“Absinthe producers facing labelling hell”

24th September, 2012 by SB Staff Writer

As the Swiss authorities consider an appeal against a decision to give absinthe protected geographical status in the Val-de-Travers region, effectively banning the sale of any other product labeled as such within the country, producers across Europe are up in arms.

Absinthe glass spoon and sugar

Hard to swallow: Absinthe producers are facing a tough future should the Swiss IGP go ahead

Ian Hutton, owner of Liqueurs de France (LDF), which distributes absinthe from both France and Switzerland, explains why he believes the geographical status could be damaging for the absinthe category, which after 100 years is only just starting to grow once more:

 

“Whilst I am firmly in favour of a legal definition of absinthe (which the EU is in fact working on) based on ingredients, production methods and flavour, I am against the Swiss IGP, which is based on a small geographical region.

“Although absinthe was first produced commercially in Couvet, Val-de-Travers, Switzerland in 1797, Switzerland only enjoyed a monopoly in production until 1805 when Pernod set up production across the border in Pontarlier, France. Within a few years production in France far outstripped production in Switzerland. By 1905 there were more distilleries in Switzerland outside of the Val-de-Travers producing absinthe, than there were inside that region (according to L’absinthe, Art et History by Marie-Claude Delahaye, 1990).

“In UK terms it is as if one of the whisky producing regions such as Speyside (which is considerably larger than the Val-de-Travers) had applied for, and won, the rights to use the terms ‘whisky’ and ‘Scotch’ and no other distiller in Scotland could call their product whisky.

“At LDF we work closely with a Swiss distiller, Oliver Matter, who is not located in the Val-de-Travers. If the IGP is ratified this distillery will no longer be able to use the term absinthe to describe their products. As we have just launched our first Swiss absinthe under our Enigma brand produced in this distillery we are naturally upset by this.

“To give a commercial perspective, of the 30+ absinthes that LDF imports, 10 are Swiss but only four of these are produced in the Val-de-Travers. Of those four, only three are widely available to the on- and off-trade in the UK.

“There have already been repercussions in the market: at least one absinthe distributor has de-listed all products from the Val-de-Travers and contributors to online forums such as the Wormwood Society are boycotting these products. When the IGP was first proposed, LDF commissioned a white label protest absinthe from Oliver Matter’s distillery called ‘LDF Absinthe Suisse La Verte (PAS AUTHORISEE par le VdT)’.

“It would have been far more sensible to protect the absinthe-producing regions with an IGP: no-one would have objected to registering ‘Swiss absinthe’ or ’Val-de-Travers’ as IGPs and this would have benefited the consumer.

“As it is, the resurgent absinthe market is now having to come to terms with the possibility that 90% of the products on the market will no longer be able to call themselves absinthe.”

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