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Absinthe: A Cultural History

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I've been bouncing back and forth between this book and Absinthe: History in a Bottle and noticed that there was one section in here in particular I had questions on, the chapter on absinthe's effects. I'm not wondering about absinthe's effects as I know what they are, but mostly wondering about some of the facts presented in the chapter. It had lots of good info on thujone and other terpenes but there was a part in particular regarding pre-ban thujone levels. It says:

 

"It seems probable that nineteenth-century absinthe contained more wormwood than modern absinthe, not least because it was apparently so bitter. I have never had an absinthe that was in need of sugaring. This is borne out by figures, although estimates vary...[various facts on modern thujone laws and thujone levels in modern absinthe, etc.]...But the thujone content of absinthe back in the Belle Epoque era has been calculated to have been 60/90 ppm, while one source puts it as high as 260 ppm, with a suggestion that with the further thujyl alcohol in wormwood this could go as high as 350 ppm."

 

I guess I was always of the understanding from WS and FV that pre-ban had distinctively less thujone than modern? I thought this had been verified by TAB as well. One explanation is that this book was printed in 2001 and it was before TAB's testing?? Other than that, what could the author be using as a factual basis for this? Is it simply outdated?

 

Also, if it is simply outdated are any of these tests published?

 

Aaron

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Yes this is before most, if not all, GC/MS tests on absinthe. IIRC most of the older numbers come from educated guestimates based on how much thujone was in wormwood and how much wormwood was used, assuming all or most ended up in the final drink. I believe somewhere around here you can find the text of the Doc who gave the 350PPM. I think it even mentions they are guesses and shouldn't be taken as fact. Something people like Betty, MCD and Dr.O skipped over.

 

There seems to be about as much evidence to back up 'horribly' bitter absinthe (especially in top quality products) as there is to back up its hallucinogenic properties. It's amazing what people take as unquestionable fact based on a couple lines and massive assumption.

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The thujone info in History in a Bottle is indeed outdated. I believe that Mr. Conrad has also stated that he wished that he had omitted the last chapter.

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"It seems probable that nineteenth-century absinthe contained more wormwood than modern absinthe, not least because it was apparently so bitter. I have never had an absinthe that was in need of sugaring. "

Notice the hidden assumption here. Adams hasn't had an absinthe "in need of sugaring", and then he assumes that the whole sugaring thing was because 19th century absinthe actually was "in need of" it because it was horribly bitter.

 

No, it wasn't. Sugaring is and was a matter of taste, not a necessity. Adams obviously hasn't tasted unsugared pre-ban. I have. It doesn't need sugaring either. Hemingway had it without. I prefer it with, but enjoy it either way.

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Yes this is before most, if not all, GC/MS tests on absinthe. 

 

Sorry, but GC/MS tests??

 

Class is now in session.

 

Thanks for that link. I appreciate it.

 

The thujone info in History in a Bottle is indeed outdated. I believe that Mr. Conrad has also stated that he wished that he had omitted the last chapter.

 

Oh, I haven't even gotten to that chapter in History in a Bottle, I didn't even know it existed?? I was speaking of "A Cultural History's" chapter on that.

 

Notice the hidden assumption here. Adams hasn't had an absinthe "in need of sugaring", and then he assumes that the whole sugaring thing was because 19th century absinthe actually was "in need of" it because it was horribly bitter.

 

No, it wasn't. Sugaring is and was a matter of taste, not a necessity. Adams obviously hasn't tasted unsugared pre-ban. I have. It doesn't need sugaring either. Hemingway had it without. I prefer it with, but enjoy it either way.

 

Who is Adams? Is that another book I should read, or are you just confusing him with Baker, the author of History in a Bottle?

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Who is Adams? Is that another book I should read, or are you just confusing him with Baker, the author of History in a Bottle?

He is Jad Adams, author of Hideous Absinthe - A History of the Devil in a Bottle (The University of Wisconsin Press - ISBN 0-299-20000-0).

:cheers:

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GCMS is a machine that can tell the chemical composition of a substance and is much more accurate than guestimates or older methods used in the past.

GCMS

OHHHH, "GC/MS" stands for Gas Chromatograph! Ahh, sorry I know what that is, for some reason the "abbreviation" part of my brain wasn't working last night??? Thanks.

He is Jad Adams, author of Hideous Absinthe - A History of the Devil in a Bottle (The University of Wisconsin Press - ISBN 0-299-20000-0).

:cheers:

Oh, speaking of that book (which incidentally I did know about but didn't realize Adams wrote it...), is it any good? I wasn't sure about picking it up because of the title.

Oh. Got the names all messed up in my drunken head. Read "Baker" for "Adams" in my post.

 

No problem, will do. :cheers:

 

Also, another quick question on the Fee Verte link posted earlier:

 

The convulsive ED50 of thujone in rats is 35.5 mg/kg/day po, and the 'no effect' level is 12.5 mg/kg/day po (Margaria, R. (1963) Acute and sub-acute toxicity study on thujone. Unpublished report of Istito di Fisiologia, Università di Milano). No toxicity studies have been conducted in humans but the FDAs accepts a safe level for food additives as a highly conservative 100 times less than the no effect level in animals. Thus a safe (no effect) dose of thujone could be extrapolated as 8.75 mg/day for a 70 kg human and it can be seen that even at the highest concentrations found in any of the samples tested, the effects of the alcohol would far outweigh those of the thujone.

 

1. They said "Samples were analysed on a BP10 capillary column with FID" what does that mean? Is that a Gas Chromatograph?

 

2. "6.0mg/l" and "6.0mg/kg" is how much is in the *whole* litre right? So, if something has a thujone level of "6.0mg/kg" or "6.0mg/l" is how much thujone is in a whole bottle??? If so, that's wayyyyyy below what I was thinking. You'd have to drink like 3 litres to have a shitty effect.

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1. They said "Samples were analysed on a BP10 capillary column with FID" what does that mean? Is that a Gas Chromatograph?

 

A Gas-Liquid Chromatograph, yes.

 

You'd have to drink like 3 litres to have a shitty effect.

 

Last I looked, you need 1-3 litres just to get the barely observable behavioural results of the Rutgers University study.

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>Notice the hidden assumption here. Adams hasn't had an absinthe "in need of sugaring", and then he assumes that the whole sugaring thing was because 19th century absinthe actually was "in need of" it because it was horribly bitter.

No, it wasn't. Sugaring is and was a matter of taste, not a necessity. Adams obviously hasn't tasted unsugared pre-ban. I have. It doesn't need sugaring either. Hemingway had it without.<

 

exactly...

 

in the 1860 booklet, 'absinthe and absintheurs' there is no mention of the use of sugar or absinthe spoons AT ALL. it only refers to absinthe being properly watered or perhaps mixed with anisette for the ladies or the debutant.

it is almost certain that the use of sugar was not common until around the 1880's, and this was most likely because of the recent proliferation of poorly-made absinthes along with marketing to make all absinthes even more competitive with 'liqueurs', which by definition, has to have at least 100 grams of sugar per liter already added to the bottle. the high percentage of alcohol in 'extrait d'absinthe' inhibits the complete dissolution of sugar in the absinthe by itself.

heavy drinkers often considered a glass of beer or wine as food intake and adding some sugar to absinthe could provide some more 'food' calories.

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2. "6.0mg/l" and "6.0mg/kg" is how much is in the *whole* litre right? So, if something has a thujone level of "6.0mg/kg" or "6.0mg/l" is how much thujone is in a whole bottle??? If so, that's wayyyyyy below what I was thinking. You'd have to drink like 3 litres to have a shitty effect.

 

mg/l stands for "milligrams per liter". So a 750 ml bottle at 6mg/l would contain 75% of that, or 4.5 mg of thujone.

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Yeah, I was just trying to make sure I had my metric correct. That it was how much was in the whole bottle, thereby making it very hard to ingest any amount close enough to cause the "evil spirits."

 

Also, why do we see many measurements in mg/kg? Is one kg roughley equal to the weight of a litre of liquid?

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Also, why do we see many measurements in mg/kg? Is one kg roughley [sic] equal to the weight of a litre of liquid?

 

A 32%/68% mixture of water and ethyl alcohol has a specific density of 0.85, so for that liquid 1 mg/l is 0.85 mg/kg, and 1 mg/kg is 1.17 mg/l.

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They said "Samples were analysed on a BP10 capillary column with FID" what does that mean? Is that a Gas Chromatograph?

BP10 is a straight hydrocarbon compound separation column by boiling point and FID is a flame ionization detector that measures concentration proportional to the number of carbon atoms. The reason why an MS/mass spectrometer detector is superior to an FID is because every compound has a unique molecular fragmentation pattern that you can reference to an archival software library, so that it’s considered an ‘absolute’ detection method. The FID compound identification is inferred by having the same column retention time as the reference compound, so that any compound that comes off the column at the same time as the reference compound gets totaled along with the reference compound. A boiling point column is not especially discriminating for separating out different chemical compounds of similar molecular weight (MW), which is why it's sometimes called a MW column.

 

Class dismissed.

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So Adams' book is crap? No need to read it?

 

I wouldn't spend any money to read it, if you can find in a public library, be my guest.

 

 

Don't put money in the pocket of a giant douche.

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I actually enjoyed The Book of Absinthe: A Cultural History by Baker. I don't remember the thujone chapter, but I remember snippets of the rest (and am presently rereading it) and it has alot to offer if you're into the figures of the day.

 

Of all of the figures in the book, as far as I remember Wilde was the only one not to die an alcohol- or malnutrition-related death. I just remember thinking that if they only knew moderation how much more that they could have contributed. Then again, if they were moderate would they have been the geniuses that they were?

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Some things to consider about thujone:

 

* The test to measure thujone is not something that ordinary people can do at home. I've met some people who make absinthe themselves, and while they do know the alcohol content of their product (not a difficult test to do), they will admit when pressed that they really have no idea how much thujone is in their absinthe.

 

* Absinthe is NOT 100 percent stable and some components do break down over time. A 100 year old bottle of absinthe is not going to have the same color, taste and chemical composition it did when it went into the bottle.

 

* I tend to give TB some credibility in this area since his "day job" involves analyzing trace chemicals in water and soil. According to him, by measuring the breakdown products of known absinthe ingredients in samples of vintage absinthe, he can infer original composition. Sounds plausaabe to me.

 

* Ted also claims that thujone does not leave the still, and cannot be detected in modern distilled absinthes.

 

* People who speculate on the thujone levels of vintage absinthe are also assuming that the strains of wormwood used for absinthe production in the 19th century had the same thujone levels as those grown today. No one has any idea if that's true or not.

 

So at least 90 percent of what people say about thujone in absinthe are just guesses, speculation, or marketing hype. When they're talking about pre-ban absinthe, that figure is close to 100 percent.

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I actually enjoyed The Book of Absinthe: A Cultural History by Baker.
As did I. He's far and above the best writer to tackle the subject. The "science" stuff is outdated, unfortunately.

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