Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder?
In from twelve days of a twinkling absinthe Christmas in London, I arrived in New York carrying two bottles of said liquor and right away they were upon me. TSA goons were monstrously indifferent, confiscating the “personal use“ Edouard as they hoisted me by the armpits into a very bad, formerly undisclosed location at Kennedy Airport’the world DMV, as if run by Syd Barrett.
I was threatened there for hours, and given a sadistic lack of information. Arab grandmothers in front of a Norman Rockwell print sobbed. A man in plastic cuffs next to me leaned over and said, “I think you do not go home for the weekend either, sahib.“ Absinthe’s prohibition in the United States began in 1912, a wild swipe of a false virtue, as Coca-Cola was still called a “health drink“ because it had cocaine in it, and pure heroin was first-line treatment for toothaches, colicky babies, and boredom; and though the E.U. recently loosened up on regulations governing absinthe, it’s remained criminal and distinctly nefarious here in the U.S. It may have indefinitely were it not for the combined efforts of the people behind Lucid Absinthe Supï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½rieure.
Lucid is the first true absinthe on the U.S. market in nearly a century. Yes, finally, the Real Thing.
Absinthe began as a provincial digestive, a hurly-burly tended in thunder, lightning, and rain by the sisters Henriod of Couvet, Switzerland, though more famously associated is the mysterious Frenchman called Dr. Ordinaire, who seems not to have been ordinary. The elixir was added to the canteens of legionnaires as an antimalarial during the Algerian campaign, and they returned victorious to France, bringing a taste for it quickly adopted by the upper classes’the flavor of Not Having Malaria, or “victory“, in French. “The Green Fairy“ of legend ultimately emerged from the Pernod Fils distillery, and so subsequently did caucasian ones of legend from Paris cafï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½s’Wilde, Rimbaud, Verlaine’to great effect.
“It was the most popular drink in France because people liked it,“ says Ted Breaux, environmental chemist, pope of Absinthe Village (not a real place but a state of mind), and Lucid Absinthe Supï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½rieure’s master distiller. He handmade the first couple of batches of floral, sublime, drinkable Lucid at the Pernod Fils distillery in France, in the equipment that had produced absinthe’s prime bottle. Right now, the fabled liquor flows through museum-old alembics there, up a “swan’s neck,“ into a “Moor’s head.“ “I read that ingestion of absinthe caused “hallucinations, convulsions, and death,’“ says Breaux. “Why would so many people drink something if it caused death? It sounded absurd, and I wanted to get to the bottom of it.“
Being insatiably scientific, Breaux spent more than a dozen years in New Orleans experimenting with high-proof alcohol because he had something to prove. So to speak.
“As it turns out [according to his gas chromatography tests on vintage Pernod], thujone content in pre-ban absinthe was only around five parts per million,“ Breaux says, referring to the supposed culprit of fin de siï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½cle mayhem, a chemical present in Artemisia absinthium, or grand wormwood, true absinthe’s defining herb.
“Absinthe has always been within U.S. regulations had anyone taken the time to check,“ he adds. (It was never officially banned in England due to Parliament’s confidence that national disdain for all things French would be effective enough’that’s why absinthe suddenly began appearing in London around 1998. Someone checked).
Thujone is an active chemical, but it’s not particularly mysterious, nor is it a hallucinogen. It was erroneously equated to marijuana’s THC in a Nam-era Nature article picked up and spread by Playboy like grotto itch at the outset of an absinthe resurgence, quickly aborted by another bout of absinthe fear.
“Thujone content’ is now supposedly in quantities up to 260 parts per million in “good“ absinthe, not the Czech abomination seized upon by the squinty-eyed, Redi Whip’sucking set who delusionally think absinthe is “weed booze.“ There is nothing good about the Czech-made mouthwash-pee-and-vodka pushed alongside herbal ecstacy and porta-bongs. That’s why they tell you to light it on fire before consuming it as irresponsibly as possible. Fire was never part of the absinthe ritual, anywhere. Only a blood-curdling lack of forethought would instruct that burning off the alcohol in a beverage into the air and then throwing the resultant fire at your face is good for anything except identifying idiots.
Strindberg blew up half a block of the Montmarte trying to “make gold“ in a saucepan’he was that poor, and poorer still in the area of common sense. Manet didn’t drink it, and Raffaelli and Degas painted poor people drinking absinthe, but they didn’t like drinking it any more than Sally Struthers likes eating sticky rice with fly-covered African children.
Absinthe leaked into the developing art of the Third Republic Salon as a symbol of poverty and misery, neither of which were at the time mistaken for freedom or romance, even by those who actually drank proper absinthe’say, at the Moulin Rouge, or wherever non-desperate people congregated. The green stuff sitting in front of fading persons in paintings was usually an abomination full of handy poisons like copper sulfate, or visceral paint thinners served by cruel cafï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ owners, who were worse even than the Czech victuallers nowadays. Naturally, that drink did some damage, and is mainly where absinthe’s “mad“ reputation comes from’a specific wretchedness then diagnosed as absintheism, today called alcoholism.
In reality, absinthe is in fact a very potent and distinct combination of high-proof alcohol and the oils of some common herbs, which separate with the (preferably ritual) addition of water (in my opinion, the only reason to drip the water over a sugar cube is to involve the baroque tool, the absinthe spoon) creating the louche, a slowly billowing little weather system that gradually clouds the drink, quite contrary to its effect’the louche might also be called the “pre-epiphany.“
“True, the actual absinthe experience is something only a few people alive have had,“ Breaux says diplomatically, when I suggest there might be such a person as a “louche-bag“, all singed eyebrows and Cheet-o dust. Lucid is not an approximation but a reverse-engineered, high-end, pre-ban absinthe which would have been prized by kings, handmade and artisinal. “Artisinal“ means it’s best enjoyed non-maniacly. Lucid’s “cat’s-eyes“ graphic is a tribute to the belle epoque absinthe place where Rimbaud, among others, went when he wanted to “choke a parrot“ (have an absinthe), called Le Chat Noir. On the sign above the door, a cartoon of a black cat with a formidably erect tail gripping a bourgeois rooster, captioned, “Passersby, be modern.“
P.S. The bit at JFK turned out to have nothing to do with absinthe. They didn’t even know what it was. Fucking nightmare though.