Monday, 31 October 2011

10 things you didn't know about Absinthe: Number 1


I introduced this series in the first article I published (Number 10). Knowing that some readers in the future will start the series with this post, I will repeat that introduction now.

As someone involved in trying to create more interest in high quality absinthes, I am well aware that there has been - and continues to be - a lot of misinformation about absinthe. So the three most important things I can do to rectify that are .... "Education .... education .... and more education."

I am also aware that education isn't always fun, so I try to lighten up my efforts to educate with my own particular sense of humour. English humour? Yes, albeit not directly in the style of Monty Python.

I can also be quite verbose (see some of my other posts for proof of that), so in an attempt to keep it simple, I am going to present over the next 10 days my short list of things you didn't know about absinthe. Some of my better-informed readers will no doubt say "I already knew that," so to them I apologise in advance. A headline saying "10 things you might not have known about absinthe, but maybe some of you do" would not be so punchy!


And so to ..

NUMBER ONE:

ABSINTHE WILL NOT HELP YOU SEE GREEN FAIRIES, AND IS NO MORE LIKELY TO CAUSE ANY EFFECTS THAN ANY OTHER STRONG SPIRIT. WHILE THERE IS A NATURALLY OCCURRING SUBSTANCE IN ABSINTHE CALLED THUJONE AND WHILE THIS CAN HAVE “EFFECTS,” YOU’D HAVE TO DRINK SO MANY BOTTLES OF ABSINTHE TO GET THEM, YOU’D DIE OF ALCOHOL POISONING LONG BEFOREHAND.

Time and time again, it is obvious that many of those starting their absinthe journey expect to get much more than the normal effect of alcohol from absinthe. As I write this, someone has just posted on Twitter:

i wanna try absinthe that drink that makes u hallucinate lol

while over the last day or so, I have read the following on the La Clandestine page on Facebook:

what's the most powerful Absinthe still being sold int he world?

Now, again, what absinthe has the most consciousness rattling bank fir my quid?

Day in, day out, I read similar posts, or, worse still, see similar statements on websites and blogs. There are still some absinthe makers who insist on touting their products as having the maximum thujone, as if that were a relevant point. In the past, I might have expected to read such claims from Eastern European absinthe makers, so it is disappointing to read it from supposedly reputable French companies.

I'll say it again:

ABSINTHE WILL NOT HELP YOU SEE GREEN FAIRIES, AND IS NO MORE LIKELY TO CAUSE ANY EFFECTS THAN ANY OTHER STRONG SPIRIT. WHILE THERE IS A NATURALLY OCCURRING SUBSTANCE IN ABSINTHE CALLED THUJONE AND WHILE THIS CAN HAVE “EFFECTS,” YOU’D HAVE TO DRINK SO MANY BOTTLES OF ABSINTHE TO GET THEM, YOU’D DIE OF ALCOHOL POISONING LONG BEFOREHAND.

For anyone who wants to read the science on this, see thujone.info. I've tried myself to see if thujone can make a difference. In the interests of science, I have drunk absinthe with less than 1 part per million, and one with over 300 parts per million. Almost 10 times the EU limit. And the difference in the "absinthe effect?" None. Nada. Rien de tout. Gar nichts. Niente.

When I talk publicly about absinthe, I try to make my talks interactive. So I ask the following:

Is there anyone here who has seen the green fairies as a result of drinking absinthe?

Or anyone who has heard about the fairies and has been disappointed not to see any?

And the near universal answers to these questions are NO and YES.

Sadly, it seeems that some of those starting to drink absinthe may have been influenced by unscrupulous online merchants. Becase of what they read online, they try absinthe, are disappointed by the lack of effects and never drink absinthe again. They may never have the opportunity to enjoy an absinthe just for its taste.

Maybe some are influenced by famous absinthe paintings, like the one at the top of this article or like this one:

Nice paintings, but these are not really saying the 19th century painters saw hallucinations when drinking absinthe. Consider this much more down-to-earth painting which could also be considered to show an "absinthe effect:"

Of course, drinkers who enjoy absinthe responsibly will not end up looking like Degas's drinker! Or like this one ...


So, just one more time:

ABSINTHE WILL NOT HELP YOU SEE GREEN FAIRIES, AND IS NO MORE LIKELY TO CAUSE ANY EFFECTS THAN ANY OTHER STRONG SPIRIT. WHILE THERE IS A NATURALLY OCCURRING SUBSTANCE IN ABSINTHE CALLED THUJONE AND WHILE THIS CAN HAVE “EFFECTS,” YOU’D HAVE TO DRINK SO MANY BOTTLES OF ABSINTHE TO GET THEM, YOU’D DIE OF ALCOHOL POISONING LONG BEFOREHAND.

Sometimes, I feel that this is a "boring" message for those starting their absinthe journey. But I'd rather tell the truth. Actually if drinkers could focus on the good ... no, the great things about absinthe: its taste, what it can do for cocktails, the sense of drinking part of history, enjoyment of the absinthe drinking ritual (no burning, please), then they would be discovering something much better than any so-called but non-existent effect.

To all my readers who can enjoy absinthe for the right reasons, Santé!

......................................................................................

For Part 2 of 10 things you didn't know about absinthe (How and where absinthe originated), click here.

For Part 3 of 10 things you didn't know about absinthe (Why have women been so important in the history of absinthe), click here.

For Part 4 of 10 things you didn't know about absinthe (Clear absinthe was made and sold before Green absinthe), click here.

For Part 5 of 10 things you didn't know about absinthe (How artificial colours are not needed in absinthe), click here.

For Part 6 of 10 things you didn't know about absinthe (How Absinthe boomed, died and was re-born, helped by a series of accidents), click here.

For Part 7 of 10 things you didn't know about absinthe (How even the French called their best absinthes "Absinthe Suisse" during the 19th century), click here.

For Part 8 of 10 things you don't know about absinthe (What happened when absinthe was banned, and how the Swiss bypassed that ban), click here.

For Part 9 of 10 things you didn't know about absinthe (The accident that led to full European re-legalisation of absinthe), click here.

For Part 10 of 10 things you didn't know about absinthe (The truth about the so-called Burning Ritual), click here.

9 comments:

pølsemaker said...

Lance Winters, the very reputable distiller of St. George Spirits, says the same thing of course. but! he also says, or claims, that the absinthe intoxication is different from those of other liquors. he claims you are more cogent and more aware of what is going on.

http://www.chow.com/food-news/54370/obsessives-absinthe/

Any veracity to THAT?

Alan said...

Thanks for your comment.

Different people may perceive different things and some of these may be no more than a placebo effect. Part of what he says is that absinthe "makes you more aware - or allows you to be more aware - when you are truly inebriated."

And "you are drunk. You remember more ... you see more."

Maybe Lance is fortunate enough to remember what it was like being drunk! I'm not sure that everyone is able to do that, and I think that whatever Lance is getting is very, very marginal.

This is not really a good reason to drink absinthe. There are so many better reasons. Taste, cocktails, etc etc. IMHO.

pølsemaker said...

Well, I agree. I don't tend to get drunk anyway, it's too expensive and too uncomfortable the next day.

I haven't had any kind of absinthe either - they sell two different 'kinds' of 'absinthe' in this state monopoly liquor store country, and neither of the two are anything near actual absinthe.. so I'll pass on those.

I look forward to trying absinthe when I travel to a real country. :)

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Seth Pylad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seth Pylad said...

Thanks Alan for these 10 things you didn't know... This is knowledge that I think everyone who'd ever consider drinking absinthe should take in.

I don't know how it is in other countries but here in Sweden, where I'm from, I think there's an ongoing battle about absinthe as a rather "normal" alcoholic beverage with only natural ingredients and the notion of absinth (!) as being that stuff sold as vibrant blue or toxic green "poison", often marketed as containing the highest amount of thujone or just as a spirit aimed at getting you as drunk as possible.

Knowledge about proper absinthe, and to obtain this knowledge, is essential. And to spread this knowledge, as you do in this blog, is a benefit to all! :)

It's a sad thing that cheaper frauds can be sold as abinth(e) or anything like real absinthe! Do you know anything about why absinthe isn't trademarked globally in some way, so that the name could not be misused? I suppose it has to do with czech style absinth (that fraudulent beverage) being sold some time before genuine absinthe since the lifting of the ban?

Alan said...

Hi Seth,

Why isn't absinthe trade-marked? That's an interesting question and it's probably down to money and influence. In fact Switzerland is the only country in the world with strict standards for absinthe: to be made or sold there, it must be distilled and it cannot have artificial colours. Some have been trying to introduce similar rules in the USA but that could take some time, and Europe, well that's a really long-term project. All told, the market isn't big enough for absinthe companies to be able to fund the necessary lobbying. And of course the biggest historical name in absinthe (owned by the second biggest drinks company in the world) has some of those artificial colours. As do some other big brands made in France.

All in all, it is a long uphill slog, but there are more and more companies and bars who are fighting it. A lot of the top bars in London (as well as NYC) only sell high quality absinthe. That will impact on the pan-European scene eventually.

Raymond Closs said...

I really liked taking part in the whole ritual, I didn't see any fairies or anything, at one point I felt a little like the beginning of a shroom trip, but honestly it was more likely the alcohol, I ordered Enigma Absinthe from France, it was very tasty.
I liked the spirit but I really liked feeling connected with history in that way.

lordsofthedrinks.com said...

Absinthe rocks! My famous countrymate Vincent van Gogh (see link) already knew it and now we continue the tradition. Damn those bans. Absinthe will never go! :)
Cheers,
Micky

http://lordsofthedrinks.com/2014/10/07/vincent-van-gogh-a-brilliant-painter-and-a-raging-alcoholic/