The clear water of mountain streams, the scent of fresh herbs, the fire burning under a cauldron in a small hut on long winter nights, these are all ingredients of the legendary Swiss drink< /p>
Surprisingly, more myths and prejudices about absinthe are still known than real facts.
The source of troubles and hallucinations
For more than a hundred years, absinthe has been ahead of its bad reputation. Even those who have never tried it, somewhere out of the corner of their ears heard that this drink contains a hallucinogen, so until recently it was strictly banned in Europe and the USA.
Some, on the other hand, with a serious they pretend that now the hallucinogens in the recipe have been eliminated. The most famous cases associated with absinthe are that it was because of him that Edgar Allan Poe went crazy, and Van Gogh cut off his ear.
To clear your mind of misconceptions, it is enough to take a short trip through the historical “region of absinthe” in the Jura Mountains, starting in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel in the Val de Travers valley, where this drink first appeared in the middle of the 18th century, and ending in the French border region of Franche -Comte in the commune of Pontarlier, where its first industrial production was established at the beginning of the 19th century.
You can now find absinthe distilleries all along the route – of course, remake, but with an entourage of historical continuity. And at the beginning of the journey in Neuchâtel, in the town of Motier, since 2014, the Absinthe Museum has been opened, where you can study in detail the technology of creating the drink, its varieties and difficult history, and complete the tour with an acquaintance with real bootleggers.
Due to the fact that absinthe was re-legalized only at the beginning of the 3rd millennium, there are still no uniform rules and requirements for the composition and technological process of its manufacture. Only the concentration of thujone, a substance contained in wormwood, the main component of absinthe, is regulated by law.
It was to thujone as a toxic ketone, allegedly causing epileptic seizures and hallucinations, that the initiators of the anti-absinth campaign had the main complaints. And today they continue to be treated with caution: in Europe it is allowed to sell absinthe with a thujone content of no more than 35 mg/liter, and in the USA – 10 mg/liter, although numerous studies show that the destructive effect of thujone on the human psyche, to put it mildly, exaggerated.
Not a single wormwood
Absinthe may not contain wormwood at all, but according to the current rules, no one will forbid it to be called absinthe anyway. The composition of other herbs and strength can also vary – from 35 to 90 degrees. Even the color is not constant: absinthe is green, as in the pictures, blue, red, black, brown or colorless.
Finally, there is no clear control over compliance with technology, so hundreds of ersatz absinthe drinks are walking around the world from alcohol mixed with herbal essences and dyes.
Moreover, almost because of a century-old ban, now no one can claim to know the taste of “real absinthe”. All we're left with are recipes from books, family tales, and Impressionist paintings in museums.
Classic absinthe is a drink made by secondary distillation of grape spirit with a certain set of herbs. That is, technologically it is closer to gin than to bitter (in the latter, infusion occurs after distillation).
Read also strong drinks
Dispute of inventors
According to legend, initially absinthe appeared as a medicine. Its main component was an extract of wormwood, or Artemisia absinthium, known since ancient times. For example, in the Ebres Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian medical manuscript dating from 1550 B.C. e., wormwood is recommended as an effective anthelmintic and gastric remedy. Hippocrates used wormwood in the treatment of rheumatism and as an anesthetic.
Despite the bitterness that made wormwood a household name (one can recall Solomon’s warnings about someone else’s wife, the consequences of which are “bitter like wormwood, sharp like a double-edged sword”), already in the Middle Ages it was willingly added to various tonic drinks. For example, a 16th-century recipe for Purl of Tudor tincture has been preserved: wormwood leaves aged in dark ale.
(Hyssopus officinalis), Cretan oregano (Origanum dictamnus), calamus (Acorus calamus), lemon balm, as well as a small amount of coriander, veronica, chamomile, parsley and, presumably, spinach. However, there is no real confirmation of the activities of Dr. Ordiner and his authorship of the drink.
According to another legend, the tincture was invented by a resident of the Val-de-Travers, Henriette Hanrio, or mother Anrio, as she is lovingly called in these parts. Well versed in the Jurassic forbs, she made a bouquet that very effectively supported pep in the long winter nights.
The news of Mother Henriot's drink quickly spread through the towns and villages of Neuchâtel, the afflicted reached out to the old woman, and soon the whole region started its own village distillery. However, this story also has no documentary evidence. Most likely, Mother Henriot is a collective image of representatives of different wine-making families, and it is not known who exactly owned the original recipe.
The continuation of the story is better known. In 1797, the first vintage distillery Major Henri Dubied was opened in the town of Couvet in Neuchâtel.. Rumor has it that Henri Dubier bought the recipe (some say he even stole it) from Mother Henriot herself. In the same year, Dubier became related to the family of the watchmaker Abraham-Louis Pernot, marrying his daughter to his son Henri-Louis Pernot.
Henri-Louis decided that his father-in-law's business was much more interesting than the family watchmaking tradition, and he set to work with great enthusiasm. In five years, his company became the largest absinthe producer in the region, buying up all the small distilleries, and at the beginning of the 19th century began to supply its drink to neighboring France.
In 1805, the company opened a large distillery in the French Pontarlier. This distillery became the largest center of absinthe production in the 19th century, and although it was only twenty kilometers from the Swiss border, since then the drink has been strongly associated with France.
From all ailments in the green hour
At first, absinthe was nowhere as popular as in the native countryside. Decent Frenchmen drank wine, and ordinary people found their own use for grape spirit. The properties of this distillate were appreciated by the soldiers during the French colonial wars in 1830-1840.
Here absinthe was at its best: it dulled pain, stopped diarrhea, prevented malaria – in general, in moderate doses it did everything that the ancient medical treatises promised. In addition, because of its strength, you had to drink a little: the effect came already from the first glass.
Absinthe reached its peak of popularity by the middle of the 19th century, when ladies and creative bohemia tasted it. Unlike bourgeois wine, absinthe could be sipped a little, diluted with water. Here all his romantic attributes have already played their role – for example, a piece of sugar on a special spoon, designed to kill the bitterness of wormwood. The green color of the drink, given by the chlorophyll contained in plants, led to the romantic image of the “green fairy”.
Finally, consumers were fascinated by the famous “ouzo effect” formed by mixing anise essential oil with water, resulting in a clear liquid turning into a milky white essence. Other anise drinks like the same ouzo or arak were not common in the West at that time, and the focus of absinthe with water aroused interest.
In 1863, European vineyards fell victim to phylloxera, and for some time absinthe became the most massive alcoholic drink in France. Bars even have the definition of l’heure verte(green hour), referring to five o'clock in the evening, when most people finished work and went to have their first glass.
Absinthe was also loved by high society. Not only because he appeared in the paintings of Degas and Manet, but primarily thanks to the graphic artist Jules Cheret, who created hundreds of colorful posters dedicated to absinthe at the end of the 19th century.
How to drink absinthe
Many people are attracted to absinthe not by taste, but by a bizarre drinking ritual that includes special devices called absinthe. According to the rules, sugar and cold water are added to the drink. To begin with, absinthe is poured into the bottom of a tall figured glass, on top of which a special silver spoon with a piece of sugar is placed. Most often, the spoon is in the form of a wide triangular spatula with holes, but sometimes it can be a long cocktail spoon with an oval grate in the middle of the handle, and then the spoon is placed across the glass, and the sugar is placed on the grate.
Now you need to pour water into a glass with a thin stream directly through the sugar (for an aperitif, the ratio of absinthe and water is 1: 3). For water, you can use an ordinary jug, or you can use a special “fountain” that resembles a copper samovar with several taps. It is convenient in that several people at the table can pour water at the same time. In addition, it is easier to control the pressure and direction of the water jet with a tap in order to slowly wash sugar into a glass.
The harm of the last glass
It is believed that two factors came into play at this time, eventually leading to a disaster. Firstly, since along with the cut down vineyards, the price of grape alcohol itself also rose, many unscrupulous producers began to switch to cheap raw materials, believing that no one would try forgery for anise and wormwood. Secondly, the wine lobby itself actively joined the fight against absinthe, which largely contributed to fanning rumors about the mortal harm of a competitor.
In response to Shere's romantic posters, drawings began to appear in newspapers demonstrating the degradation of absinthe consumers. Thujone was declared the source of evil, and the insidious “green fairy” was chosen as its symbol, although wormwood was not at all the main source of chlorophyll.
The trigger for harassment at the state level was the process of the Swiss worker Jean Lanfre (French by nationality), who on August 28, 1905 in the canton of Vaud killed his pregnant wife and two children. As Lanfre himself testified at the trial, before that he drank seven glasses of wine, six glasses of cognac, two menthol liqueurs, coffee with brandy, two glasses of absinthe and ate a sandwich with his father-in-law. Then he asked his wife to shine his shoes, and when she refused, he shot her with a rifle.
The greatest indignation of the public in this story was caused by the ill-fated two glasses of absinthe. A petition to ban the “narcotic potion” was signed by 82 thousand people, and already on May 15, 1906, absinthe was banned in the canton of Vaud, and in 1908 – in all of Switzerland.
A parallel movement was going on throughout Europe. Absinthe was outlawed in Belgium in 1906, in Holland in 1909, in Italy in 1913, and France surrendered in 1915. In the US, absinthe was banned in 1912, eight years before Prohibition. Germany joined the antiabsinthe league after World War I, in 1923.
Officially, absinthe was not banned only in Great Britain and Spain, where it was not particularly consumed anyway, as well as in Czechoslovakia, where absinthe had a peculiar history.
After the ban on absinthe in In Western Europe, many manufacturers wondered where to find a place with more progressive views. A popular destination for migration was Prague during the First Republic, which lasted from 1918 until the Munich Agreements of 1938.
In addition to the fact that the city was already considered the center of cultural and intellectual life, it was also possible to drink a drink forbidden by the bourgeoisie without any problems. Naturally, all this bohemian life in Bohemia ceased during the period of communism, but the tradition was revived quite quickly with its departure.
It is not really known when the change in technology took place: before the Second World War or already in our time. In any case, it turned out that Czechs perceive absinthe better as a variation of bitters like Becherovka or Fernet.
In the recipe for “Bohemian absinthe”, which is officially called < i>absinth (without Eat the end), there is no anise, and when diluted with water, there is no “ouzo effect”. Therefore, a different drinking ritual was invented for Czech absinthe. A piece of sugar is dipped in absinthe, then placed on a spoon over a glass and set on fire. Burning sugar is thrown into a glass and only then poured with water in a 1: 1 ratio, which gives a slight hazy effect.
The ban on absinthe lasted almost a century. The factory in France, founded by Henri-Louis Pernot, was eventually bought by a Marseille manufacturer of an alternative anise drink that does not contain harmful wormwood. In France, in 1981, they allowed the production of “absinthe”, but without thujone. However, in the homeland of absinthe, in the Val de Travers, they never believed in fairy tales about hallucinogens.
In the Swiss mountains, people are serious, hardworking. Someone collects watches, someone brews chocolate. And many continued to clandestinely drive absinthe. One might even say semi-underground, because the products of private distilleries were purchased not only by grateful friends and neighbors, but also by local bars and restaurants.
Because of this, in 1983 there was an international scandal. French President François Mitterrand, while dining at the Hotel Du Peyrou restaurant in Neuchâtel, ordered the signature dessert Soufflé glacé à la Fée verte (Green Fairy soufflé ice cream) and indignantly recognized It tastes like real absinthe. I wonder how Mitterrand knew the taste of the forbidden thujone? However, the chef later swore that he added pastis to the ice cream.
This embarrassment was brought to the attention of the Swiss authorities, and in the 1980s, a new wave of anti-absinthe campaign arose in Val-de-Travers according to all the rules of Prohibition: with police raids, searches, demonstrative seizure of distillers and breaking of bottles. As well as arrests, trials and huge fines. Many bootleggers were forced to flee from persecution to Spain, where absinthe was not banned.
And yet, times were not so dense. In the 1990s, more and more studies were published dispelling the myths about the narcotic properties of thujone. In addition, Czech absinthe, the production of which improved immediately after the fall of the Iron Curtain, began to massively capture the market of exotic drinks. And if there were complaints, then only for cheap fakes.
As a result, absinthe with wormwood was legalized in Switzerland in 2004, a year later – in the Netherlands and Belgium, and then throughout the European Union, in 2007 absinthe with a minimum content of wormwood officially returned to America.
Interesting that, since the law is not retroactive, all the caught bootleggers of the Val de Traver are still convicted criminals and are forced to pay thousands of fines for the rest of their lives. On the other hand, they became living legends of the commune, and their surviving equipment served as the basis for the exposition of the Absinthe Museum in Motiers. In the same place, by the way, you can meet someone in the evenings right in the bar: here on the wall hangs a police photo of the capture of a famous bootlegger named Nosy, and here the aged Nosaty himself sits down at the counter to pass his traditional evening glass of the “green fairy”.< /p>
Photo: ALBUM (1)/LEGION MEDIA, ALAMY (3)/LEGION MEDIA
Material published in the magazine “Vokrug sveta” No. 2 , March 2021, partially updated in September 2022