Absinthe and its legal status in the USA

Published: 25th March 2009
Views: N/A

You may have heard of absinthe as the drink of famous artists like Vincent van Gogh, or as the drink once outlawed in the United States. While the drink still remains famous, the legal status of it being sold in the United States has changed. As of October 2007, it is now legal to buy absinthe in the US as long as it is "thujone free", which is, containing less than 10 ppm Thujone.

So what is this thujone stuff? Thujone comes from plants such as cedar leaf, sage, tansy, thyme, rosemary and wormwood. It is reported to be toxic to both the brain and liver cells and could cause convulsions if used in too high of doses. Typically the thujone in absinthe comes from wormwood and thus the drink is often referred to as the Green Fairy as it has a chartreuse hue.

Wormwood was believed to be what made absinthe have a drug like quality in that it altered the mind. This rumor became so prominent that by the early 20th century, prompted by the temperance movement and winemakers, absinthe was publicized in connection with violent crimes supposedly committed while under the influence of the drink. This combined with the rise in hard liquor consumption in France in the late 1800s, declared absinthe as a social menace. Its critics said that absinthe makes you crazy and criminal, provoking epilepsy and tuberculosis while killing thousands of French people. They said that absinthe made a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman, and a degenerate of the infant and that it disorganizes and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country. Pretty stiff accusations for the little green drink.

Absinthe's mystique was added to throughout the ages by artist's portraying it as mind altering. For example, Edgar Degas' 1876 painting L'Absinthe, which can be seen at the Musee d'Orsay, epitomized the popular view of absinthe addicts as sodden and benumbed.

Rumors led to bans. In 1906, Belgium and Brazil banned the sale and distribution of absinthe. Absinthe had been banned as early as 1898 in the colony of the Congo Free State. The Netherlands banned absinthe in 1909; the United States banned it in 1912 and France in 1915.

In Switzerland, the ban drove absinthe underground. Clandestine (illegal) home distillers produced absinthe after the ban, focusing on la Bleue, which was easier to conceal from the authorities. Many countries never banned absinthe, notably Britain, where absinthe had not been as popular as in continental Europe.

So how mind-altering was the cocktail of Van Gogh? Research has shown that thujone has a significant effect on the brain, in part by blocking the neurotransmitter that controls nerve impulses. Others compare its reaction to having a really strong cup of coffee.

Modern commercially produced absinthe has been shown to contain a safe level of thujone. In order to comply with European Union (EU) limits, the thujone levels in commercially distilled absinthe must be10mg/l or less. The thujone levels in commercially distilled absinthe in Germany must be 30mg/l or less.

So now that absinthe has been made legal in the United States, you may be asking how does one drink it? There is a method to drinking absinthe beyond just pouring it into a glass. Traditionally it is served by pouring ice-cold water over a sugar cube that has been placed on a slotted spoon. The slotted spoon rests on glass containing absinthe. The cold water dissolves the sugar and mixes with the absinthe. When the water mixes with the absinthe, the clear liquid becomes cloudy. This is called the 'louche'.

The usual ratio for drinking absinthe this way is to use five parts water to one part absinthe. The sugar and water dilutes the alcohol and masks some of the bitterness of the wormwood flavor. Of course, there are many variations on the traditional method. Some people prefer a ratio of three parts water to one part absinthe. It's also possible to drink absinthe neat, or without the water. Some modern absinthes are already sweetened, so no sugar cube is needed or desired when drinking them.

So there you have it, the truth about absinthe, it's legality in the United States and how to drink it.Green Devil provides information, tips and kits on the making and history of absinthe throughout the ages. Learn more about the allure this beverage has held over the centuries or make your own absinthe alcohol and find out for yourself.

Report this article Ask About This Article

More to Explore