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Joe Legate

A Defining Moment

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I just am trying to at least keep absinthe traditional-looking.

But that's not what defining absinthe is about.

 

They don't find ways to make lighting blue whiskey, do they? No, because whiskey isn't marketed to college kids on spring break in eastern Europe.

They probably could, but since the concept of whiskey is established in people's minds after having been around since the birth of time nobody would take it seriously and such a product would tank.

 

But the problem is that we're trying to combat absinthe's recent raping in the sense that it's rebirth is directly related to such marketing in the 90's. Whiskey is taken with respect, so is wine, etc., so why shouldn't we expect absinthe to not fall under cheap marketing gimmicks?

Yeah, but the problem is that absinthe is a revived drink and the revival of its name was started by an impostor. It's a unique situation but you can't take a unique approach to defining it. It sucks but we just have to deal with it. Cheap marketing gimmicks work with something new and shiny, especially when it gets to be sold for a decade without much regulation.

 

What would be the purpose of artificially coloring absinthe anyway? It is what it is, no? Adding any color, even in the new Pernod example means you have an inferior product that you were incapable of coloring naturally.

Because people think it's supposed to be green, and more importantly, producers and marketers think people think it's supposed to be green. It's also cheaper and easier to dump some green food colouring in than to possibly ruin your product by screwing up a colouring step with expensive herbs. And it will probably still sell as a bottom shelf item.

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I know what you're saying, and it is all akin to quality tequila, and plastic bottle crap made for bad margaritas. It's still all tequila. I guess I'm just an absinthe snob, and I want my absinthe to be, absinthe. To look like it should, not just taste like it should.

 

And I see absinthe as being around for about 150 years. It's not a shiny new product. Just one most people forgot about!

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Well, look at it this way: people didn't forget about it. Society might have but people didn't. They never knew about it. It's shiny and new because the people who drink it now and would drink it now weren't alive during its heyday.

 

And even tequila isn't a broad class. Mescal is, and tequila is a type of mescal that must meet a much more specific standard. And there's even horrible, bottom-shelf brands that are allowed by that more specific definition.

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This is too long and frustrating for me to read and my head is about to explode. There are far too many errors and assumptions in this thread for me to take that time to address them all.

 

Most of you could really benefit this discussion by becoming familiar with the existing codes and the reasons they're written the way they are.

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What would be the purpose of artificially coloring absinthe anyway? It is what it is, no? Adding any color, even in the new Pernod example means you have an inferior product that you were incapable of coloring naturally.

 

Ask any of those dead absinthe producers of the Belle Epoque, who were so convinced of the absinthe drinking public's perception of the necessity of their beloved drink's green hue that they found it expedient to employ such healthful, and invigorating additives as copper sulfate, and antimony chloride to achieve a "desirable" shade of the aforementioned color.

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Did I forget to mention I barely know what I'm talking about? Cuz that's kinda important.

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Can we all agree that even if the use of artificial flavorings, additives, and colorings are being allowed, there must still be natural anise flavoring forming the majority of it (51% or more)?

Isn't that what the first sentence takes care of? I think every definition we've written so far mentions something similar to:

 

Absinthe is a product obtained by redistillation of distilled spirits with or over the base herbs of aniseed and Artemisia absinthium (Grande Wormwood), or the natural extracts thereof, from which it shall derive its main characteristic flavor

 

The first sentence of the paragraph definition we've been working on, yes. But the second bullet point of GStone's list ("prominent anise flavor") didn't seem exact enough to me. There might not be a cheaper way to obtain an anise flavoring right now than using actual anise, but some day there might be (in much the same way that strawberry flavoring is obtained from potatoes because it's cheaper), so I think it's best to tighten up the wording now. That's all I meant.

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Did I forget to mention I barely know what I'm talking about? Cuz that's kinda important.

You're one of the few making sense here, pal.

 

So in that stripped down bullet-list definition above, I would clarify the wording to say that the prominent absinthe flavor is derived mainly from green anise and/or star anise ... a producer could use conceivably use no anise at all, and merely add an artificial anise flavoring to attain the smell and flavor and call it absinthe based on the way it's worded.

I'm not aware of any artificial anise flavoring products, since natural anise oil is dirt cheap, the anise flavorings used are natural star anise extract.

 

Do you know if every historical version was likewise taken into account for other alcohols (such as the variations of whisky) as they were being legally defined?

Read the laws. These definitions are all based on specific provenance, raw materials, and/or the distillate possessing "the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to" a given product. It's our job to clearly present a case for the characteristics generally attributed to absinthe. Unfortunately, that requires appeal to history in this case.

 

how important is it to include every historical pre-ban variant of absinthe for consideration of a legal definition?

As important as the fact that all an opponent to our definition has to do is point to a precedent. We say "fennel required". Now comes F. Guy and says "I have evidence of at least a half a dozen pre-ban recipes that don't use fennel, and they come from the same texts WS asserts are authoritative."

 

It's not even going to be an easy thing to get a clear definition for absinthe accepted.

Too true. The bureau doesn't like re-codification; it costs money and creates extra work. There's a reason there are only 12 classes of spirit.

 

Simultaneously sliding in the definition of a verte and blanche and rouge and Pontarlier-style and VDT-style and all that is just not happening. Even if we end up with a regulated definition of absinthe we still may never get any of those other things.

I believe it's important to try, only because using the term "verte" on an artificially colored absinthe is preposterous and an affront to any distiller who uses whole herbs.

 

Find expensively-produced historic posters for absinthes jaune, noir, ou maron, and you've got an argument. The evidence of the existence of historical rouge absinthe is as good as the evidence we have for many things we "know" about absinthe. There are no extant bottles of any historic absinthe blanche, either. We rely on ephemera for a lot of our history on this subject.

But there are also many menus, catalogs, and contemporary references to blanches. That one poster is the one single suggestion that a rouge existed.

 

That doesn't mean I think the definition of absinthe should be broadened specifically to include red coloring. Whether it existed or not, rouge absinthe was certainly never a standard option, such that it must be accounted for in defining the drink.

Agreed. I'm not arguing for or against making rouges, I just see no defensible reason to include them in the law, since we have no way of knowing how it was colored.

 

What would be the purpose of artificially coloring absinthe anyway? It is what it is, no? Adding any color, even in the new Pernod example means you have an inferior product that you were incapable of coloring naturally.

It means nothing of the kind. It means a choice was made, and the consumer has no way of determining intent or capability.

 

Do we need to specify coloration at all? If any color can be produced using natural means, shouldn't that be ok?

We have no hope of proscribing artificial coloring. Besides, I believe most of the references here to "artificial" coloring probably intend to refer to any form of pre-made coloring materials, aside from botanicals. Most of the FD&C colors are natural. In fact, there are only seven that aren't.

 

Yeah, but the problem is that absinthe is a revived drink and the revival of its name was started by an impostor. It's a unique situation but you can't take a unique approach to defining it. It sucks but we just have to deal with it. Cheap marketing gimmicks work with something new and shiny, especially when it gets to be sold for a decade without much regulation.

Again the hammer meets the nail.

 

Requiring the coloration to be completely natural will limit the kool-aid and purple colors we're used to in czechsinthe! ...
...But we do have to include in any base definition that only natural coloration can be used.

If it didn't fly with Blue Curaçao, or Creme de Noyeaux, what makes you think absinthe will be any different?

 

I think there should DEFINITELY be a subcategory (or at least a requirement to list those artificial additives on the bottle)

Again: there are already laws which require this!

 

Remember, we're not defining what a vintage absinthe was...

Yes we are.

... but what current absinthe can be!

No we aren't.

 

This is my point: some of you seem to assume (as have others in the kajillion times we've had this discussion) that we have an opportunity here to define absinthe as we believe it ought to be, but we don't. The whole point of this—as I see it—is to concisely and accurately determine—not decide—what absinthe IS. We can decide on language, not facts.

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What would be the purpose of artificially coloring absinthe anyway? It is what it is, no? Adding any color, even in the new Pernod example means you have an inferior product that you were incapable of coloring naturally.

 

Ask any of those dead absinthe producers of the Belle Epoque, who were so convinced of the absinthe drinking public's perception of the necessity of their beloved drink's green hue that they found it expedient to employ such healthful, and invigorating additives as copper sulfate, and antimony chloride to achieve a "desirable" shade of the aforementioned color.

 

The color is more easily attained with natural additives, including the certified and non-certified colors. Rouge absinthes colored with cochineal are artificially colored. Less expensive is one reason for a producer to use the artificial colors. Though cochineal isn't cheap. Consistency of the color, or it's stability might be another. Maybe their consumers like the bright neon color with it being in tune with their idea of "modern".

 

Artificially colored in itself isn't a terrible thing. Historically it was accurate. Today the coloring additives are much safer. While I personally prefer a naturally colored absinthe, even from a historical standpoint it's not possible to argue that artificially colored is "wrong". (I should say I'm speaking of France in the BE. I don't know what was done in Switzerland in that same time period.)

 

A lot of food today is artificially colored or enhanced in some ways. I'm not saying I choose food with unnatural color or coloring, but it's pretty common out there in the RL.

 

If someone was to make a really tasty blanche and artificially color it because they wanted to sell to the Goth market (because all their friends are Goths) would that be a bad thing?

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So in that stripped down bullet-list definition above, I would clarify the wording to say that the prominent absinthe flavor is derived mainly from green anise and/or star anise ... a producer could use conceivably use no anise at all, and merely add an artificial anise flavoring to attain the smell and flavor and call it absinthe based on the way it's worded.

I'm not aware of any artificial anise flavoring products, since natural anise oil is dirt cheap, the anise flavorings used are natural star anise extract.

 

I think there should DEFINITELY be a subcategory (or at least a requirement to list those artificial additives on the bottle)

Again: there are already laws which require this!

 

 

I'll speak to these two points, and then I'll leave this thread be since I think some of us are getting frustrated and could use a drink of our ill-defined liquors ;)

 

I'm not aware of a cheaper alternative to anise flavoring either, but that doesn't mean one won't be discovered in the future, so that's why I feel the language should be made explicit now. God forbid absinthe enthusiasts have to fight the same battle all over again in 100 years.

 

Also, the label and/or subcategory I was referring to with regards to artificial additives is not the label legally required by the government. What I am suggesting is that a labeling system similar to "inferiore" and "superiore" be implemented so that absinthe buyers know what they're buying and how to refer to it, but not using those same words for reasons already discussed.

 

And with that, I'll leave the rest of you to carry on with the attempt to define absinthe, both in terms of a legal definition and in terms of a lay definition that we can disseminate to our friends, family and FAQs page/s!

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I don't think that you can put a labeling system like that in. At least not right now. You just have to go with what we already have, which is a list of ingredients.

 

Besides, that has nothing to do with a definition. We're again talking about two different things.

 

Part of the reason this discussion continually gets out of control is that it's very hard to get anyone to focus on the actual subject at hand instead of confusing and injecting different issues into the mix.

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And it also seems hard to get people to put aside their snobbiness in trying to define absinthe as what their definition of good absinthe is.

 

There's always going to be bad absinthe. There's going to be absinthe that uses artificial coloring. There always has been. Get over it and move on.

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I don't think that you can put a labeling system like that in. At least not right now. You just have to go with what we already have, which is a list of ingredients.

 

Besides, that has nothing to do with a definition. We're again talking about two different things.

 

Part of the reason this discussion continually gets out of control is that it's very hard to get anyone to focus on the actual subject at hand instead of confusing and injecting different issues into the mix.

 

Agreed. In my defense though, as a lead-in to that part of my original post I did say "I do now agree that subclasses of absinthe should come later (if at all)", and that "there were too many historical precedents for absithes which included artificial additives to restrict them from our current definition." I probably shouldn't have said anything at all regarding that in this particular thread.

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Maybe I'm over simplfying but it seems whatever tastes good firstly and adheres to the general standards of traditional absinthe processing can be considered absinthe. It also appears, at least on the surface, that the faux abinths and their ilk invariably deviate from the tradtional process and thus render themselves invalid as true absinthe's.

 

I have enjoyed reading this thread as it has unfolded to the most infinitesimal detail. Please don't let me derail it to over simplification. I think Hiram, I mean Gstone has really nailed it though, after all he has seen the debate from every side imaginable.

 

I am but an egg.

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The color is more easily attained with natural additives, including the certified and non-certified colors. Rouge absinthes colored with cochineal are artificially colored.

 

So are those colored with hibiscus. Artificial just means that a coloring additive was used, but not all artificial colorings are synthetic. Cochineal is made from little bugs. It's natural. If I make a saffron or annato extract first, and then add that to my absinthe, the absinthe is artificially colored... with natural coloring. Same if I make the extract from little bugs. Or herbs.

 

The certified colors, which are all derived from coal tar and petroleum, are not what most people would consider "natural", but the exempt-from-certification colorings, derived from plant, animal, and mineral sources are.

 

Maybe we should be talking about synthetic vs. natural color? Or, since our purpose is specifically absinthe, botanical and non-botanical coloring?

 

Part of the reason this discussion continually gets out of control is that it's very hard to get anyone to focus on the actual subject at hand instead of confusing and injecting different issues into the mix.

Spooky. It's like you can read my mind.

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I think synthetic vs natural is what we're all trying to pinpoint. Although I, for one, don't see the benefit of adding a color, even a natural additive, just for the sake of color. In vertes, unless I'm wrong, although coloration is intended, it also changes the flavor. Color is almost a byproduct of additional flavoring. Adding color, either synthetic or natural, that doesn't aid in the flavor, just seems pointless and somehow "dishonest" in some way.

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This is my point: some of you seem to assume (as have others in the kajillion times we've had this discussion) that we have an opportunity here to define absinthe as we believe it ought to be, but we don't. The whole point of this—as I see it—is to concisely and accurately determine—not decide—what absinthe IS. We can decide on language, not facts.

 

Part of the reason this discussion continually gets out of control is that it's very hard to get anyone to focus on the actual subject at hand instead of confusing and injecting different issues into the mix.

Spooky. It's like you can read my mind.

 

I think synthetic vs natural is what we're all trying to pinpoint.

Not I, and to my mind not most. I could care less when it comes to defining the identity of absinthe, because I see that debate as a 'different issue' as mentioned above.

 

...

Edited by scuto

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Because people think it's supposed to be green, and more importantly, producers and marketers think people think it's supposed to be green. It's also cheaper and easier to dump some green food colouring in than to possibly ruin your product by screwing up a colouring step with expensive herbs. And it will probably still sell as a bottom shelf item.

 

How many absinthe virgins come to this forum and say that the first thing they're getting is a verte, because no matter how good their blanche options, verte is the the way to go. Because everyone knows absinthe is supposed to be green. I've met people who are obsessed with absinthe always being green and you just can't talk them out of it. Why is it supposed to be green? Who knows. It just is. Because it's cool. Not everyone who shells out money for a bottle of absinthe is going to anything about it. They people want it to be green and producers have a cheap and easy way to give them what they want.

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Maybe we should be talking about synthetic vs. natural color? Or, since our purpose is specifically absinthe, botanical and non-botanical coloring?

 

I don't think it'll be possible to define absinthe and exclude some of the legally allowed colors (the certified colors, aka FD&C colors/coal-tar colors/aniline colors). Since the FDA has jurisdiction in that area and the WS does not, I think I know who's going to win. :cheers:

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Agreed. I don't feel it's probable or even desirable to prohibit coloring additives in the legal definition of absinthe. As you point out, it's futile anyway. But I do feel that we need to protect the term "verte" as an indicator of what we know is the superior and traditional method: herbal infusion.

 

I was just suggesting that we might benefit from using less vague terms in our discussions here in the forums. I recall a foolish exchange elsewhere about coloration and whether a given sample was "natural", when it should have focused on whether it was botanical.

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I was just suggesting that we might benefit from using less vague terms in our discussions here in the forums.

 

Totally. Precision is good.

 

I think it's good too about having terms that mean something about process where that equals quality, or artisanal, or whatever, that could be used to give customers the idea of what we're creating.

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I'm a little confused by the complexity.

 

If you look at how Bourbon is defined it is a simple definition. Even though other grains are used in the process the only one mentioned is corn which must be at least 51% ---

 

 

.

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Again, defining absinthe is not analogous to defining Bourbon. It's analogous to defining whiskey.

 

In addition to being at least 51% corn Bourbon has to be aged in first-use charred oak casks. And that's on top of having to meet the definition of whiskey.

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Same if I make the extract from little bugs.

 

doesn't that give you a painful boner that won't go away? :g:

 

 

Fuckin' bugs.

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I would like to weigh in on the topic of coloration, later I will touch on the more complicated topic of flavoring.

 

There is significant evidence that Chlorophyll plays a critical role in absinthes ability to age. Over time and exposure to heat, oxygen, and light (although light seems to flatten the flavors and is generally considered bad), it brakes down and decomposes adding additional characteristics to the product.

 

I am still learning about this and experimenting but that much seems to be generally understood. It seems to me that any green coloring not derived from chlorophyll would be inherently deceptive marketing because it would imply to the consumer that this is a proper absinthe suitable for aging when in fact it might be the eye of a newt or a petroleum jelly based coloring agents, neither of which to my knowledge age well.

 

After writing this I am working on an experiment with the eye of a newt and may need to correct my pervious statement (that is with regard to the aging capacity of newt eyes). However I am still sure petroleum based green dye does not age elegantly, at least not for several million years. : )

 

NOTE: the historical existence of artificially colored absinthe does not, in my opinion, make it a precedence for modern artificially colored absinthe. Just because our ancestors failed to control this (and Pernod tried on the grounds that artificial coloring was poisoning their customers) does not mean we haver to stand for it as modern producers.

 

Modern colorants may not be toxic, but they certainly rob our customers of part of their experience.

 

Well thats my wholly unsolicited opinion. Thanks for providing me a public forum to vent!

 

Cheers,

Bryan

 

P.S. Thanks Gwydion for the bottle swap. My staff and I quite enjoyed it last night.

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