverages that contained “thujone”. In 1980 American government ruled to prohibit all army men from drinking absinthe even if they were abroad. In the end one way or the other the drink got banned in a huge number of countries including Switzerland, Belgium, USA, Italy, Germany, Bulagria and many others. It was given the label of a drug. Since 1930s till the start of 20th century absinthe could not exist on bar shelves. The substitute created is vodka.
Absinthe Revival
Scotland is thought to be a country where absinthe rebirth took place. The drink was not banned in Scotland until 1998. Distillery named Czech Hill’s was established in 1920 Absinthe was exported to the British market. Celebrities had contributed most to the accomplishment of this project. Special efforts were made by Johnny Depp. During the film making of “Fear and Loathing in Las-Vegas” Jonny Depp shared his absinthe experience with co worker Hunter S. Thompson during the shooting of movie “Sleepy Hollow”. This practice gained momentum and the fashion was accepted by many across the ocean. Numerous celebrities drank absinthe; may it be Eminem or Marilyn Manson. Although the taste was awful but was popular in Czech. Single reason people drank it was to get drunk quickly. To prolong its taste only masochist can mix water with Absinthe. But you can enjoy the real absinthe taste while you drink it slowly.
Along with the assistance of French absinthe expert and a creator of Absinthe Museum Marie-Claude Delahaye absolutely new brand of the drink was created on the name “La Fée”. The taste of the new brand was better than the Hill’s.
Marketing strategy of the producer was based on British funny attitude towards “the most hazardous poison”, a set of planned promotional techniques were distinctively established. This new attitude had boosted the sales of the product. The main theme of series was based on ‘funny and slightly sinister’ tone. Moreover absinthe was never a “cheery” drink.
In the year of 2004 the government of country Switzerland passed legislation against absinthe thus banning it. In July, 24, 2004 Supreme Court of Amsterdam affirmed 1909 law which prohibited absinthe as unacceptable by Dutch law. Nowadays, manufacturers are forced to follow EU rules regarding thujone products in absinthe.

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Martin Kovar

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