The Great American Distiller’s Festival: Q&A on Northwest Absinthe

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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.

15 Replies to “The Great American Distiller’s Festival: Q&A on Northwest Absinthe”

  • You are aware that the source of your citation is the very study you call “flawed”, aren’t you?

    All this citation suggests is that a fresh, undistilled thujone solution will decrease in concentration after four months, which means that all that alleged “100 ppm” absinthe sitting around in your warehouse is about 3 ppm by now.

    On the other hand, absinthes properly distilled strictly according to 19th century formulas and processes—unsurprisingly—contain levels precisely similar to those of analyzed pre-ban samples.

    Maybe you guys should try that distillation thing, instead of running affiliate sites.

  • Juno says:

    When thujone degrades – it does – the following chemicals are produced see “Stability of Pulegone and Thujone in Ethanolic Solution”, Frölich and Shibamoto (1990)

    “Under variable light and temperature conditions, pH values, and ethanol concentrations, the degradation products formed from the above chemicals were (E)- and (2)-isopulegone, the stereoisomer 8-hydroxy-p-menthones, 8-hy- dro~y-A*(~)-p-menthen-3-0ne, the stereoisomer3-methyl-7-methylenebicyclo[4.2.0]octan-l-ols, and (E)- and (2)-5-methylene-6-methylhept-2-ene.”

    Would it be possible to know if tests have been carried out for the presence of the above?

    I am still waiting for Marc to name and shame those TTB approved brands which are “hijacking the name of absinthe just to sell a product” and why. I am also waiting to learn if you share this opinion.

    Your bizzare personal allegations are amusing but wrong. Absinthe should be fun and you certainly contribute to the laughs! Keep it up, you never know what it might lead to.

  • oregoncoastgirl says:

    Wow. Not the discussion I’d hoped to/ thought I’d see when I clicked through from my RSS reader.
    Good job, Morgenthaler. You have people talking. Somewhat.

  • Not to discredit Jeffrey, but this blog spammer hits every blog and news article that mentions absinthe. He/she works for a marketing company that runs affiliate websites selling fake absinthe by using thujone as a marketing gimmick, targeted at gullible druggies.

    Once the word started spreading that they were hawking fake crap, they resorted to guerrilla marketing in blogs in a desperate attempt to shore up the waning belief in the thujone hoax.

    “Under variable light and temperature conditions,”

    Perhaps you’d be so kind as to favor us with a description of those conditions, and which of them apply to absinthes which have been stored in wine cellars for 90 years.

    And I’m waiting for you to tell us what happens to a mere 100ppm after sitting in a clear bottle for four months.

    Oh, you already did. You pointed out that after only four months it’s down to 10ppm. That suggests that a “100ppm” “absinthe” cannot be relied upon to actually contain that advertised 100ppm.

    Like I’ve said countless times: thujone level is irrelevant to the quality of absinthe.

  • Kelsey Crenshaw says:

    The first 4 comments are all about taste and history. Now I keep getting updates sent to my email about how some people have nothing better to do than up each other on the thujone levels in absinthe, There are way more things that are green to worry about in this world. I’m wondering why some people are so concerned with this post. I’m not that concerned about the levels of thujone in my absinthe. I know I’ve probably ingested at least 4,000 flies and other nasties in my life just from what the FDA allows in food. How about pollution, bleach in the water supply, air quality? I drink absinthe for the taste and history. If I wanted to get High I’d smoke weed!!!!!!!

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