Jump to content

 

Photo

A Defining Moment


  • Please log in to reply
146 replies to this topic

#1 Joe Legate

Joe Legate

    2 jobs. 0 sense.

  • Advisory Board
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 16,976 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 07:47 AM

The definition of "What is Absinthe?" has again loudly plopped itself onto the Forum. Let's re-visit, hmm?

Consider the Swiss Law (pardon my language hacking):
****************************************************************************
"To be legally made or sold in Switzerland, absinthe must be distilled and must be either uncolored or naturally colored."
"flavored with Grand Wormwood and Anise or with its natural extracts, combined with other plants, such as Fennel or similar plants, or their natural extracts."
"obtained through maceration and distillation"
"with a bitter taste, presenting the aroma of anise and louches when water is added."
******************************************************************************
I'm sure I screwed that up but it's still a beginning for the discussion. If that was the legal definition of absinthe in the US, I would be happy.

What must be added, subtracted or changed to make a working definition for the Wormwood Society? Perhaps, we can focus this enough to find an official WS definition.

#2 Jay

Jay

    Advanced Member

  • Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,020 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 08:06 AM

I might loosen the wording up a bit in the phrase, "with a bitter taste, presenting the aroma of anise", so that it doesn't require every kind of absinthe to be VERY bitter (as there is obviously a range of bitterness to work with), nor require that anise be the most dominant scent (although I agree that it should be physically present).

Other than that, I like it. Some may want to make the inclusion of fennel a requirement, but I'm not educated enough to address whether it merits being a "must have" or not, so I'll just watch the discussion and read what you all think.

Thanks for starting this thread, Joe!

[Edited for clarity and answering my own question since I now know that blanches can louche ;)]

Edited by Jay, 15 May 2009 - 08:14 AM.


#3 Joe Legate

Joe Legate

    2 jobs. 0 sense.

  • Advisory Board
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 16,976 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 08:13 AM

Oh, a blanche has a lovely louche!
Attached File  2_1.jpg   653.72KB   9 downloads

the fennel has been a sticking point. The question is, is it required?

#4 pt447

pt447

    Advanced Member

  • Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 809 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 08:17 AM

Everyone speaks of the "holy trinity". Here's a question; is fennel in every modern offering, to at least some degree? I know I like it. Should there be a limit of what cannot be included? Or should there be a guidline that wormwood, anise, and fennel must be, in some combination, the prodominant flavors, with others as supporting roles only? I mean, Obsello is an anomoly then, and most everyone agrees its great.
Life is moist and stinky

#5 Boggy

Boggy

    Delusions of Competence

  • Canned
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,129 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 08:21 AM

Absinthe aka "extrait d'absinthe" is a spirit bottled at minimum of 45% abv that contains wormwood, anise, and fennel, plus additional herbs and turns cloudy (opalescent) upon addition of (cold) water.

The producer is allowed to add the so-called "personal touch" to the herb bill as long as it will not dominate and/or weaken the main wormwood-anise flavour. According to the herb bills used absinthes can be divided into traditional and modern ones. The choice of alcohol base is up to the producer, respectively.

The method of absinthe (traditional or modern) production consists in at least three stages: maceration-distillation-colouration. Artificial colouration is strictly prohibited; three colours that are allowed are: blanche/la bleue (colourless), verte (from peridot to feuille morte) and rouge.

When sugared, it is to be classified as crème d'absinthe, when mugwort is used instead of wormwood, it is to be classified as liqueur d'armoise. Wormwood note in the taste should be perceptible enough. Traditional absinthe should be aged at least 2 months prior to bottling.

That definition I have created a year ago or so.
Surviving the attacks of mentally-deficient creatures of the dark and carrying on (since 1999).
 
[Ironically, 1999 is the year the Dunning-Kruger effect was first advanced. - Admin]=

#6 Phoenix

Phoenix

    Advansed Member

  • Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,654 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 08:25 AM

Would extrait d'absinthe translated to English be wormwood extract?
"He's a politician. It's like being a hooker. You can't be one unless you can pretend to like people while you're f***ing them."

#7 Boggy

Boggy

    Delusions of Competence

  • Canned
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,129 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 08:34 AM

Sadly it would and will cause confusion with medicinal wormwood extracts as well as with wormwood bitters. Instead of using historical name, the division between "absinthe superieure" and "absinthe inferieure" should solve other problems.
Surviving the attacks of mentally-deficient creatures of the dark and carrying on (since 1999).
 
[Ironically, 1999 is the year the Dunning-Kruger effect was first advanced. - Admin]=

#8 bksmithey

bksmithey

    Advanced Member

  • Member
  • PipPipPipPipPip
  • 890 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 08:35 AM

Joe, I think the Swiss definition is a good start, and I like it because it is short. I think already a few things have been mentioned:

Is fennel required? I think the "holy trinity" argument is a good one, and fennel should be required.

Boggy suggests a minimum alc. of 45%. I believe this is true for pastis, correct (actually, I think pastis must BE 45%, no more, no less)? I think such a minimum requirement for absinthe is fair and appropriate.

Boggy also mentions coloring, and brings up a a interesting point. I don't think I feel as strongly about natural vs. artificial coloring (I'd probably only buy naturally colored products, but I don't see a problem with artificial colors if it is stated clearly on the label). But more interesting to me, should absinthe be limited to the classic colors: green, white, and red? I personally don't want to see black and purple etc. absinthes, and wouldn't mind seeing a "classic color" requirement in the definition.

#9 Boggy

Boggy

    Delusions of Competence

  • Canned
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,129 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 08:54 AM

(actually, I think pastis must BE 45%, no more, no less)?

As a matter of regulations, Pastis de Marseille is the one that must have 45%, if it is 40%, it might be either anis or pastis and anis doesn't require licorice root, which is essential in case of pastis. I know, it looks kinda complicated but that group of products is very well regulated and defined.
Surviving the attacks of mentally-deficient creatures of the dark and carrying on (since 1999).
 
[Ironically, 1999 is the year the Dunning-Kruger effect was first advanced. - Admin]=

#10 Absomphe

Absomphe

    Krinkles the Clown™

  • Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 18,626 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 09:08 AM

Everyone speaks of the "holy trinity". Here's a question; is fennel in every modern offering, to at least some degree?


Good question.

I think François Guy doesn't contain any, if memory serves, but it could be another brand.


I'm fine with the Swiss definition, although fennel adds a certain something that no other herb can quite mimic, so I think it should be included as a requisite.

Yes, I'm Krinkles the Clown on an absinthe a beer bender.

You got a problem with that?


#11 Brian Robinson

Brian Robinson

    Shabba

  • Advisory Board
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 12,804 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 10:44 AM

I'd be very happy with that definition. I don't believe fennel should be required, as there is historic precedence as well as current examples without it. I like the wording of that part: combined with other plants, such as Fennel or similar plants.
Answers to common newcomer questions.

List of WS articles from across the web.


Help other absintheurs and newcomers by submitting a review. Click here to go to the main review page to submit your entry.

Rantings of a DC Gourmand.
WS on the Mutineer Blog!

#12 Jay

Jay

    Advanced Member

  • Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,020 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 11:05 AM

As with all things, the devil does seem to dwell in the details. A general definition like the one Gwydion suggested in the LTV thread seems more attractive on paper (or onscreen), but to be of true legal use, the definition would likely have to be more specific in terms of amounts and percentages. I don't believe it's enough to say that absinthe should have a "bitter taste, presenting the aroma of anise", as one side could line up their legal experts claiming to taste and smell things that might not be there, or only minimally.

Just as Boggy's definition gives a clear 45% requirement on ABV, perhaps there should be a requirement regarding the minimum amount of wormwood and anise be contained by volume.

With regard to whether or not fennel should be a requirement, I wonder if it's enough to be able to point to a few historical pre-ban absinthes that didn't include it as a justification to not require it. After all, whether or not those absinthes were "true" absinthes may have been disputed, just as there are modern bottles of liquors being marketed as absinthe that are in dispute now. Does anyone know how those fennel-free absinthes of the 19th century were regarded by absinthe aficionadoes of the day?

#13 Absomphe

Absomphe

    Krinkles the Clown™

  • Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 18,626 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 11:15 AM

I don't believe fennel should be required, as there is historic precedence as well as current examples without it.


Perhaps you're right. I've always been a fan of precedent, it's key to our entire judicial system.

Of course, one could make the argument that those historic examples weren't actually absinthe either, I suppose. ;)

Yes, I'm Krinkles the Clown on an absinthe a beer bender.

You got a problem with that?


#14 Joe Legate

Joe Legate

    2 jobs. 0 sense.

  • Advisory Board
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 16,976 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 11:16 AM

I don't believe it's enough to say that absinthe should have a "bitter taste, presenting the aroma of anise", as one side could line up their legal experts claiming to taste and smell things that might not be there, or only minimally.

Strangely enough, it would be plenty.

"'Gin' is a product obtained by original distillation from mash, or by redistillation of distilled spirits, or by mixing neutral spirits, with or over juniper berries and other aromatics, or with or over extracts derived from infusions, percolations, or maceration of such materials. It shall derive its main characteristic flavor from juniper berries and be reduced at time of bottling to not less than 80° proof. Gin produced by original distillation or by redistillation may be further designated as 'distilled'."



#15 scuto

scuto

    Taste sensation

  • Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,908 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 11:17 AM

I'd be very happy with that definition. I don't believe fennel should be required, as there is historic precedence as well as current examples without it. I like the wording of that part: combined with other plants, such as Fennel or similar plants.

I think so, too.
My understanding is that fennel came to be thought of as a standard absinthe herb, however it may not have been present in those absinthes which were being produced on the cusp of absinthe morphing to a drink from a tonic. Someone with more absinthe history schooling can set me straight, claro. Absinthes with fennel tend to have that added dimension, so ones with fennel could be considered "better" than those without. However, we're not looking for a definition of a quality absinthe. "...and usually fennel" would make sense to me.

And I'm concerned about the constant description of absinthe as "bitter." Without being more clear, perceptions could skew in favor of fauxsinth marketing's notions. "Pleasantly bitter" suits my fancy.

Edit: Thanks for pointing that out, Joe. I didn't know that, and it makes me more optimistic that some sort of definition for absinthe may be possible. Barring us squabbling WS-ers getting involved, that is! :fork:
"The Saint when he is drinking/Is also pleasing God/As if he were praying and singing." - Angelus Silesius, quoted in Simmel's On Individuality and Social Forms, p.391. (Yay for classical sociology!)

"Full bottle in front of me/Time to roll up my sleeves and get to work/And after many glasses of work/I get paid in the brain" - They Might Be Giants "Your Own Worst Enemy."

"I've an absinthe factory in my head" (jcbphd, 2009). [Liberties taken. -ed.]

#16 Wild Bill Turkey

Wild Bill Turkey

    Exigez le mot Turkey

  • Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,019 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 11:24 AM

I doubt very much that absintheurs of old stood about debating whether a certain product was or was not absinthe in the way we do now, for many reasons. I do remember, though, that for years most people here didn't consider François Guy to be absinthe because of its lack of fennel. Nowadays it seems to be grandfathered into the category, whether by its continued survival, its good taste, or the enormous localized political power of its producer.
"I'm always amused when a member incorporates a quote from another member into their signature." - fpb

#17 Joe Legate

Joe Legate

    2 jobs. 0 sense.

  • Advisory Board
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 16,976 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 11:35 AM

I remember those discussions, too, Bill. Nothing wrong with the discussion but nothing happened as the discussion became bogged down. I thought, if we shot for the absolute minimum requirements of an absinthe definition based on the Swiss law (the only legal absinthe definition, I believe) we might get somewhere. Perhaps, the F Guy is indeed grandfathered in for any of the reasons you mentioned.

I prefer fennel but I think a beverage could be defined as absinthe without it.

Would one of our Wordsmiths pony-up to writing the definition as it stands in pseudo-legal jargon (similar to the gin definition) so that we might re-hash it?

#18 Wren

Wren

    Member

  • Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 330 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 11:38 AM

I might loosen the wording up a bit in the phrase, "with a bitter taste, presenting the aroma of anise", so that it doesn't require every kind of absinthe to be VERY bitter (as there is obviously a range of bitterness to work with), nor require that anise be the most dominant scent (although I agree that it should be physically present).

Other than that, I like it. Some may want to make the inclusion of fennel a requirement, but I'm not educated enough to address whether it merits being a "must have" or not, so I'll just watch the discussion and read what you all think.

Thanks for starting this thread, Joe!

[Edited for clarity and answering my own question since I now know that blanches can louche ;)]


Like others, I would be satisfied with the definition in Joe's original post, however, I agree with the caution expressed in Jay's post above regarding the nebulous phrase, "with a bitter taste".

Must ponder this further.
"Understanding is joyous." --Carl Sagan

#19 Wren

Wren

    Member

  • Member
  • PipPipPip
  • 330 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 11:41 AM

I don't believe it's enough to say that absinthe should have a "bitter taste, presenting the aroma of anise", as one side could line up their legal experts claiming to taste and smell things that might not be there, or only minimally.

Strangely enough, it would be plenty.

"'Gin' is a product obtained by original distillation from mash, or by redistillation of distilled spirits, or by mixing neutral spirits, with or over juniper berries and other aromatics, or with or over extracts derived from infusions, percolations, or maceration of such materials. It shall derive its main characteristic flavor from juniper berries and be reduced at time of bottling to not less than 80° proof. Gin produced by original distillation or by redistillation may be further designated as 'distilled'."


Missed this. Good to know.

Thanks Joe!
"Understanding is joyous." --Carl Sagan

#20 precenphix

precenphix

    Dreamer / Noise-maker

  • Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,984 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 11:44 AM

Everyone speaks of the "holy trinity". Here's a question; is fennel in every modern offering, to at least some degree?


Good question.

I think François Guy doesn't contain any, if memory serves, but it could be another brand.


No, you're right. François Guy doesn't contain fennel and I would consider it absinthe. As Brian mentioned, there are historical brands that left fennel out of the equation, so I don't feel it should be a requirement in the definition...though it does make for a better absinthe, IMO.
Those with knowledge easily sense the truth of things. Those with egos built up on rumor and fancy, tend to maintain a hard line. - Tatan (Evan Camomile)

#21 Ron

Ron

    Blind Eye McGee

  • Content Team
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 4,130 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 12:34 PM

Taking from the input so far:

"Absinthe is a high proof, distilled spirit produced by a three part process of maceration, distillation then coloration, during which the primary derivative flavors, aromatics and natural compounds of anise, grande wormwood and fennel are imparted, the latter of which is recommended though not required. In a base spirit, such as grape or neutral grain, the herbs are macerated for a period of time, and then distilled, resulting in an herbal aromatic, lightly bitter, clear distillate which can be short-aged for a period of months or bottled at that time as a clear ("Blanche/La Bleue") absinthe, or advanced to the third traditional coloration step in which the clear distillate, being heated, is infused with a variety of coloring and additional flavoring herbs such as petite wormwood, hyssop and melissa, which results in the chlorophyllic content being leached into the distillate. The finished product and the resultant green color ("Verte") has an alcoholic proof of generally between 45° and 72° and is then short-aged or bottled. Absinthe louches when water is introduced as a primary result of the naturally imparted compounds. The distiller herb bill may contain additional varying herbs, but can not deviate from the prescribed minimum aforementioned standards."
Every hour is green hour. -Hedonmonkey

Sometimes bad just gets so bad that it breaks thru to the other side and becomes good. - Phoenix

#22 Joe Legate

Joe Legate

    2 jobs. 0 sense.

  • Advisory Board
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 16,976 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 12:43 PM

Thanks, Ron.
Now we get to the nit-picking. The description may be overly specific. For example: while an oil mix is usually inferior, I think it could still be absinthe.

What else?

#23 Ron

Ron

    Blind Eye McGee

  • Content Team
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 4,130 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 12:47 PM

Okay, so we're back to the definitions based on classifications then. Because under no circumstances should and oil mix be put into the same category as a distilled absinthe.. Could we do a definition for superieure, ordinaire and inferieure classifications? Should we? Here's what I just had to say on that.
Every hour is green hour. -Hedonmonkey

Sometimes bad just gets so bad that it breaks thru to the other side and becomes good. - Phoenix

#24 Joe Legate

Joe Legate

    2 jobs. 0 sense.

  • Advisory Board
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 16,976 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 12:54 PM

Nah, that's what always derails the process. Don't get caught up in those details. Look at the gin definition again and follow the KISS rule. The gin definition quickly and simply addresses distillation, maceration and extracts.

Remember, the goal is to come up with a minimum definition not sub-categories. Fun, huh?

#25 Ron

Ron

    Blind Eye McGee

  • Content Team
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 4,130 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 01:11 PM

Yuk! I'm afraid any shorter or less descriptive definition ends up being ambiguous or open to interpretation, and could lead some inferior brands to announce that they fall within the established (and WS approved) guidelines to be labeled absinthe.

But in the interest of playing along, here's a pared down version:

Absinthe is a distilled spirit containing the natural extracts of anise, grande wormwood and fennel, the latter of which is recommended though not required. The herbal components are added to a base spirit for maceration and distillation, resulting in a lightly bitter, clear distillate bottled at that time as a clear ("Blanche/La Bleue") absinthe, or advanced to the third coloration step in which the clear distillate is infused with a variety of coloring and flavoring herbs or extracts such as petite wormwood, hyssop and melissa. The finished product and the resultant green color ("Verte") has an alcoholic proof between 45° and 72° and louches when water is introduced.
Every hour is green hour. -Hedonmonkey

Sometimes bad just gets so bad that it breaks thru to the other side and becomes good. - Phoenix

#26 Joe Legate

Joe Legate

    2 jobs. 0 sense.

  • Advisory Board
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 16,976 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 01:19 PM

It's going to take the pared down version, I'm thinking.

What about the fennel? Is it necessary to the definition?

#27 Ron

Ron

    Blind Eye McGee

  • Content Team
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 4,130 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 01:25 PM

The definition would be a little bit smaller if we dropped the fennel, because there's half a sentence explaining its necessity. So for brevity's sake, we could drop it and be done with it. As a bare minimum definition, it could stand alone without fennel, and then distillers could make that call. Most of them use it. So requiring them to conform to it would only affect a small percentage of brands. So no, I don't think it's necessary.

"Absinthe is a distilled spirit containing the natural extracts of anise and grande wormwood. Those herbs are added to a base spirit for maceration and distillation, resulting in a lightly bitter, clear distillate bottled at that time as a clear ("Blanche/La Bleue") absinthe, or advanced to the third coloration step in which the clear distillate is infused with a variety of coloring and flavoring herbs or extracts such as petite wormwood, hyssop and melissa. The finished product and the resultant green color ("Verte") has an alcoholic proof between 45° and 72° and louches when water is introduced."
Every hour is green hour. -Hedonmonkey

Sometimes bad just gets so bad that it breaks thru to the other side and becomes good. - Phoenix

#28 Joe Legate

Joe Legate

    2 jobs. 0 sense.

  • Advisory Board
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 16,976 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 01:42 PM

Cool. It's our start:

"Absinthe is a distilled spirit containing the natural extracts of anise and grande wormwood. Those herbs are added to a base spirit for maceration and distillation, resulting in a lightly bitter, clear distillate bottled at that time as a clear ("Blanche/La Bleue") absinthe, or advanced to the third coloration step in which the clear distillate is infused with a variety of coloring and flavoring herbs or extracts such as petite wormwood, hyssop and melissa. The finished product and the resultant green color ("Verte") has an alcoholic proof between 45° and 72° and louches when water is introduced."

Problems? Issues? Suggestions? Ideas? Can anyone make it read better or more clearly?

#29 Boggy

Boggy

    Delusions of Competence

  • Canned
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 2,129 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 01:45 PM

I am not a fennel expert, but whereas it might have been omitted in some of the published recipes of the heyday (like the M. Réau's or Virey's), it wasn't omitted in the particular brands' recipes, so leaving it out just because it was mentioned in published protocols is a bit vague.

Since we can find several recipes where instead of green anise, badiane is advocated, following that logic, green anise should be an option, should not it? Hence, it would be definitely unwise to call fennel an optional ingredient. There is a leeway as regards the colouration stage, however we are not singling Artemisia pontica out...
Surviving the attacks of mentally-deficient creatures of the dark and carrying on (since 1999).
 
[Ironically, 1999 is the year the Dunning-Kruger effect was first advanced. - Admin]=

#30 Jay

Jay

    Advanced Member

  • Member
  • PipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 1,020 posts

Posted 15 May 2009 - 02:09 PM

"Absinthe is a distilled spirit containing the natural extracts of grand wormwood and anise, combined with the natural extracts of other herbs in lesser amounts. The herbs are added to a base spirit for maceration and distillation, resulting in a bitter, clear distillate bottled at that time as a clear ("Blanche/La Bleue") absinthe, or infused with a variety of herbs used for coloring and/or flavoring resulting in a green color ("Verte"). Either variety should have an alcoholic proof between 45° and 72° and should louche when water is introduced."

How about that one, Joe? I changed "green anise" to simply anise, accommodating both the green anise and star anise (which Boggy refers to as badiane). I also eliminated the individually named "alternate" herbs and just referred to them as "other herbs", and added "in lesser amounts" since it seems grand wormwood and some kind of anise are always the dominate herbs in the vintage (and modern) absinthes. Finally, I tightened up the language a bit with regard to blanches and verts.


1 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 1 guests, 0 anonymous users

Copyright © 2014 The Wormwood Society Absinthe Association