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What is Absinthe | Swiss Absinthe Distribution

What is Absinthe


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Is absinthe legal in Switzerland?

Absinthe is 100% legal in Switzerland – it can be bought, owned and consumed like any other alcoholic drink. This was not always the case, however. “The green fairy” has been free to cast her spell in Switzerland since 1 March 2005. The ball was set in motion by a change in EU law in 1998 that allowed the production of absinthe and its import to the union. The permitted thujone concentration was fixed at a maximum of 35mg/kg. 



 Why was absinthe banned? 

The first thrust to ban absinthe came through the temperance movement at the end of the 19th century in France, when the problem of alcoholism was first recognised. Against this backdrop, the Lanfray murders in Commugny proved a very welcome tale for all absinthe opponents. The rural Swiss community was the scene of a tragic family drama in the summer of 1905 in Commugny, when a drunk agricultural labourer first shot and killed his wife and then his two daughters. Absinthe was made solely responsible for the murders, although it was demonstrated to the court that the man drank several litres of wine every day. But absinthe’s reputation was destroyed. A referendum was held in 1908 to ban the drink and on passing was made law on 7 October 1910, against the Federal Council’s recommendation. What is interesting in this context are the links and mutual support structures in the Swiss referendum battle. In it, the temperance movement (headed by the Blue Cross and others), church groups and the wine lobby joined to give rise to an unholy alliance. Viewing the absinthe ban in historical terms clearly demonstrates that the spirit was instrumentalised for other political goals. These were primarily nationalistic, racist and economic in nature. 



Is absinthe dangerous? 

Absinthe is not a narcotic and causes neither hallucinations nor madness. There were no sound scientific reasons for the prohibition at the beginning of the 20th century. None of the ingredients in absinthe is illegal or dangerous, nor does it turn people violent. On the contrary, many absinthe drinkers say that they keep a clear head, unlike other distilments that dull the senses. This effect is often linked to the herbal recipe and the thujone content. 


What is thujone?
 
Thujone is the legendary active ingredient in absinthe and a psychoactive neurotoxin. Besides the many herbs in absinthe, thujone is thought to be largely responsible for the increase in creativity and libido. It has the other pleasant effect of brightening the drinker’s mood. As the ancients knew, the wormwood plant has many applications in medicine. The dark-green to brown or bluish, strongly smelling, proverbially bitter oil obtained from the silvery leaves of Artemisia absinthium contains between 40% and 90% of the psychoactive agent thujone. 



 How is absinthe drunk?
There is hardly another alcoholic drink around which so many rituals have developed as with absinthe. There are old rituals that have survived the ban as well as new ones that have joined them. The traditional method from Switzerland and France calls for a classic absinthe glass and a slotted spoon on which a sugar cube is placed. A “fontaine” is then used to pour the water slowly over the sugar until it has completely dissolved and drips into the absinthe. Then there is the Bohemian Method, in which the sugar cube is first dipped in the absinthe, then set ablaze and with it the alcohol before the water is introduced. Today, the commonest varieties of Absinthe, in particular those from Switzerland, are less bitter and sometimes already sweet through their blend of herbs, and frequently omit sugar altogether. 



What is the “louche effect”? 

Mixing water with the absinthe results in a typical milky opalescence that, depending on the ingredients, may take on a green or blue shade. Called by the French the “louche effect”, it occurs in absinthe-water combinations of 1:4 to 1:6. Entirely according to taste. 



 What makes Swiss absinthe special? 

Although absinthe traces its origins to the Val-de-Travers, it is now produced in many countries, including France, the US, Spain, Germany and Switzerland. Only Switzerland, however, has regulations governing its production. Absinthe from Switzerland has to be distilled, may not contain any artificial colouring or flavours, and may not be artificially sweetened. The product is thus protected and guarantees the highest quality, while other countries still lack such controls. 



 Is absinthe bitter?
 
The traditional recipe for authentic absinthe is not really that bitter. The bitter taste is similar to that of black coffee or dark chocolate. The bitterness originates in the chlorophyll of the wormwood plant (Artemisia absinthium), which is distilled to remove the pigments and the strong bitter flavour. The herbs used may also capture and smooth out any slight bitterness. 



 How do absinthes vary?
 
The large and small wormwood, together with fennel and anise, form the basis of all absinthe varieties from Switzerland. But wormwood is not the only ingredient, and all distillers market absinthes made to various different recipes, which may contain anything from five to 15 different herbs. Lemon balm, peppermint, liquorice and coriander are common additions. As a result, there are a great many absinthes available with a variety of ingredients and flavours.

 

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