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Alan Moss

Is Absinthe in Danger of Becoming The New Mezcal?

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I like it. It will take time but there are plenty of things to accomplish in that time. One would be to get more than a couple brands of absinthe. Right now to order absinthe in a restaurant here would be like having a wine list that gave options of (1 red or (2 white.

 

This is a dedicated group and a very well discussed thread. Good ideas and things to work on.

 

Time to start hitting the better places with my version of a magic suitcase. I'll get a better idea what I need to move forward.

 

Onward!

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The idea of an aperitif as proposed by WBT is very, very good. In fact, it is the most efficient way to embrace the spirit of absinthe tradition, so via careful ritual with water (sugar optional upon request).

 

The schmancy-fancy cocktails should come definitely later. When people understand what absinthe is about, they might start asking the bartenders which absinthe would fit which of the TRADITIONAL absinthe cocktails (tremblement de terre, absinthe de minuit and such) and be served them.

 

The later inventions (1920-1930 and so on) should be the last stage of teaching as DP mentioned that absinthe in them is a secondary or even tertiary part and people, if they are not told straightforward, will not catch the nuance of absinthe being just rinsed in a glass full of other ingredients.

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I'll still make my fountains and educate them there people when they ask. I'll also recommend the "good" brands when offered the opportunity to do so. :cheers:

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We live in a time of instant gratification. The absinthe ritual can be sped up using a carafe and let the consumer do his/her own drip and so forth. That alone frees up the bartender.

 

I would prefer to drip my own, than have the bartender do it for me. How would they know how much water I like? They wouldn't. They'd give the same amount to everyone.

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That was how absinthe got its start, in the first place, winning over the French during a period when wine was off the menu.

 

A misconception. The phylloxera epidemic was not something that struck all of France all at once. It began in the 1860's and continued into the 1880's. Certain regions were hit harder than others. France continued to produce a very large amount of wine, even as imports of Spanish and Italian wines were increased.

 

In the 1880's, absinthe production was about 36 million liters, equal to the population of France at the time. Wine production was still much much higher, perhaps 200 million liters.

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What if some uber dedicated people brought samples of fine absinthe to bars and offered the owners/tenders a taste? Perhaps if we can get them to like it, they might be enthused as well.

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I imagine there have been a few here that have done just that. I have and in some cases were met with a "wow, that's nice" and/or "hmm, it's not bad but I don't know if it will work here" type of response.

 

Butt, on the other hand, I haven't been back to those places in months so I should drop by and visit.

 

Some co-workers are checking some of these places out in their real lives. Shoot, there was a commercial on TV of a nice place with French owners and they even had the fountain set up louching a drink properly. This was in Oklahoma!

 

The cocktail, aperitif and cocktail content ratios are all grand ideas that I'll try to work into my approach vs. the standard "how to louche absinthe" demonstration. *smile*

 

The good n plenty candy or licorice comments happen way too often. Again, that may be their first impressions.

 

Onward!

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After running through their one bottle of lucid, our favorite watering hole replaced it with Grande Absent. They've been sitting on it for a while and we have refused to help them empty it. When we go in, I'll ask if they have any good absinthe, yet. The girl responsible for selecting it has become stoic.

 

Our package store(s) generally refer to us as their absinthe pros. They have sold a couple of cases of Lucid, the Grande Absent (bought without our recommendation) isn't moving at all but the Kübler is a pretty hot item for them. I'm excited to see what Montana gets in next. We keeping asking for the good stuff and they have responded enthusiastically.

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I understand the desire to have fountains and/or carafes in bars to louche up a glass properly. I'd love to see that too, but would there be anything wrong with have bartenders doing a frappe for regular absinthe orders? Throw in a shot of absinthe, 3 oz. of water, a little ice, a splash of simple syrup, then shake, strain, and serve.

 

The Larspeart frappe, and the frappe with Cointreau are both really good. It seems to me like the absinthe should be just fine on it's own that way too. I suppose I'll have to do some testing today (in the name of science, of course) to see if there's a big difference in taste.

 

It seems to me that bars would take to that pretty well right off the bat. It's quick, easy, and they already have all the tools they'd need.

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That was how absinthe got its start, in the first place, winning over the French during a period when wine was off the menu.

 

A misconception.

This is good information, if accurate, because this "misconception" is being espoused by Ted and Oxy as a correct, if somewhat simplified, version of absinthe history. Could it be that the numbers you quote do not reflect the perceived impact of the phylloxera epidemic, and that while production was still quite high, a shortage was still felt at the consumer level, possibly due to exportation or increased prices? I can imagine that in the midst of the crisis, wine prices may have skyrocketed, while absinthe was , generally, inexpensive in its time.

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In the 1880's, absinthe production was about 36 million liters, equal to the population of France at the time. Wine production was still much much higher, perhaps 200 million liters.

 

Of course you get 5x as many glasses of absinthe out of a bottle than wine...

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Sorry to interrupt the wine vs. absinthe thing, but I take it back about the plain absinthe frappe. I have a side by side in front of me right now. Though they both tasted and looked the same at first, the frappe's louche started to fall apart after few minutes. Further down the road, the flavor and mouth feel get effected by this. I may have needed to shake it longer, I'm not sure, but I did give it hell for a decent amount of time (what I would assume most bartenders would do).

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Alan,

 

According to your article, which was pretty neat thank you, the figures were based on gallons taxed.

That was plenty of wine and if you consider the amount that wasn't taxed, it may be an amazing figure.

 

They didn't need TV's, they had each other for entertainment.

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I am referring to both consumers and sellers both. O.K. we are probably not going to get a PBS series (The Absinthe Hunter ? I don't think so )

 

 

DIBS! I'm calling dibs if there ever IS a show called The Absinthe Hunter though!

 

Basically, a Thirsty Traveler... but greener. We all know how big the 'green' movement is these days.

 

 

Hey... maybe we can capitalize on that? Maybe even get some of that Green stimulus money?

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Phoenix-

 

Most people at a bar do not let their drink sit around for 10-15 minutes.

 

The frappe's don't (always) hold up as long, but they taste just fine. The key/trick is to UNDERWATER them. The ice in the shaker takes care of the difference. If you water as per usually, you will have a thin, weak drink everytime. This goes for any of the absinthe frappe's.

 

 

I always use the very scientific terms "and shake the shit out of it" when ordering.

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According to the book The Temperance Movement, H.E. Blair, 1888, gives the production, import, export and consumption of wine in France (see the chart on page 244). For 1880, the consumption was nearly 41 million gallons (155 million liters). This was up from 1879 where only 35 million gallons were consumed.

 

So some effect from the phylloxera epidemic may be present, but the French still drank wine and a good amount of it. Not being able to get one's favorite cru from the Medoc may have been an incentive to try absinthe, but realistically, absinthe had been around all along, and was well known since the 1840's.

 

Price might have been a factor like WBT suggests.

 

Research into the editorials and newspapers of the 1840's through the 1860's might be an interesting avenue of investigation.

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As nearly as I can tell the numbers are lining up about right. The French production of wine dropped from 8,400 million litres in 1875, to just 2,300 million litres by 1889, and was back up to 5000 million litres by 1910. So wine production in France in the late 1870s and early '80s was down by more than 2/3 of its previous level, and less than half what it would be by the time the absinthe bans went into effect. Absinthe had been introduced into French society by the late 1840s, but most sources that briefly give stats on its meteoric rise in popularity and mass production start with the '70s and '80s, and continue up to the ban.

 

The numbers in DP's link aren't inconsistent with this general time line. French wine production took a disastrous nose dive to less than 1/3 of its previous level during the same decade that absinthe production seems to have begun it's sharp increase, and all the while, prices for wine were increasing dramatically and mass production brought prices for absinthe sharply down.

 

This is all just quickie research on my part, done mostly by following DP's and Alan's links, and links to Winepros.com archives found on Wiki, but it all seems to line up roughly with the story I've heard all along.

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I think absinthe parallels Gin in England.

It was cheap alcohol base with a variety of herbs to make it tolerable.

Like any other cheap form of alcohol it was demonized - kind of like blaming the bulldog on the hood of the Mack truck for the accident.

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This reference is an analysis of the French wine industry in the years 1870-1911.

 

Per capita consumption grew from an average of 76 litres in the early 1850s, to 140 litres by 1875, when the harvest reached 84.5 million hectoliters, France’s largest ever.

 

Wine output, which had averaged 57.4 million hectolitres in 1863/75, fell to 31.7 million in 1879/92, before recovering to 52.5 million once more in 1899/1913.

 

Therefore if the wine shortage produced by powdery mildew in the 1850s had led to wine prices doubling in France, the price increase with phylloxera was much more modest, about a third between the early 1870s and the early 1880s. Consumption, which had reached 147 litres per capita in 1875/9, fell to a low of 93 litres in 1885/9 (Figure 2 and Table 2).

 

One thing the paper points out later on is the huge surplus in wine in France by 1900 (after phylloxera).

 

While phylloxera may have contributed to absinthe's popularity, a lot of wine was imported to make up for the difference. The French continued to drink lots of wine. Interestingly, consumption of wine did decline between 1875/9 and 1885/9. Whether that can be attributed to people abandoning wine for absinthe you can't determine that from this information here. And when cheap wine became available again in quantity, absinthe wasn't abandoned.

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After sleeping on this I'll disagree with WBT. While the wine industry was certainly damaged severely by phylloxera, per capita consumption of wine fell from 147 liters to 93 liters from 1875 to 1889. Even though there was lots of wine available, albeit at a higher price and lower quality. Absinthe consumption in 1880 was 1 liter per capita. That did not take up the slack in the fall of wine consumption.

 

What seems clear to me is the success of the Temperance Movement in promoting a more moderate drinking lifestyle with that generation. With the next generation, the wine industry had recovered from phylloxera and people started drinking more (per capita consumption began to rise again).

 

One area of investigation might be what happened to brandy production? My guess is it was nearly destroyed. Simpson points out that brandy and 3/6 were made from excess grapes not sold as wine. For someone accustomed to drinking brandy, absinthe may have been an alternative as a higher proof alcohol to something that might have been unavailable.

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What seems clear to me is the success of the Temperance Movement in promoting a more moderate drinking lifestyle with that generation.

 

Or there could have been an upsurge in liqueur, other hard liquor, and beer consumption during this period.

Efficacy of the Temperance movement is always a possibility, but one must keep in mind that these are the Belle Epoque French we're considering, and not latter-day Puritans.

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Interesting discusssion. I think that unless some serious dollars go into marketing then beating the stigma that absinthe carries seems very unlikely. The people trying to turn a buck will still be out there trying to exploit absent hallucionogenic qualities and as long as some of the scientists out there keep comparing absinthe to THC its going to be an uphill battle for sure. Whatever your reasons for drinking absinthe whether you're a history buff, an ex stoner , a alcohol afficianado, a bohemian or for many people my guess a mix of all four chances are it'll take some serious time for absinthe's rep to overcome the damage done. Could take another 100 years and chances are greater they'll be another prohibition before that . That's all fine with me. I'm not a distiller who know doubt would love to see it as revered as fine champagne. I'm just a guy on a teacher's salary who likes the drink and who'd love to see the damn price to go down !!

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What seems clear to me is the success of the Temperance Movement in promoting a more moderate drinking lifestyle with that generation.

 

Or there could have been an upsurge in liqueur, other hard liquor, and beer consumption during this period.

Efficacy of the Temperance movement is always a possibility, but one must keep in mind that these are the Belle Epoque French we're considering, and not latter-day Puritans.

 

But you forget that a number of countries other than the US totally banned alcohol, while some banned harder alcohol. The US experiment was the longest; only Norway had Prohibition in effort for an equal period (1919-1932).

 

From wiki:

The first half of the 20th century saw periods of prohibition of alcoholic beverages in several countries:

1900 to 1948 in Prince Edward Island, and for shorter periods in other locations in Canada

1914 to 1925 in Russia and the Soviet Union

1915 to 1922 in Iceland (though beer was still prohibited until 1989)

1916 to 1927 in Norway (fortified wine and beer also prohibited from 1917 to 1923)

1919 in Hungary (in the Hungarian Soviet Republic, March 21 to August 1; called szesztilalom)

1919 to 1932 in Finland (called kieltolaki)

1920 to 1933 in the United States

 

 

Certainly from this we can see that the most Northern European countries, and the US attempted prohibition of alcohol. The more southern nations (including France, Italy, Spain, etc) never attempted prohibition of alcohol.

 

And for the French to take up the Teutonic beverage beer, would have been tantamount to treason. It could simply be that many French said if they couldn't drink French wine, they wouldn't drink any at all. Absinthe production over the greatest years of the phylloxera blight (mid 1850's to late 1870's) was quite low (Hartsmar's site quotes the figure 700,000 liters for 1874; I thought it was higher).

 

If you find actual statistics on beer consumption in France during that period, it would be good to know.

 

Certainly absinthe production increased from the 1840's until the period of it's greatest popularity (1880-1915). But I don't see a correlation between phylloxera and absinthe. Maybe I'm just missing the obvious.

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The French actually have a long established Biere de Garde tradition, and have produced some damned fine examples over the past 150 years, or so. Unfortunately, most of them don't have much of an export market.

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Fountains may be a pain for bars but how difficult is it to provide a carafe of water? That may be part of the ritual we need to shout a little more loudly. Serving a glass of absinthe should be easy.

 

At the risk of sounding too cheap, a bartender could just plop down a small sportsbottle with a pull-top. Less cleanup afterwards.

Maybe somebody could mass produce little slotted spoons out of plastic? Even if not, I doubt there would be much problem of metal spoons disappearing, as someone who would order absinthe in the traditonal manner would be less likely be the rowdy type who would want to take home souvenirs.

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Spoons he says! We don't need no stinking spoons!

 

Ok, maybe we do but repros are all over the place at very reasonable prices. Some of the consumers may even have their own spoons in tow. Each time we go to drink absinthe in a restaurant, I've brought my own spoon (just in case) and a smallish sampling glass. Their spoons should have their establishment printed on it, in good taste of course.

 

Advertising on the spoon is another good way to play this game, this most serious game. I had a few people ask about the Marteau spoons in my glass. It opens a line of conversation that you really do want to be in.

 

Onward!

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