Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Faster

Question: Why was Absinthe prohibited in France in the year 1914?

Answer: Absinthe gained great popularity in Europe in the early 1900s when the grape harvest failed for cognac in northern France and people started buying Absinthe in it’s place. Cognac had been the top liquor seller previously. The distillers of cognac were politically powerful and when the grape crop eventually returned, the cognac and wine cartel created all the propaganda that led to Absinthe becoming illegal in order to regain their lost market.– Absinthinia

Absinthe is an anise-flavored drink derived from the herb Artemisia absinthium, or “grande wormwood.” It is combined with green anise and fennel, which gives it a green color. It is known  as “la fée verte” (“green fairy”). Oscar Wilde described absinthe thusly:

“A glass of absinthe is as poetical as anything in the world, what difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset.”

Nonetheless, the chemical thujone in absinthe is alleged to have harmful effects with prolonged intake – including madness and addiction. In 1914 absinthe was banned in the United States and in most European countries. Although absinthe is said to have caused grave illness, it has nonetheless been proven to be no more dangerous than any liquor taken in moderation.

Whoever put the “sin” in Absinthe, its not sinful anymore. In fact, now it is back: “Since 2007, when the Treasury Department relaxed its position on the sale of absinthe, 13 American distilleries have begun producing the spirit legally, according to the Wormwood Society, a consumer education and advocacy group,” reports the New York Times (see here). And its being advertised on billboards in NYC and LA, among other cities.

In fact, Absinthe is making an advertising comeback, continuing the tradition begun in the 19th Century with art (Picasso, below top) and design. (See examples here on the virtual absinthe museum website.)

Let’s let Oscar have the last word:

“After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, which is the most horrible thing in the world.”

Picasso Absinthe

Absinthe posterAbsinthe poster

Botanical Absinthe Poster

Absinthe poster

Absinthe poster

5 thoughts on “Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Faster

  1. Dracontia

    All of the little rituals surrounding Absinthe are intriguing–the slow drip of ice water through sugar, watching the louche form, collecting the paraphernalia to accomplish same; alas, the ‘beverage’ itself tastes like nothing so much as NyQuil…

  2. Philip O'Neill

    I like how Absinthe has been a touchstone for visual arts, both commercial and fine. It perfectly meshes with bohemian romanticism. As a beverage, however, it’s kinda revolting.

  3. JaRatr

    It wasn’t all the propaganda machine. Some Absinthe distillers of the time used poor practices, creating an inferior and dangerous product laiden with impurities. Where much of the fear of ‘going insane’ or dying came from. (Edgar Allan Poe myths and such). So the producers didn’t help themselves either. Not that such things haven’t happened before or since among off-shoot liquor producers. See any prohibition era…