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Lord Michael Lewis

Absinthe: The Topic

533 posts in this topic

Have you ever thought of writing to one of the scientific journals or posting a comment on the journal's web site in response to an article they had published citing the figures you think are erroneous?

Great!  I look forward to seeing your results.  Do you intend to write them up for publication in a scientific journal?

This article by Ian Hutton first appeared in Current Drug Discovery, September, 2002


I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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It's not entirely clear to me whether Current Drug Discovery is a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Regardless, Ian's interesting article does not appear to present experimental data as in a typical journal article and appears in the "Back Pages" section of the magazine.

This is not quite the same thing as writing a counter-article or response, or posting a "rapid response" to, say, the BMJ -- nor does it seem equivalent to submitting an actual experimental study to a peer-reviewed journal to be considered for publication. These are the two things about which I inquired.

Not that any of the above should be taken as a negative comment as to the interesting, provocative and informative nature of Mr. Hutton's article in Current Drug Discovery, which I think is pretty cool. :cool:


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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I assume you refer to: "Duplais P. Traité des liqueurs et de la distillation des alcools ou le liquoriste et le distillateur moderns. Versailles: Chez l'Auteur, 1855" as cited in this article by Strang, Arnold and Peters? If, as you suggest, they have made a mistake in their translation, perhaps you could provide reference to the passage(s) mistranslated and what you believe is the correct translation? I am also curious as to why you think it might be that this error has not been remarked upon in the scientific community. Or do you suppose you are among a very small minority that has rechecked the original information?

This is indeed the source. I don't have a copy of Duplais to hand at present but if you will accept a passage from Bedel's Trait complet de la fabrication des liqueurs et des vins liquoreux dits d'imitation Paris, 1899, (which many people think was largely a rehash of Duplais) I can email or fax it to you. I fear that I may try the forum's patience as well as my own typing accuracy if I copy out passages of 19th century French distillers handbooks! However, when Duplais wrote the original work in 1855 no one considered thujone an issue and there would have been no way of measuring it with any accuracy if anyone had had the inclination to do so. Duplais was interested in distillation and producing liqueurs and eaux de vie so he quoted figures for g/l of essence of wormwood but not concentrations of thujone.

Mistakes such as this are not as uncommon as you might think and the fact that it has not been picked up sooner is partly an indictment of scientific and journalistic technique and partly due to the fact that Duplais's book is rather hard to come by.

Might there be other explanations for why your gas chromatography didn't find any degradation products? For instance, might any such products have reacted into still different forms over time? Or might they have precipitated and formed a sediment in the bottle? Or is is possible that the sample which you tested was not representative of all 19th century absinthes?

This is indeed possible and rigorous testing would be necessary to completely eliminate this possibility. On the weight of evidence I still believe that thujone is stable in alcoholic solution, however I do need to test more samples.

Ah, but isn't this part of the point? Presumably most of the people suffering absinthe's alleged ill effects were did not have sufficient means to drink the expensive stuff. Unfortunately, I rather imagine that there aren't too many 100 year old bottles of carefully preserved rotgut absinthe hanging around in old cellars waiting to be tested.

Indeed, just as you don't seem to see many old vins ordinnaire at auction, bog standard absinthe is also unseen.

I will certainly be looking at the other topics on the forum.

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I assume you refer to: "Duplais P. Traité des liqueurs et de la distillation des alcools ou le liquoriste et le distillateur moderns. Versailles: Chez l'Auteur, 1855" as cited in this article by Strang, Arnold and Peters? If, as you suggest, they have made a mistake in their translation, perhaps you could provide reference to the passage(s) mistranslated and what you believe is the correct translation?

This is indeed the source. I don't have a copy of Duplais to hand at present but if you will accept a passage from Bedel's Trait complet de la fabrication des liqueurs et des vins liquoreux dits d'imitation Paris, 1899, (which many people think was largely a rehash of Duplais) I can email or fax it to you. I fear that I may try the forum's patience as well as my own typing accuracy if I copy out passages of 19th century French distillers handbooks! However, when Duplais wrote the original work in 1855 no one considered thujone an issue and there would have been no way of measuring it with any accuracy if anyone had had the inclination to do so. Duplais was interested in distillation and producing liqueurs and eaux de vie so he quoted figures for g/l of essence of wormwood but not concentrations of thujone.

OK... now we're getting somewhere. Do you think it is the case that Duplais wrote a figure for g/l of essence of wormwood and Strang et al. misread this as a concentration of thujone? As you point out, Duplais would hardly have been able to measure the concentration of thujone anyway, which is a fact I can hardly think would have been unknown to Strang et al. In fact, I wonder whether the existence of thujone was understood at all in 1855.

So, what I am wondering is where the misunderstanding/mistranslation happened. Of course, I did not mean to suggest that you type long passages of 19th century French and several possible translations thereof. I thought it would be more along the lines of "Duplais says blah blah blah here and was really referring to X, but Strang et al. mistranslated it as referring to Y." Is it not the case that Strang et al. read something in Duplais that caused them to extrapolate what they thought was a reasonable extimation of the thujone concentration in absinthe based? Somewhere there has got to be the misunderstanding. I am just trying to get a handle on what it was.

I will certainly be looking at the other topics on the forum.

Great! Glad to have you aboard. And still looking forward to any recommendation of absinthe that might be available in the US, if you are aware of any.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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Do you think it is the case that Duplais wrote a figure for g/l of essence of wormwood and Strang et al. misread this as a concentration of thujone?

Exactly so. There is no mention of thujone in those sources, only oil or essence of wormwood. As to how the misunderstanding arose, only Strang et al can answer that.

Sadly you cannot buy any authentic absinthe over the counter in the US due to Federal regulations. However we have been shipping Un Emile 68 to private individuals the US by courier for over a year without any problems.

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>I asked where you found these 100-year old absinthes, not how. And I still have no answer to my question. Do you reside in a country where it is possible to obtain vintage absinthe?? Details, please!

sorry, i was being cagey as sources are hard to come by...

i live in france. i am a collector of absinthe-related antiques. i love fine wine, spirits and great food. the french, ditto. when they know that, and that you like their life-style, you're in, especially if you speak the language. i have made contacts via friends and the internet, and occationally stumble on someone who has found an old bottle. my first vintage absinthe was purchased from a corsican who moved to aix-en-provence, and, during the course of emptying his family's house in corsica, stumbled upon full bottles of absinthe, which he started to drink with his friends...i ended up buying two full bottles from him. my other bottle was purchased from an absinthe/pastis antique collector in provence who found a cache of bottles in an old cellar. i have also purchased a bottle on the internet that was full, but turned out to be full of wine, it being used to rebottle bulk wine in an old café. recently old bottles have been refilled and pawned off as being original.

that being said, it must be noted that full bottles of absinthe have been found in the usa, as it was a popular drink in new orleans, new york and san francisco. there were also several makers of absinthe located in the united states, mostly in new orleans ('legendre' absinthe, for one, now the pastis 'herbsaint') and even in boston and cleveland...

it is my personal theory that absinthe was never as popular in the usa as in france because america already had its own herbal drink at the same time, 'bitters', (a high-alcohol 'remedy' labeled as a cure for kidney, liver and other malidies, which was just booze in a puritan disguise). it has a story in the usa amusingly parallel to the once-medicinal, then aperitif, absinthe.

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>I'd be very interested in your recommendations as to the best modern absinthes to try. Especially any that you think might be or become available in the US.

*disclaimer*

i am associated with liqueurs de france ltd. located in england, which is directly responsible for the development and exclusive distribution of 'un émile 68°' absinthe, made by the 'distillerie les fils d'émile pernot' in ponarlier, france. :www.absintheonline.com

*feel free to interpret everything i state afterwards based on this admission*

based on taste, production methods, and current commercial availability in the EU -

best distilled french absinthe and closest to original style: un émile (68°) traditional and 'absinthe blanche' (68°).

(if anyone wants me to back up why i say this, i will on request, so as not to appear to go immediately into an advertising rant)

also very good: françois guy (45°)

lemercier (72°)

decent, but artificially colored and not distilled: le fée (68°)

and pernod-ricard absinthe (68°) (nothing like its ancestor)

best (the only?) distilled spanish absenta: segarra (45°)

most amusing (not distilled): serpis (65°)-red color!

czech-none

however they do have the most foul product ever bottled: zelena muza ('green muse' in czech) (72°) one taste and you'll want to scrape the bitterness off your tongue with a straight razor...

i would also suggest checking the more detailed list of independant reviews at: http://www.feeverte.net/absinthe-guide.html

none of these products in their current form will become commerically available for distribution within the usa any time soon, but can be ordered over the internet.

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Thanks, pierre, I live in Paris, and have yet to obtain "vintage" absinthe myself..


Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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bettina - wow! not only an absinthe expert, but a relative of King Ludwig as well!


Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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I guess a good question is: How many of you actually drink the stuff as well as discussing it?


Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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>Thanks, pierre, I live in Paris, and have yet to obtain "vintage" absinthe myself..

what brands have you tasted in france? FYI, there will be an absinthe 'festival' (absinthiades) on october 4-5 in pontarlier, near the swiss border (though still small and mostly for antique collectors, it is now attracting more local and international absintheurs)

3 hours TGV direct from paris.

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La Fee Verte seems to be the best I've tried so far, which, as you know, has the stamp of approval of the Musee d'Absinthe in Auvers s/ Oise. I always have to bring it over from the UK, though, as I know of nowhere in Paris I can purchase a bottle, although I'm sure there are such places...


Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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you can buy the 45° la feé verte from madame delahaye at the museum in auvers, but not the 68°, which is not sold in france...


Edited by pierreverte (log)

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But it ain't the real stuff...


Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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The original 'fee verte' gave quite an alcoholic kick. However, the amount of thujone in a belt of absinthe was negligible. If I am not mistaken, however, thujone will build in the system, so over a long period of intense and dedicated fidelity to absinthe's green fairy, negative effects attributable to a high thujone concentration may have kicked in.

Don't forget, however, that the establishmed order saw fit to demonize, then criminalize absinthe, citing wormwood as the evilest of evils in the green bottle. I think there was a cultural/social dimension in operation here, which we have seen in our own day: when you wish to marginalize and disempower a group of people (often free-spirits & artistic types), in order to destroy its perceived threat to the established order and "morality", you can best begin by demonizing, destroying, and removing its emblematic accoutrements. Absinthe surely fits squarely in that category. And it was rapidly replaced by a series of defanged and emasculated imitators - Pastis, Pernod, Anis de Mono, etc. Eunuchs in a bottle to provide a frisson of the vrai vie de boheme to weekday moralists/weekend bohemians. Anyone remember the term 'weekend hippie'? Turned on, tuned in & dropped out on Sat & Sun, and prosecuted pot busts M-F?

T.


Sharon Peters aka "theabroma"

The lunatics have overtaken the asylum

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Greetings:

I found this forum by chance when looking for a website that posted a small piece about absinthe by me (which I later found - it's here:

http://lafeevertecafe.com/absinthe.php

To answer the original question by poor but curious, save your money. Absente is not absinthe, not very much like absinthe, and tastes like hell according to every absintheur I know who's tasted it, and I know a lot of them.

Real absinthe has been available all along in Spain and Portugal, albeit the quality is suspect and it also isn't much like the stuff of old.

Real absinthe is again available today (still banned in the U.S. due to FDA regulations), but difficult to find among an ever-increasing number of faux products, shoddy products, and pretenders that have been rushed to a market born with the fall of the Berlin wall. Absinthe had never disappeared from Czechoslovakia, either, and a Czech distiller named Radomil Hill introduced his product to London in 1998 - that was the real start of the modern absinthe market. FWIW, to say that Hill's is not good absinthe is a very charitable statement.

Absinthe from the 19th century has survived in the hands of private individuals - I know of many such bottles, and I personally know several people who own some. I have tasted such absinthe myself. Needless to say, if this is something you want to pursue, you're going to need connections and/or a very fat wallet and some expert help to ensure you don't get ripped off.

Now comes the disclaimer - I know both IHutton (check the second disc of the "From Hell" DVD for an interview with him) and Pierre Verte. I am not connected with the commercial venture mentioned by Pierre. I knew them both for quite some time before that started. Both of these people have forgotten more about absinthe than almost anybody in the world knows today - those who consider themselves informed because they've read Dr. Arnold's article in Scientific American should know, that in discussion with these two, they're bringing a knife to a gun fight.

As to whether old absinthe has been scientifically tested, etc., yes it has, by the Harvard-trained organic chemist quoted at the top of the article, written by me with his input, on the website I mentioned earlier. I won't speak for him; maybe he'll speak for himself here if he sees fit. He has tested not only a variety of old absinthes, but a lot of modern ones as well.

Personally, I haven't much interest in the thujone controversy because I don't give a damn what made Van Gogh crazy (he was born that way as far as I'm concerned), and all the "science" I've seen with regard to that is frankly, second-rate. It's much ado about nothing. It's been hashed to death on other forums and I'm not going to go into it here. If you're interested, seek and you might find.

I do know that the absinthe now being made by the Pernot distillery in France, going under various permutations of the name "Emile" is the best commercial absinthe that can be obtained today, and anyone who is interested in the stuff, and not afraid of the big bad thujone (what a joke!) would be well served to try some of that brand.

For a website created and frequented by people knowledgable and passionate about absinthe, see

http://www.feeverte.net/index.html.

Be aware that flaming is an art form there, and you won't necessarily be treated gently, especially if you want to talk about thujone.

Thank you for your time,

A.


Edited by Artemis (log)

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Thanks for the post, Artemis, I very much enjoyed reading it.

I checked out my hotel's bar today, who had a bottle of the new Pernod 68 "aux extrats d'absinthe", and though it looks pretty good, it is thujone-free for the French market. With little wormwood content, how can it be the best of the bunch?

Thanks!


Edited by fresh_a (log)

Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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I'll amend my previous post with this information from the Pernod website:

"Fort de son savoir-faire quasi bicentenaire, Pernod lance aujourd'hui Pernod aux extraits de plantes d'absinthe, un spiritueux anisé inspiré de la recette originelle qui assura la gloire de la Maison Pernod à l'aube du XIXe siècle. 

Comme le produit vendu à l'époque, cet anisé ne contient pas de sucre et titre 68°, mais il possède un taux de thuyone correspondant aux contraintes législatives en vigueur interdisant d'excéder 10mg/l. Pernod aux extraits de plantes d'absinthe se consomme de manière traditionnelle avec un sucre et la cuillère ajourée, ou sans sucre, allongée de 5 à 7 volumes d'eau fraîche.

Aujourd'hui, les procédés modernes de distillation permettent un contrôle strict du dosage des différentes molécules essentielles qui entrent dans la composition de la plante d'absinthe. "

Which basically says their new absinthe product is inspired by the original recipe, with the legal level of thujone, meaning 10g/liter. I'll have a bottle this week, and keep you all posted.


Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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Here's a link to a pretty good article I haven't seen anywhere before:

Enjoy!


Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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The National Council of the Swiss Parlement accepted Monday to legalize the production of absinthe. 96 Years after its prohibition (falsely accused of making people crazy), it will be produced for the first time since 1908.

Exciting stuff!


Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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Sorry, forgot the (French) link , and the English link


Edited by fresh_a (log)

Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it." ALFRED JARRY

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. 96 Years after its prohibition (falsely accused of making people crazy), it will be produced for the first time since 1908.

Unforgetable the little scandal when President Mitterand visited Switzerland in 1985 and a dish called " Soufflé à la Fée" (fée verte = Absinth) was served during the official dinner. A nice symbolic insubordination.

It seems that back in 1910, there was a coalition of absinth-unwilling: anti-alcoholics together with competing producers of spirits. A rarely outspoken motive was the fact that absinth was very popular among women, something the bougeoisie of 1900 couldn't accept.

Unfortunately, Swiss parliament missed a chance yesterday to open a debate about legalizing marijuhana. Seems that this prohibition (introduced around 1960, before nobody cared much, it was poor peoples booze in earlier times) will last as much as long. Ahhhh, the high standards of morality (one likes to impose on others).


Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.

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The Czech Republic has been producing Absinthe for several years which means I've had the opportunity to sample the much touted and romanticized, read Rimbaud, Verlaine, Hemmingway et. al., "green fairy" on a number of occasions.

I've found that any good bottle of Pernod, Pastis, Ouzo or even Arak is a superior drink. Travelling to Switzerland, or for that matter the Czech Republic, to secure a bottle of Absinthe is a waste of time. I found the drink, made from wormwood, to be thoroughly unpalatable and incredibly bitter. Typically drunk with sugar disolved on a spoon with a bit of Absinthe heated over a flame, then added back to the drink which is poured into a glass containing water and ice whence the heretofore green liquid turns milky white. I tried 3 different brands with no hint of approachability. Reading about it proved to be infinitely more pleasurable. Try Rimbaud"s "Une Saison en Enfer." :wub:


Edited by jaypm51 (log)

Jay

You are what you eat.

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I purchased a bottle of Absinthe in Brataslava in 2001. I think the idea of having something "forbidden" overwhelmed my good sense. It still sits in my liquor cabinet as I'm afraid of it. :wacko: It smells pretty weird and my one brave friend that tasted a bit of it pronounced it "bizarre". And he likes Underberg! Someday I'll have to find a recipe to use it in. That souffle sounds like a possibility.


Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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The Czech Republic has been producing Absinthe for several years which means I've had the opportunity to sample the much touted and romanticized, read Rimbaud, Verlaine, Hemmingway et. al., "green fairy" on a number of occasions.

I've found that any good bottle of Pernod, Pastis, Ouzo or even Arak is a superior drink. Travelling to Switzerland, or for that matter the Czech Republic, to secure a bottle of Absinthe is a waste of time. I found the drink, made from wormwood, to be thoroughly unpalatable and incredibly bitter. Typically drunk with sugar disolved on a spoon with a bit of Absinthe heated over a flame, then added back to the drink which is poured into a glass containing water and ice whence the heretofore green liquid turns milky white. I tried 3 different brands with no hint of approachability. Reading about it proved to be infinitely more pleasurable. Try Rimbaud"s "Une Saison en Enfer." :wub:

what about the narcotic effect?

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