Saw that the previously banned alcoholic beverage absinthe is now being sold by a New York liquor store at about $60 a bottle. I was intrigued. As a former New Orleanian who frequented The Old Absinthe House in the French Quarter (yes, sometimes on dates with Fred), I knew that the production and distribution of absinthe was banned in the U.S. in the early 1900s because a major ingredient was grande wormwood, which contains a substance — thujone — suspected of being a hallucinogen.
A green liquor (not a liqueur), absinthe often was referred to as the Green Faerie. It’s a 140-proof anise-tasting liquor and is usually mixed with water, which produces a cloudy beverage. Absinthe has been having a resurgence of interest, possibly because of its association with famous artists and writers who were aficionados of the drink in the 1890s and earlier 20th century. The prohibition has also attracted some libertarian-type defenders of absinthe.
It turns out that recently an enterprising former New Orleans guy, Ted Breaux (you know he’s from Louisiana if his French name ends in X) concocted a recipe to produce a French absinthe —Lucid — that isn’t illegal because it contains less than 10mg of thujone per liter, and thus meets the requirements for the U.S. importation and sale of the alcohol. According to news reports, it has now been approved by the Department of the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
A lengthy article on absinthe and some of the famous and infamous people associated with imbibing it appears on Wikipedia. Besides the Lucid site, a fascinating article on absinthe appears in moderndrunkardmagazine.com. Numerous sites focus on this liquor — there’s even a private organization devoted to wormwood (and absinthe).
Here’s what Ernest Hemingway’s character Robert Jordan had to say about it:
It was a milky yellow now with the water and he hoped the gypsy would not take more than a swallow. One cap of it took the place of the evening papers, of all the old evenings in cafes, of all chestnut trees that would be in bloom now in this month, of the great slow horses of the outer boulevards, of book shops, of kiosks, and of galleries, of the Parc Montsouris, of the Stade Buffalo, and of the Butte Chaumont, of the Guaranty Trust Company and the Ille de la Cite, of Foyot’s old hotel, and of being able to read and relax in the evening; of all the things he had enjoyed and forgotten and that came back to him when he tasted that opaque, bitter, tongue-numbing, brain-warming, stomach-warming, idea changing liquid alchemy.”
– Ernest Hemingway, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”