Crazy about absinthe?

19th September, 2012 by Becky Paskin

Believe it or not, but a 100-year-old myth that absinthe drives drinkers to insanity still has legs in the present day, and is hampering the growth of one of the world’s most historically interesting spirits.

Absinthe poster Absinthe Robette

Stigma attached to absinthe since the 19th Century are still ringing in today’s society

The belief that indulging in numerous glasses of the green liquid would trigger a psychotic disorder, dubbed absinthism, was so strong in the early 20th century that it was blamed for violent behaviour and banned in its native Switzerland.

In 1905, a farmer’s “absinthe-fuelled” shooting spree of his family was blamed on his consumption of two glasses of la fée verte, but the fact that they were preceded by a day-long wine, Cognac and brandy binge was overlooked. As a result, a campaign to ban the spirit gained momentum, and three years later the Swiss government prohibited absinthe production and consumption. The move later influenced the US and every European country – except the UK, Spain and Portugal – to follow suit.

The assumption that absinthe drives drinkers to insanity – it is even blamed for Vincent Van Gogh’s decision to lop off his own ear – is still ingrained, despite scientists proving absinthe to be harmless when consumed sensibly, and many countries lifting their bans in the last few years.

“People, especially in France and Switzerland, are still aware of absinthe’s background and even nowadays throughout the world there is still a strong impression that absinthe turns you mad,” explains absinthe historian Marie-Claude Delahaye. “There is an obvious need for a lot more education, which is the only way the situation will change.”

According to the IWSR, the absinthe category reached a high of 222,000 nine-litre cases in 2008 – months after the ban was repealed in the US. However, the volume has since sunk back to around 140,000 nine-litre cases in 2010.

The excitement surrounding the reintroduction of absinthe, and the flurry of distillers rushing to produce it, are perhaps the reasons behind the 2008 volume boom.

But, as consumers became disillusioned with the product, either by failing to experience the touted “green fairy effect” or through a dislike of its acquired aniseed taste, the numbers soon fell with the advent of low-end brands. Some were little more than green vodka labelled as absinthe – and they dropped out of the market altogether.

3 Responses to “Crazy about absinthe?”

  1. Seth Pylad says:

    Since when is or was Sweden not a European country?
    I know we’re a little “off-side” here in the cold north but, however – Absinthe was never legally banned here either. Due to the state monopoly of the sale of alcohol in Sweden the outcome was in fact about the same though. Absinthe couldn’t be bought here but it was never forbidden.

    Nowadays everything is quite alright again.

  2. Lucius Green says:

    Pernod Ricard does not make absinthe and is hardly a good source of information. There are fine absinthes on the market and there is good information as well at places like, feeverte

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