We’re fortunate to have some great minds in absinthe here in the Pacific Northwest, and on Sunday a few of them came together to share their extensive knowledge with the attendees of the Great American Distiller’s Festival in a panel titled “Q&A on Northwest Absinthe”
The panel featured Gwydion Stone, founder of the educational organization The Wormwood Society and creator of the soon-to-be released Marteau absinthe, Marc Bernhard, creator of the soon-to-be released Pacifique absinthe, and Rich Phillips from Integrity Spirits, producers of the first Oregon absinthe, Trillium.
I’ve done a fair amount of reading about absinthe and tried to learn as much as possible on my own, but the panel was still informative and provided me with some great facts to fill in for the gaps in my knowledge. I’ll recap here:
Absinthe was banned in 1912 by Food Inspection Decision 147 of the USDA. It forbade the manufacture, sale or transportation of absinthe. Several events contributed to our rediscovery of absinthe:
- An understanding of the term “thujone-free”, which relies on a test that comes with a 10 ppm (parts per million) margin of error.
- The discovery that real, legitimate, pre-ban French and Swiss absinthes often contained less than 10 ppm.
- A greater amount of interest in classic cocktails and lost ingredients, which was certainly fostered by communication between enthusiasts on the internet.
I wasn’t aware that sagebrush is a member of the same plant family as wormwood (artemesia), and that culinary sage actually contains more thujone than wormwood.
I didn’t really know where the green color present in verte absinthes came from, and now I do: after the final distillation, hyssop, lemonbalm and Roman wormwood are macerated in the absinthe to provide additional flavor and a pale green color. There was no mention of what might produce a neon blue color.
This one I knew, but I’d like to reiterate it here: The ritual of lighting a sugar cube on fire and dropping it into absinthe is inauthentic, a recent invention, and a potentially dangerous ceremony centered around the consumption of illegitimate absinthes of inferior quality. As Marc so eloquently put it, “Friends don’t let friends burn absinthe.“