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I have a bottle of the real stuff - from Switzerland - sitting unopened for over a year. I'm intimidated by it.

 

Out of curiosity, why?

 

Not a single scientific study has shown any hallucinatory (or related) effects from thujone, the supposedly-narcotic component. The ban on thujone-containing foods in the US is clearly outdated. As a good point of reference, if you go to the database at http://www.ars-grin.gov/duke/highchem.html and search for plants containing thujone, you'll see:

 

Salvia officinalis L. -- Sage Plant 13,000 ppm

Salvia officinalis L. -- Sage Leaf 12,636 ppm

Salvia triloba L. -- Greek Sage Plant 1,620 ppm

Artemisia dracunculus L. -- Tarragon Shoot 600 ppm

Mentha x rotundifolia (L.) HUDSON -- Applemint Leaf 360 ppm

Pycnanthemum tenuifolium SCHRAD. -- Slenderleaf Mountain Mint Shoot 190 ppm

Mentha pulegium L. -- European Pennyroyal Plant 20 ppm

Sideritis scardica GRISEB. -- Balkan Sideritis Shoot 0-20 ppm

Thymus orospedanus H. del VILLAR -- Orosped Thyme Plant 1 ppm

 

So if you wish to avoid absinthe because of the thujone, you should definitely avoid all things with sage in them. But sage is on the FDA's list of "SUBSTANCES GENERALLY RECOGNIZED AS SAFE"

 

As far as the alcohol content goes, the generally-accepted traditional method of consuming absinthe is in a ~5:1 water:absinthe concoction (plus a little sugar). Let's take one of the stronger absinthes as an example: the Jade Edouard 72 is, as the name suggests, 72% ABV. Although strong, 151-proof rum (75.5% ABV) is stronger. If mixed with water in 5:1 ratio, starting with 1 oz. of absinthe, that's 12% ABV in a total quantity of 6 oz. of liquid. No stronger and maybe only slightly larger than a standard decent-sized glass of wine.

 

Given those facts, what's intimidating about absinthe? It's kind of like avoiding gin because of the social consequences portrayed in William Hogarth Gin Lane.

 

I fully admit the Czech (and similar) stuff, made by macerating wormwood in high-proof grain alcohol and adding all sorts of other stuff for color and flavor, is quite bad (though no different than any other rotgut alcohol). Several of us had some in Russia, and that was nasty nasty nasty. But real distilled absinthe, made by reputable manufacturers, in France, Switzerland, Spain or otherwise, can be quite nice, whether by itself or in something traditional such as a Sazerac.

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Oh god, I'm not intimidated because of the possible effects it might have on me. Quite the opposite. I want to drink it with the right equipment, in the traditional manner, and not just out of a glass.

 

We had it all at monkeymay's cafe: absinthe, the proper spoon and glass. The fairy smiled upon us. :P

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Oh god, I'm not intimidated because of the possible effects it might have on me. Quite the opposite. I want to drink it with the right equipment, in the traditional manner, and not just out of a glass.

 

I bought most of implements on eBay... but this was before I found the Alandia site and they sell them as well.

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Blasphemous, I know, but try some Golden Eagle Arak instead and drink it with just enough water to turn it white (you can tell yourself it's Absinthe while doing so). I guarantee reality will be altered in favorable ways and without all that sugar and food colorings.

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  • 6 months later...

I have a collection of Absinthe paraphernalia bought maybe 5-6 years ago--the bottles for water, the sugar holder, the carafe, the spoons. I want to buy a fountain, but the real items are frightfully expensive. There was a dealer who had a website offering what he claimed were genuine items. I bought several from him, then he sold off everything except the posters and art work. I have a pyrogene (match holder) from the 1930s with an Absinthe ad on it. it was the most expensive one in my whole collection.

 

It is believed that the poisonous effects were due to the use of bad alcohol from bootlegger stills in France. It produced blindness and dementia. There is nothing inherently hallucinogenic about wormwood or the process of making this anise flavored liqueur. It's all been romaticized

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It is believed that the poisonous effects were due to the use of bad alcohol from bootlegger stills in France. It produced blindness and dementia. ... It's all been romaticized.

Definitely. Melonius, I've followed this subject for a long time (and more recently the meta-subject of its renewed popularity -- for instance, the 8 or so Web hits I recorded in a late-2000 search have increased, to half a million now). Most of the scientific demystification is very public and over 60 years old. Here's a digest of background info I posted elsewhere.

US FDA's massive EAFUS index (Everything Added to Food in the US) has long classed wormwood (A. absinthium) and its products as banned, beyond trace amounts, on the basis of containing thujone, whose 1869 French stigma as toxic was the technical rationale for banning absinthium-flavored liquors internationally (1910-1915). As the science developed further after the ban, thujone was found in "many essential oils." Food herbs classified today in the same USFDA index as entirely healthy were found to contain thujone levels like wormwood's. This was public by the 1940s in mainstream scientific texts. If you smell a jar of reasonably fresh ground sage, you are sensing camphor and thujone, its two major principles and chemically related (as are menthol from mint and thymol from thyme, by the way).

 

Even recent writings luridly paint thujone as "toxic," a misleading term unless quantitative (even water, we now know, is poisonous in enough quantity). Natural thujone's lethal dose (available for decades in reference books in any library) resembles those of other physiologically active components in foods, such as caffeine (mouse LD50s both about 135 mg/kg). Caffeine is a convulsive toxin at the same (gross) overdose levels as thujone. (One of various demystifying facts missing from the 2006 New Yorker article incidentally.) Very gross overdose: For a human-sized animal, around 100 cups of coffee for caffeine, or a staggering quantity of cooking sage for thujone, or 150-300 bottles of thujone-rich absinthe liquor (and 1-2 bottles of any distilled liquor contain a human-lethal dose of alcohol). Grossman's mainstream US drinks book already complained 40+ years ago that contrary to myth, alcohol is the main toxic issue in absinthe. Some traditionally-made absinthe liquors even lack any thujone at all, and have been boasting of it for a century (despite claims that this is a recent discovery).

 

Methanol seems to've been a star in the crowded constellation of 19th-c. health problems associated with absinthe and misattributed. Some history helps to understand this. Early firms such as Pernod Fils made a premium product from grape alcohol and quality ingredients, aimed at connoisseurs. As the fad for absinthe developed in France and Europe, many firms entered to compete. Some of them employed doubtful industrial alcohol, others used crude coloring materials for the emerald green hue Pernod got from herb leaves.* These shortcuts had health effects distinct from those of quality absinthe. Anti-absinthe propaganda and absinthe lore (even now) have not always noted the distinction. The history part is fairly well covered in Barnaby Conrad's 1988 Absinthe book (reissued 1997), the standard modern US introduction to the subject.

 

* Get ahold of the common Crown 1961 (English-language) Larousse Gastronomique and look up Reverdir, the "re-greening" of vegetables by blanching with copper salts, which were seriously toxic but gave a fine green color.

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News: Since those stories hit Wednesday, high-end liquor dealers in the distiller's home region (where I am) are deluged with requests from around the US for the new product (when realeased) on anticipation of those retailers' allocation priority. What happens when the stuff is widely available, and many people have tried it? Rancho Gordo's line in the "fakes" thread: Now that I know I can have it, I don't want.

 

I tried the new product some time ago, maybe some of you have too. Interesting like many herbal liquors, and real absinthes I've tried over the years, but there are many interesting herbal liquors, they are niche tastes or cooking ingredients (where absinthe excells -- shellfish steamed or cooked with it and other flavorings can be exquisite -- Pernod shares this property, though its flavorings lean differently). I wonder what will happen when familiarity removes the MSG factor of forbidden fruit.

 

More angles here. The essential change in these new products AFAIK from having a library of related literature -- and following this subject for years; and based on news accounts -- is the word "absinthe" is now OK on US labels (with modifiers and typography constraints). The governing USFDA food regulation long allowed wormwood, if "finished product thujone-free." The new products would have conformed 20 years ago, but for needing TTB approval of a liquor label saying "absinthe." Further, we've had over-the-counter French near-absinthes in US for years whose makers say they use the same wormwood/mugwort herb family and meet USFDA regs, but don't say "absinthe." (Like Versinthe. Most absinthe substitutes don't fit that description.) In thanking the Chron's author for her unusually well-researched faux-pas-free absinthe article, I asked what exactly was different in the new products -- besides name, and flavor detail of course. Don't know yet.

 

Finally as mentioned upthread, science overtook absinthe not long after its international ban, and vastly demystified it. Since then thujone is seen much less colorfully, as just another herb principle present in many plants (including common food herbs), with toxic properties in gross overdose, same overdose level as caffeine, which incidentally is more psychoactive and has as much in a cup as the strongest thujone-rich absinthe has thujone in a bottle. Why is this "modern" (for 70 years) perspective missing when other manufacturers give interviews, or new hobby Web sites write FAQs? They sound like pre-ban prohibitionists on thujone. It's demonic stuff, they say, and certainly will kill you immediately. (As they add tarragon and sage to their pasta sauce.) I don't know if they didn't do their most basic homework, or for some reason want to demonize thujone while praising their thujone-free products. A mystery, a mythos.

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News: Since those stories hit Wednesday, high-end liquor dealers in the distiller's home region (where I am) are deluged with requests from around the US for the new product (when realeased) on anticipation of those retailers' allocation priority. What happens when the stuff is widely available, and many people have tried it? Rancho Gordo's line in the "fakes" thread: Now that I know I can have it, I don't want.

 

I tried the new product some time ago, maybe some of you have too. Interesting like many herbal liquors, and real absinthes I've tried over the years, but there are many interesting herbal liquors, they are niche tastes or cooking ingredients (where absinthe excells -- shellfish steamed or cooked with it and other flavorings can be exquisite -- Pernod shares this property, though its flavorings lean differently). I wonder what will happen when familiarity removes the MSG factor of forbidden fruit.

///

Why is this "modern" (for 70 years) perspective missing when other manufacturers give interviews, or new hobby Web sites write FAQs? They sound like pre-ban prohibitionists on thujone. It's demonic stuff, they say, and certainly will kill you immediately. (As they add tarragon and sage to their pasta sauce.) I don't know if they didn't do their most basic homework, or for some reason want to demonize thujone while praising their thujone-free products. A mystery, a mythos.

Without the mythology, Absinthe would be as marketable as Aquavit in America--a wonderful spirit that does very little volume compared with flavored vodkas. The people who want to sell this product for super premium prices are betting that its lurid past will provide ample rationale for buzz seekers to pay $75 a bottle for it.

 

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The people who want to sell this product for super premium prices are betting that its lurid past will provide ample rationale for buzz seekers to pay $75 a bottle for it.

I don't know (haven't asked their motivations) but could fit the facts. Severe ironies characterize the present US situation. The standard of public absinthe information may have moved backwards the last few years. Conrad's 1988 book and Matthew Baggott's 1997 online notes, two main public sources for years, didn't show all the demystifications learned post-ban; but folks stepping forward eagerly to instruct everyone, after the sudden hobby interest, show, if anything, less of this information (to say nothing of proper credit to predecessors). I've refereed scholarly technical papers now for almost 30 years and -- of course that's a different world, evidential standards are higher, it's not good form just to assert whatever you happen to believe -- but what I've seen online is embarassing, viewed against prior popular sources, and other relevant literature. Thanks for reading my tirades, however. A little more if you haven't had your fill -- from notes:

 

In a 1988 absinthe thread on rec.food.drink (then the Internet's public general drinks forum), one frustrated absinthe seeker pursued an image of danger and mystery. I commiserated. "However, Ouzo, Pernod, etc. are plenty toxic in their own right; don't overlook this. Just pretend they are illegal and stylish, and there you are."

 

There you are -- image and reality. Grossman, in his US drinks reference book (4th edition, Scribner's, 1964), who'd handled absinthe professionally in various countries, and writing with a hint of exasperation, dismissed the "aura of mystery." "It is not because of the wormwood that [absinthe] is dangerous but rather ... its alcoholic strength." That was my 1988 point too, and is the core of the modern absinthe story. In the 1800s, some absinthes were much more dangerous, but ironically not because they were absinthes. The dangers were misunderstood and the wormwood herb was scapegoated. The deepest irony is that the reality surfaced after the ban, yet the aura remained, assured by forbidden status and the drink's rarity.

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The people who want to sell this product for super premium prices are betting that its lurid past will provide ample rationale for buzz seekers to pay $75 a bottle for it.

I don't know (haven't asked their motivations) but could fit the facts. Severe ironies characterize the present US situation. The standard of public absinthe information may have moved backwards the last few years. Conrad's 1988 book and Matthew Baggott's 1997 online notes, two main public sources for years, didn't show all the demystifications learned post-ban; but folks stepping forward eagerly to instruct everyone, after the sudden hobby interest, show, if anything, less of this information (to say nothing of proper credit to predecessors). I've refereed scholarly technical papers now for almost 30 years and -- of course that's a different world, evidential standards are higher, it's not good form just to assert whatever you happen to believe -- but what I've seen online is embarassing, viewed against prior popular sources, and other relevant literature. Thanks for reading my tirades, however. A little more if you haven't had your fill -- from notes:

 

In a 1988 absinthe thread on rec.food.drink (then the Internet's public general drinks forum), one frustrated absinthe seeker pursued an image of danger and mystery. I commiserated. "However, Ouzo, Pernod, etc. are plenty toxic in their own right; don't overlook this. Just pretend they are illegal and stylish, and there you are."

 

There you are -- image and reality. Grossman, in his US drinks reference book (4th edition, Scribner's, 1964), who'd handled absinthe professionally in various countries, and writing with a hint of exasperation, dismissed the "aura of mystery." "It is not because of the wormwood that [absinthe] is dangerous but rather ... its alcoholic strength." That was my 1988 point too, and is the core of the modern absinthe story. In the 1800s, some absinthes were much more dangerous, but ironically not because they were absinthes. The dangers were misunderstood and the wormwood herb was scapegoated. The deepest irony is that the reality surfaced after the ban, yet the aura remained, assured by forbidden status and the drink's rarity.

 

I worked as a consultant to Hiram Walker, and Bacardi, largely in developing concepts for new products and new positions for small failing brands. Legends, such as the one that surround Absinthe were the stuff of legend in making a brand successful. Schnapps was turned into a mass product by clever marketers who put gold flecks in the bottle and promoted it as a product to be drunk whilst upside down. Jack Daniels image as a quasi-bootleg booze from a backwater Tenn. village was no small part of its success. "Lem Motlow, proprietor."

 

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