THE RETURN OF THE GREEN FAIRY
Cocktail lovers, poets and artists rejoice: the French ban on absinthe production has been reversed. Known at the “green fairy”, absinthe was made illegal in France in 1915. The French move to lift the ban followed a 2OO9 bid by Switzerland to earmark absinthe as a regional product under the European geographical protection scheme, which covers products such as Parma ham or Roquefort cheese. Absinthe’s historic home – asserted the French – is Pontarlier, a town within a few kilometers of the Swiss border. Opposition to the Swiss move spurred the legal partial rehabilitation of the drink. Producers have gone through loopholes to make the green fairy, so-called because of the visual effect of absinthe reacting with water, available once more. In 2OOO, La Fée became the first brand to distill in France since the drink’s banishment, working together with the curator at France’s Musée de l’Absinthe. The company took advantage of a waiver that allows production for export purposes. It also sells in France, using the approved “Spiritueux aux plantes d’Absinthe” terminology on its labels (but with identical spirit inside). It has been available in the US for several years though not in its original form. The production of absinthe is not without controversy. Thujone, a chemical side product of the wormwood herb used to flavor absinthe, and sometimes blamed for its alleged mind-bending properties, is a controlled substance under European regulations. The content in absinthe, however, is limited to minute traces. Changes to European regulations in 1988 helped partly re-establish absinthe by limiting thujone content, and capping its alcoholic content at 72 percent alcohol by volume. That still packs quite a potent punch. Producers have complained of absinthe-branded products emanating from Eastern Europe, which have little in common with the original beyond a strong alcoholic kick.