1. Absinthe originated as a medicinal drink in the second half of the 18th century in the Val-de-Travers, Switzerland. The first absinthe distillery was established in Couvet, Switzerland in 1797.
2. Henri-Louis Pernod, the future son-in-law of the owner of the Couvet distillery, set up a new operation over the French border in 1805 to save taxes; distilleries flourished both sides of the border, with at least 15 absinthe distilleries in Couvet in the 19th century.
3. It is probable that clear or “blanche” absinthe was made before any “verte” absinthe (in the same way that wine probably preceded champagne).
4. Women have played key roles in the development of absinthe. Mere Henriod and/or her two daughters are generally recognised to have made the first drink we would recognise as absinthe today; Charlotte Vaucher, the creator of the La Clandestine recipe, was one of several women absinthe “moonshiners” in Switzerland after the 1910 ban.
5. In the 19th century, “Absinthe Suisse” was used as a term to indicate the very highest quality absinthes, even if some of them were not made in Switzerland.
6. Absinthe became especially popular towards the end of the 19th century in France when the phylloxera outbreak had decimated the French vineyards.
7. Absinthe’s ban in the early 20th century was primarily due to an alliance between wine companies wanting their business back and the temperance movement looking to attack alcohol in general. Absinthe was not, however, banned in the UK, Spain or Czechoslovakia.
8. When absinthe was banned in many countries, the law-abiding French developed pastis to replace it. Over the border, however, Swiss moonshiners went back to their roots to produce and bootleg clear absinthe from 1910 to 2005. It is said that producing a clear drink allowed them to smuggle it past the Customs guards (it could have been schnapps, vodka etc): it is possible however that Customs knew exactly what was going on and just took their cut!
9. Absinthe is produced originally as a clear distillate. The colour in “vertes” comes from a secondary stage of “dunking” a tea bag of herbs in the distillate. Both clear and naturally green absinthes are indeed real absinthe as produced since the 1790′s.
10. There is no need to produce absinthe with artificial colouring or pre-sweetened. Absinthes with artificial colouring in late 19th century France were recognised as the lowest quality products, coloured green to save money and time in the production process. Pre-sweetened absinthes use sugar to get a more palatable mouth feel than would otherwise be the case in low-specification products, but such drinks are not absinthe: they are liqueurs.
11. The so-called burning ritual seen in some bars has no basis in history: there is no evidence of any such ritual existing before the mid-1990’s.
12. Absinthes were effectively re-legalised in Europe by accident when the EU standardised the use of additives in food and drink in 1988. This was only recognised in France about 10 years later!
13. Absinthe does not cause hallucinations (or anything similar); Van Gogh did not cut off his ear because of absinthe. Absinthe does contain thujone, a chemical that is naturally present in grande wormwood (and also in some vermouths and liqueurs as well as in sage): one would have to drink so much absinthe to have a “thujone effect” that one would die of alcohol poisoning first.
14. Absinthe is produced in Switzerland, France, USA, Spain, Germany and many other countries. Only Switzerland has regulations controlling the production of absinthe (it must be distilled and cannot contain any artificial colouring), while in France and the USA, the word “absinthe” cannot be used by itself on the label!
15. “Terroir” is a important factor for Swiss (and some French) absinthe, with Alpine meadows being particularly suitable for many of absinthe’s plants.