Czech Mardi Gras!

masopust2.jpgMasopust is the February festival in the Czech Republic that most resembles Mardi Gras. This is a time of drinking: loads of roast pork (cooked on open spits), washed down with cold beer (“pivo”) and plenty of other drinks like absinthe.

This party — which literally means something like “going without meat” — is marked by the use of masks and outlandish fancy dress. It is a time of indulgence and excess prior to the 40-day fast; it is believed it is pre-christian in origin. The mask-wearing likely represents the spirits of the dead (who apparently walk about at this time of year); there is a suggestion of sun worship, too. Devils, chimney sweeps and a host of animal figures make up the parade including a horse that collects doughnuts and an array of mad creatures from your worst nightmares.

This is one time of the year when you don’t need to drink absinthe to see the green fairy in the Czech Republic.

Czech Phrase: Kdo sa nenají ve fašank, bude hladovět po celý rok” means “If you don’t eat during Masopust you’ll be hungry for the rest of the year”

41 responses to “Czech Mardi Gras!

  1. Most Czech drinks that call themselves “absinthe” are not real absinthe. They could be considered as “wormwood bitters,” but not absinthe. Since 1792, absinthe has been made with wormwood, fennel and anise: Czech drinks do not normally contain all these.

    And if the distillers who make these drinks think they are so good, why do they encourage consumers to burn them?

  2. Hi guys

    I would like to make a request: perhaps Alan could answer these questions so that his post is put in its proper context.


    (i) Do you work for Claude-Alain Bugnon as a marketeer?

    (ii) Is your company a brand new, start-up distillery distilling a clear version of absinthe called La Bleue?

    (iii) Did you once work for a company that was the major historical, and a current distributor, of Bohemian absinthe?

    If the answer to (iii) is yes, then perhaps you might like to enlighten us as to why you left? and also whether you ever promoted the fire method, that you now appear to deride, during your employ.

    Thank you kindly.


  3. Na zdrani!
    In my hometown, Chalon sur Saone in France, we a famous Mardi Gras with parades, giant doll heads and confetti fighting!
    This is also a time when ladies should be either very careful or very receptive!
    Hope you enjoyed yourself!

  4. Sorry, Bonsai. I have only just seen your questions.

    1. Yes, I work with Claude-Alain: my blog says that I work on La Clandestine. I don’t say it in every article, but it’s easy to establish.

    2. Claude-Alain has been distilling since 2000 and is using a 1935 recipe with direct provenance. Since officially distilling was illegal in Switzerland until March 1, 2005, his activities were necessarily underground or “clandestine” until then, which is why his main absinthe is called “La Clandestine.” “La Bleue” is a historical nickname for Swiss absinthe, and some absinthe lovers call our absinthe “Clandestine La Bleue” or CLB for short!

    3. I don’t hide my past: I came into absinthe via La Fee who had the UK rights to Hill’s. In all my time there, I don’t believe we bought any more Hill’s into the UK and I did have many internal discussions about the wrongs and rights of selling Bohemian-style absinth. Personally I don’t think that La Fee should have or market a Bohemian-style absinth (why make something that you have to burn to appreciate?) but I was only an employee. I don’t think it is fair to my previous employer to discuss openly why I left: suffice it to say that I am much happier about working on an absinthe that I really believe in, an absinthe from the birthplace of absinthe, an absinthe that is has no artificial colours or flavoring, etc.

  5. **1935 recipe with direct provenance

    Wasn’t absinthe illegal in Switzerland then? It wasn’t illegal in the Czech Republic. 1935 is very late and not of the Belle Epoque period.

    **Personally I don’t think that La Fee should have or market a Bohemian-style absinth

    Why on earth not? Sounds like a case of “bitters”, Alan? Is this is about some personal issues it has no place here.

  6. La Clandestine is still made in line with the historical absinthe recipes in Duplais (ingredioents, procedures, etc.). See the other thread for the link. Most Czechsinths are not made in line with Duplais.

    Personally I have always felt (and I told the owner) that having a La Fee Bohemian product runs the risk of confusing the consumer. It’s so different from the Parisian style that if a consumer goes into a bar asks for a La Fee expecting one but getting the other he will be disappointed. Note I didn’t say which way round. If he wants Bohemian and is given Parisian, he’ll be disappointed. It is a personal opinion shared by others in the absinthe community as well as others I know but can’t identify publicly. I’ll be pleased to explain much more privately, but for confidentiality reasons I don’t think I should say more on a public forum. I hope that is clear.

  7. “1935 … It wasn’t illegal in the Czech Republic.”

    By the way, does anyone here have any solid evidence of the claims made by some that absinth or absinthe was produced in the Czech Republic or Czechoslavakia before the 1990’s?

  8. According to the wikipedia page (who created that I wonder?)

    “It is said to be based on a 1935 recipe from a Swiss distiller known as Charlotte”

    “It is said” Are you not sure, then? I presume that you must know, as you work for / with the distiller. Who is this Charlotte, please?

    Why all the Secret Squirrel antics again, Alan?

    “If he wants Bohemian and is given Parisian, he’ll be disappointed” Another classic line from The Gospel of Mosses! Well done 🙂

    What does the Bohemian La Fee taste like? I hear minty undercurrent? The bottle is really nice, don’t you think?

  9. Once the ad homimems are removed, I’ll answer.

    Will Mary Poppins (aka drab sinthe for those too tired to wade through the other debacle) ever answer a question?

    Will Mary Poppins join in a proper debate in any of the three places offered to him/her to do so?

    Will Mary Poppins ever tell people who he/she is?

    Will Mary Poppins ever use facts to defend his/her precious Czech wormwood bitters (which is what the majority of them really are)?

    OK, I will make one comment on La Fee Bohemian. Mary hasn’t tasted it, it seems. The one thing that Mary can comment on positively is the bottle.

    The bottle is made in France.

  10. “Will Mary Poppins join in a proper debate in any of the three places offered to him/her to do so?”

    That is hardly likely! The thread, kindly set up by Oxy, has degenerated into an online equivalent of a bottle fight in a pub car park.

    I note that Oxy himself has accused one member of suffering from senility in a most grotesque way. Your contribution is equally illuminating:

    “An iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe …… Prague etc. … all these .. populations around them …. are subject in one form or another … to a very high and, in some cases, increasing measure of control.”

    I doubt you’ll make many friends around here by making gags (gaffes) like that. Hardly a laughing matter!

    The bottle of La Fee Absinthe bears a wonderful Orwellian eye. Were you involved in the conceptual development of that delicious image?

    Alan, you are quoted on Wikipedia as regards the origin of the fire ritual. Please share your knowledge of this marvel of alcoholic pyrotechnics

  11. Regarding: Charlotte

    This is truly fascinating. A female bootlegger! Producing absinthe in 1935 in the Swiss Federation was illegal, does anyone know anything about her background?

    Ma Baker died in 1935, and she is another woman that is a fascinating study for those seeking iconic females.

    This is all we know about Charlotte:

    “One of the more famous distillers, Claude-Alain Bugnon, began distillation at home in 2000, fighting for space in the laundry and kitchen with his wife! As legalisation of absinthe spread throughout Europe, he became one of the first Swiss distillers to be granted a licence to distill legally on March 1st 2005. Every batch remains hand-crafted, and every bottle is still hand-filled. His most famous absinthe label depicts a lady in blue whispering “Charlotte,” the name of his friend’s aunt. Charlotte was, apparently, the inventor of the absinthe’s 1935 recipe”

    You wrote that, Alan.Why “apparently”? Why don’t you clarify this with Claude-Alain? I assume that you speak with him occasionly?

  12. Drabsinthe, it’s called humour. Or humor. We’re all waiting for you to show on the forum and in the meantime we’ll throw a few jokes around. Your love for a French bottle is appreciated.

    “The bottle of La Fee Absinthe bears a wonderful Orwellian eye. Were you involved in the conceptual development of that delicious image?” No.

    “Alan, you are quoted on Wikipedia as regards the origin of the fire ritual. Please share your knowledge of this marvel of alcoholic pyrotechnics.” No. I, like many others, have been waiting for the Czechsinth industry to back up the claims of some in the business that absinth has been produced there since the 1920’s and that the fire ritual existed before the 1990’s. I had rather hoped that YOU or others here would be able to tell US about it. Luckily there appear to be some people like Elliot who are able to get at some aspects of the truth and who publish it on the Oliva site. I wish everyone in the Czechsinth industry could be so honest and open as he is.

  13. So why did – Oxy – quote the thread on Wikipedia? It says something like “Alan Moss on the origins of the Czech Fire Ritual” It is noted that you say something about Mr Hill and the goings on in Prague bars, but suddenly then go silent.

    What about the connection with Bjork and The Suagr Cubes? Do you know anything about that?

    Mod: sticks and stones… ❗

  14. Sorry, but this blog seems to have haphazard approval of posts, they cannot be edited for spelling corrections etc, and the posts then come up in an order that makes reading them difficult for the casual reader to understand.

    For this reason PLUS drab sinthe’s constant refusal to answer questions, I too will not answer further questions here. I may comment, but that’s it.

    I do think that drab sinthe could usefully participate in a debate elsewhere, and would suggest that the Wormwood Society might be a less aggressive forum. Until he/she does so, many like me may well misinterpret his/her reluctance to answer questions here or there. That silence, in my opinion, only does further damage to Czechsinths and is certainly not the way that great Czech leaders of the past and indeed of the present would have reacted.

    Au revoir.

  15. 🙄 This thread was about Masopust 😥

  16. but this blog seems to have haphazard approval of posts

    😳 Askimet incorrectly classifies some posts as spam

  17. I still have a comment awaiting moderation on the long “Welcome to …” thread. And I am aware of at least quite innocent posts there being deleted. Does askiment do that AFTER accepting them?

    And have you decided that you need to moderate all the posts now?

  18. DrAbsinthe // Mar 17th 2007 at 10:34 am:

    “So why did – Oxy – quote the thread on Wikipedia?”

    You’ll have to Oxy about why he quoted that. You know where he hangs out.

    “What about the connection with Bjork and The Suagr Cubes? Do you know anything about that?”

    Sounds like another joke, and another example of one with a punchline you won’t share with us. And the answer is ???

  19. 😯 only those rude poems have been deleted. the other thread is closed 😡 ends with Oxy’s invitation to join him

  20. oops! just found two in the askimet file, sorry

  21. More of your “knock..knock..who’s there” gags!

    Ask your self these questions:

    a. Is there a tradition of mixing spirits with caramel in Central Europe?
    b. Where was the sugar cube invented and in what year?
    c. What were Bjork + Sykurmolarnir doing in Dacice?

    Now, please clarify the Charlotte issue. Why is it that you write “it is said”about the recipe for La Clandestine Absinthe? Why aren’t you sure?

    I just acquired a bottle, and I am assuming that it is based on Aunt Charlotte’s 1935 recipe.

    This needs clarifying: You must ask Claude-Alaine about Aunty Charlotte’s recipe and make a clear statement. If he is busy check with Mrs Hélène Grandjean, the flower seller.

  22. Regarding a.

    “My French Grandmother used to make Absinthe when I was a wee child. She was an amazing woman Ma Mere’.

    She would pour a small glass and then would dip the spoon with sugar cube into the liquor and let it drain off some. Then she’d light the cube on fire, let it carmelize then stir it in.

    She’d then add a little bit of water and then point out the fairy (which was green/brown) dancing in the glass.”

    This practice, it would seem, was known and not invented by you Alan! I assume we haven’t heard back from about Charlotte as you are either watching sport on the television, or on the phone to Switzerland. I hope it is the latter.

    Swiss Absinthe Warmer Louche

    1. Put a sugar cube on a special absinthe spoon and lay it on the rim of the glass.
    2. Pour absinthe over the sugar cube and into the glass.
    3. Enlighten the sugar and let it burn until it shows bubbles or starts to caramelize.
    4. Then stir the sugar in the glass.
    5. At once add ice water so the alcohol inside the glass doesn’t ignite. Then add water to taste.

  23. The Idler (Winter, 1997), Black Box Recorder musician and writer John Moore describes his flirtation with the Green Fairy.

    One winter, studying the bottles in a Prague bar, I noticed a particularly inviting one filled with emerald green liquid that looked like it could inflict damage. It was absinthe. I knew a little about absinthe but, like most people, I thought it had been banned and was gone forever.

    Before taking a sip, I studied it. Its scent was pungent and alcoholic, its color spectacular. It seemed to catch the light and looked quite unnatural. The first mouthful exploded on my tongue and vaporized up through my nostrils. I had to swallow it quickly. I could feel its intense heat running down my throat, burning its way into my stomach. What little taste there was, was dry and bitter, tinged with aniseed. It had a real afterburn. I felt like it had been injected, not swallowed. There was no gradual seeping into the bloodstream — this was the bloodstream. Armed with a glass of water, I finished it, then ordered another glass. A friendship had begun.

    I soon learned how to drink absinthe properly. Of course, you can drink it neat (preferable for the first glass, otherwise you miss out on the burn), but the best way is to add sugar and dilute it with water. This gives drinking absinthe a ritualistic feel, like using intravenous drugs. Both involve spoons, fire, and patience: similar means to a not completely dissimilar end.

  24. What does everyone make of this bizzare development?

    Someone suffering from anthropomorphism confirms that La Clandestine is certainly based upon the 1935 recipe. This is at odds with other remarks (wikipedia for exaample) which use the term “it is said”.

    I hope Alan can clear this up. He must know for heavens sake!

    “I am a Swiss absinthe and am based on a 1935 recipe from the aunt of one of my friends. But I am not really so old! I was re-born in Switzerland, firstly as an “underground,” or clandestine absinthe, then officially on MARCH 1ST, 2005, when absinthe became legal again here. Maybe my double background and my Pisces sign explains a lot. What do you think about me? Please leave a comment!

    I’d also like to meet my friend’s aunt, Charlotte, whose recipe I use. Alas, she is dead, as are my other heroes who first created absinthe in the eighteenth century in the beautiful VAL-DE-TRAVERS region where I live”

  25. drabsinthe seems not to have noticed my earlier comment:

    “Sorry, but this blog seems to have haphazard approval of posts, they cannot be edited for spelling corrections etc, and the posts then come up in an order that makes reading them difficult for the casual reader to understand.

    For this reason PLUS drab sinthe’s constant refusal to answer questions, I too will not answer further questions here. I may comment, but that’s it.”

    Feel free to email me any questions or to join in on any of the forums where threads have been set up for that express purpose.

    And if you have more questions about Swiss absinthes, French absinthes, or any other real absinthe (including, in Oliva, that comparative rarity, a real Czech absinthe), you’ll find many people there who will be pleased to help.

  26. I’d also like to meet my friend’s aunt, Charlotte, whose recipe I use.

    Charley’s Aunt? Is that what you are going on about? 🙄

  27. The best place to query a Wikipedia entry is on the Wikipedia entry itself. Each article has a discussion page, so that could be a good place to start.

  28. Drabsinthe said, “That is hardly likely! The thread, kindly set up by Oxy, has degenerated into an online equivalent of a bottle fight in a pub car park.”

    Because there have been no replies by you. If you really read the forums you would notice threads off topic themselves quickly if the subject is left to hang in the wind. Amazingly they on-topic themselves quickly if a discussion gets going. If you posted there I bet it would go back on topic pretty quickly.
    You might even consider trying it, I’m pretty sure Oxy will keep his word as long as you are making posts in the thread.

  29. Sorry for the delay in reply. I was forced to endure a session of puke making, sickly “messages” read out after Mass to celebrate the card industry’s trickery with “Mothering Sunday”

    As for the invitation: Ari, I am sure that there are those that would like me to enter “The Ministry of Love”. Actually, I am minded that there might be something to be gained, but the hoi polloi element -who fawn on Oxy’s shirt tails – mean that there is no chance of balance.

    Now, I have answered Alan’s constant nagging refrain about the fire method. But what of La Bleue Absinthe?

    I want to know – and I think Ari will be able to answer this – whether La Bleue Absinthe was known during the Belle Epoque? Did it make an appearance solely as a means of tricking the authorities in the post ban years?

    As for Charlotte, we seem to be still in the dark there. I was thinking about this case of online anthropomorphism today, where someone thinks that they are a bottle of absinthe, what to make of that?
    It is correctly known as a monothematic delusion

  30. So your argument for continueing to use someone elses blog as a forum, instead of an actual forum is that you *think* there will be no balance? Would you like some more green eggs with that ham?

    To answer your question, yes and no. The swiss made both vertes and blanches before the ban. After, they appeared to have switched to mainly blanches to trick the authorities. Today swiss absinthe is a combination of the evolving bootleg product since the ban and old pre-ban manuals.

  31. I am sure that Oxy is a good egg; his forum is accurately defined as a curate’s egg. I like the look of that dog shaped pitcher that he has – very pugnacious expression. Which is your favourite Czech absinth by the way? Do you think that Havel’s Alpine absinth compares as a blanche?

  32. I visited the website. It’s great!

    Hoped to find some further information about Charlotte, the female bootlegger.

    This actually fascinates me, as in 1935 one would have thought that social conditions in rural Switzerland would have precluded such a thing? Charlotte is such a romantic and beautiful name, it brings to mind the French heroine Charlotte Corday. Viva la France! Couvet’s connection to this period is made famous by providing refuge to another victim of the Revolution – Dr Ordinaire!

    Here is what I found out:

    “To develop his fairies, he used a 1935 recipe”

    Unfortuantely there is no further information about Charlotte – which is a great shame.

    The only references to Charlotte that I can find are on those strange free web pages, and on wikipedia. Ari and Alan are the editors of that wikipedia page, I see.

    Further I noted this statement:

    “Mais il est vrai que la majorité d’entre elles n’ont d’absinthe que le nom et qu’elles se trouvent très loin de la philosophie de ma distillerie: le respect de l’Absinthe”

    Presumably that includes the macerates that were judged at the 2006 Absinthiades in Pontarlier, France? One wonders. It seems a rather sweeping statement to me.

  33. I’ll take your questions about La Clandestine on either of the main absinthe forums.

    And you are fully entitled to contribute to any Wikipedia page you want. Go ahead, “be bold.”

  34. ❓ Alan, did anyone republish my blog as Dr 👿 Ab has claimed. Meebo chat is available 😛

  35. Dunno! i was informed that it happened 🙄 Hey! 💡 want a list of drink shops in Prague? i know a few places that might be interested in stocking La C! :mrgreen:

  36. Thanks for your kind offer of help. I might take you up on that at some stage! Apart from some Jade, I wasn’t aware of any non-Czech absinthe having any success there yet.

  37. Why is Jade in that disco? There are better suited specialist stores…

  38. Don’t know about Jade.

    Here’s another forum drabsinthe may wish to avoid (nothing to do with me, but I just joined):

    Maybe drabsinthe should set up a forum somewhere for lovers of Czech wormwood bitters?

  39. the usual unpleasantness 🙄 you 2 should consider making your own TV show

  40. You’re right. Feel free to delete!

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