Blog: Chris MercerAbsinthe - Return of the Green Fairy

Chris Mercer | 20 April 2011

It may have had a part in severing Vincent Van Gogh's ear and almost certainly fuelled the urges (creative and otherwise) of French bohemians. Now, absinthe can once again take its place on the back-bars of France.

The country's Senate has approved a new law that will allow producers to call their products 'absinthe' for the first time since 1915, when the drink was outlawed. It marks a significant juncture for a drink that has long been labelled the bad boy of spirits.

Those who drank it in the 19th and early 20th Centuries were said to be 'dancing with the green fairy' - a reference to absinthe's colour and hallucinogenic properties, as well as its strength of around 70% abv.

Pernod Ricard is one company that owes something of a debt to 'la fée verte'. Its anise-flavoured, namesake spirits - Pernod and Ricard - were partially aided in the market by a ban on the stronger, more troublesome absinthe.

Traditional absinthe is based on the herb grand wormwood, also known as Artemisia absinthium, but different recipes include a range of other herbs.

Much of the furore around absinthe's hallucinogenic properties centred on the chemical thujone. In these days of red tape and regulations, the European Union has set a limit of 10mg per litre of thujone in absinthe, but levels are believed to have been much higher than this in the heady times of 19th Century France.

Not everyone followed France's lead by banning absinthe. In the UK, the drink never really took off in the same way, meaning it was less of a concern for the authorities.

In 1999, producers exploited a loophole in French law and began selling "spirit infused with absinthe plants".


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