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The Rise and Fall (and Rise again) of Absinthe

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Derived from anise, fennel and wormwood, Absinthe is a strong tasting, high alcohol aperitif with a history like no other. Here at Drinks Chest we proudly stock Spanish Rodniks Absinthe, a country unique in never having banned this infamous liquor and surprisingly important for its popularity across the atlantic, but we’ll get onto that in a few paragraphs…

Dr Ordinaire and his green elixir

Although the history of wormwood liquors extends back thousands of years to the Egyption empire, it was Dr Pierre Ordinaire, a French doctor, who is credited with the drink we today know as Absinthe.

Dr Ordinaire created a emerald green elixir with herbs and worm wood (Artemisia Absinthium) which was believed to cure a wide variety of illnesses and ailments.

Just five years later Henri-Louis Pernod, founder of the Pernod brand, opened an absinthe distillery in Switzerland, quickly followed by another, larger distillery in Pontarliet France in 1797. This is where the drink gained an international reputation as the drink of intellectuals, writers and artists.

The rise in popularity

As absinthe’s popularity began to rise in the early 19th century, its use was boosted by an unlikely source. In the 1840s soldiers of the French Army were medicated with absinthe as a field treatment for malaria, increasing production and lowering the cost. By the early 20th century absinthe became the drink of choice across France, consumed more than wine and other liquors.

France’s neighbours, Spain, also developed a liking towards the wormwood liquor. Drinks Chest’s absinthe of choice is Rodniks of Spain, with a softer aroma than it’s French counterpart yet high in wormwood, it’s a perfect drink for shots and cocktails. 

Spanish absinthe drinkers were also responsible for introducing the drink to America. In the 1870's a Spanish bartender called Cayetano Ferrer opened The Absinthe Room in New Orleans and by 1878 nearly 10 million litres of absinthe had been imported to USA.

Other parts of Europe, especially Prague in the Czech Republic, also felt the boom of absinthe, yet several years after Ferrer had left for the states.

The unexpected fall and near worldwide ban

Absinthe was soon to become victim of public opinion, criticism and scapegoating. Accusations of drinkers becoming criminal and the drink being responsible for human fatalities, led to moral panic. Absinthe was seen as dangerous, with its drinkers referred to as addicts, rather than the high-flyers of society. This, along with a fire at one of the Pernod absinthe plant, reducing production, led to a decline in both supply and demand.

Most of Europe banned the drink in the early 1900s, the USA in 1912 and the spiritual home, France, in 1915.

The second coming

In the 1990’s, science came to the rescue of Absinthe. Scientists found proof that one of it’s ingredients, wormwood, which was used as a treatment for Malaria, was an effective suppressant of malaria. The improvement of its reputation meant distillers began to look for loopholes in old laws to begin production and selling of absinthe, many were found and a new market for the liquor was created.

By the early 2000s nearly all the absinthe bans around the world were lifted, with France leading the way in production, followed by Eastern Europe and their ‘Bohemian’ recipes. 

Shop for absinthe online with Drinks Chest. 


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