Following on from our discussion about absinth at the 1932 Olympics, it does seem that the Green Fairy got her marching orders from the Weimar Republic in 1923. The year 1923 was the year of hyper inflation with one trillion marks being needed to buy one dollar! It seems that at about the same time production began to be stepped up in the Czech lands in places like Brušperku u Ostravy.
The flame licking around the sugar conjures up images of dark back rooms and secret chemist’s concoctions,of the Val-de-Travers in Switzerland, where the first absinthe distillery was opened in 1797, and of paintings by famous artists. For instance, Pablo Picasso’s absinthe drinker, who sits slumped next to a shimmering absinthe glass and dreams of distant
Artists and writers like Oscar Wilde, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Allan Poe and Edvard Munch also paid homage to the green fairy, and said they believed that they owed her their visions and inspiration.
But the strong side effects led to absinthe being banned in one country after another — 1910 in Switzerland, 1914 in France and 1923 in Germany. Absinthe regained its legality only a few years ago, through the European Union’s Aroma Directive of 1998, which permits the production of absinthe with a maximum thujone content of 10 milligrams per liter, thus marking the renaissance of the green fairy. Ironically, it is still prohibited in Switzerland, the country where it originated.
In Germany, bars offering absinthe have opened in Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Munich and Frankfurt.
German absinthe merchant Sven Baumgartner has been selling the Czech Hills Absinthe in Germany since January 2000. After a slow start, he says, demand by specialist wholesalers and individual customers had been growing steadily. “Absinthe has now become an obligatory item in every good bar,” Mr. Baumgartner says.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (2001)
I have a confession to make: I like the stuff!
King of Spirits is made by L’Or in Prádlo. According to L’Or : “Prádlo is a great address for distillers, the water here is the best.”
It’s certainly a very popular brand in Prague. The taste is not to everyone’s liking, don’t expect a perfumed cloying sweetness, but rather a confident wormwood note without too much background noise. You’ll notice the herbs at the base of the bottle. King of Spirits is good company; a heady brew which is not for the shrinking violet, and then of course there’s the thujone!
Thujone is the active ingredient in wormwood and the sole reason that absinthe cannot be sold in any liquor stores across the USA. The law is unclear, but it seems that you may buy absinthe for personal use without any problem. People have run into problems where they have promoted absinthe parties and sold tickets (according to recent news reports) but that is a different matter altogether as one can be prosecuted for running vodka parties like that too.
King of Spirits is openly sold as being a thujone rich brew and King of Spirits Gold even claims to have levels of thujone at 100mg (the European Union max is 35mg)
I’ll keep drinking Czech absinth for the taste, the pleasure and the unique experience it offers. Well! I’ll sit back, take a sip of King of Spirits, and leave them to it. I hope everyone is enjoying the summer 🙂
Bottling the Green Fairy 🙂 You’ll find more great photos and info on Hill’s world famous absinth (in Czech) at the Gurmet Klub website :
Thujone free fee verte? It’s been tried before and is nothing new, but they didn’t call it absinthe! Here’s the long awaited comment from Lucid:
What is the difference between Grande Wormwood and Southernwood (or Southern Wormwood)?
Lucid contains a full measure of Grande Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). By contrast, other products with a claimed relationship to Absinthe contain Southernwood (Artemisia Abrotanum – sometimes referred to as Southern Wormwood). Southernwood bears little resemblance to Grande Wormwood and has a completely different flavor and chemistry. Genuine Absinthe, such as the Absinthe made during the Belle Époque period in France, has always been made with Grande Wormwood as a key ingredient. In fact, the word “Absinthe” itself is derived from the scientific name for Grande Wormwood- Artemisia absinthium.
How were you able legally to import Lucid into the US if Wormwood is illegal?
Wormwood is not illegal as long as the finished product meets applicable standards for content. We found that by adhering to the strict techniques used over a century ago, the result was not only a genuine, historically accurate product, but a product that also happens to meet US requirements relating to alcoholic beverages.
Is Wormwood responsible for hallucinations or is this a myth?
The reputation of Wormwood as a hallucinogen is largely based on the politically motivated publicity that was given to Thujone, a chemical contained in Wormwood, back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. However, modern studies have conclusively demonstrated that humans are unable to detect (or experience any effects from) the presence of Thujone when consumed in test samples containing relevant concentrations. Moreover, thanks to T.A. Breaux’s modern testing of vintage bottles of Absinthe from over 100 years ago, we now know that, just as with Lucid, most of the high quality Absinthes from the 1800’s would meet today’s US standards for content, further discrediting the theory that Thujone had any real relevance to the Absinthe experience. In any event, we believe that if you consume Lucid responsibly and in moderation, there should be no unusual effects.
Does Lucid contain Thujone?
Lucid has been tested and it meets US and EU standards for content. It is worth noting that using modern equipment, T.A. Breaux, the distiller of Lucid, has analyzed dozens of bottles of traditional, high-quality vintage Absinthe from the Belle Époque period and has determined that quality Absinthe that was properly made typically did not have any significant Thujone content- even 100 years ago.
🙂 Hmm…are you thinking what I’m thinking? This is all based upon one serious report made by Dr Dirk Lachenmeier and an extract follows:
Habitual abuse of the wormwood spirit absinthe was described in the 19th and 20th centuries as a cause for the mental disorder ‘‘absinthism’’ including the symptoms hallucinations, sleeplessness and convulsions.
A controversial discussion is going on if thujone, a characteristic component of the essential oil of the wormwood plant Artemisia absinthium L., is responsible for absinthism, or if it was merely caused by chronic alcohol intoxication or by other reasons such as food adulterations. To ascertain if thujone may have caused absinthism, absinthes were produced according to historic recipes of the 19th century. Commercial wormwood herbs of two different manufacturers, as well as self-cultivated ones, were used in a concentration of 6 kg/100 l spirit. In addition, an authentic vintage Pernod absinthe from Tarragona (1930), and two absinthes from traditional small distilleries of the Swiss Val-de-Travers were evaluated. A GC–MS procedure was applied for the analysis of a- and b-thujone with cyclodecanone as internal standard. The method was shown to be sensitive with a LOD of 0.08 mg/l.The precision was between 1.6 and 2.3%, linearity was obtained from 0.1 to 40 mg/l (r = 1.000).
After the recent annulment of the absinthe prohibition all analysed products showed a thujone concentration below the maximum limit of 35 mg/l, including the absinthes produced according to historic recipes, which did not contain any detectable or only relatively low concentrations of thujone (mean: 1.3 Æ 1.6 mg/l, range: 0–4.3 mg/l). Interestingly, the vintage absinthe also showed a relatively low thujone concentration of 1.8 mg/l. The Val-de-Travers absinthes contained 9.4 and 1.7 mg/l of thujone.
In conclusion, thujone concentrations as high as 260 mg/l, reported in the 19th century, cannot be conﬁrmed by our study. With regard to their thujone concentrations, the hallucinogenic potential of vintage absinthes can be assessed being rather lowbecause the historic products also comply with today’s maximum limits derived to exclude such effects. It may be deduced that thujone plays none, or only a minor role in the clinical picture of absinthism.
Quite a deduction based upon 3 old bottles and a re run using traditional absinthe recipes! An interesting question would be how these absinthes, that were supplied to Dr Lachenmeier, were produced, and by whom. According to Lucid, a skilled distiller like Ted Breaux is perfectly able to produce an absinthe which does not register thujone content when the FDA test is applied. The distiller knows that using particular parts of the plant, harvesting time and climatic conditions have a dramatic effect upon thujone content in artemisia absinthium. Dr Lachmeier should also consider the effects of time on the thujone molecule in those pre ban bottles.
Following on from the discussion of Hilary Clinton’s famous meeting over absinth – did she take a sip? – at Cafe Slavia with President Vaclav Havel, I noticed today the article that follows. It is as well to remember Charter 77 and their legacy, the liberal spirit of Czech society.
Prague, – The Charter 77 and its spirit can be a permanent inspiration, former president and dissident Vaclav Havel said at a public meeting commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Czech Charter 77 human rights manifesto.
The meeting celebrated the legacy of Charter’s first spokesman, philosopher Jan Patocka, who died following an interrogation by the former communist state police (StB) that lasted many hours.
The meeting was held in Prague’s St Anna church that was filled to capacity.
Havel said that during his study visit to the USA he met people from the countries with both right-wing and left-wing regimes and although they adhered to different values they managed to tolerate each other and they all pointed to the ethos of Charter 77.
The Czech Republic should point to the abuse of human rights in other countries regardless of its particular economic interests, Havel said.
“I have a feeling that our foreign policy realises it,” he added.
Other well-known dissidents also spoke at the meeting. Bishop Vaclav Maly who “moderated the Velvet Revolution” in November 1989 pointed to the non-ideological vision of Charter 77 signatories.
Prime Minister and Civic Democrat (ODS) chairman Mirek Topolanek paid tribute to the memory of philosopher Patocka by laying flowers on his tomb. He described Patochka as a man who, at the time of general moral relativism, declared a return to the values for which it is worthwhile even to die.“His political activities came from his interest in human rights that the communist regime suppressed,” Topolanek said.
Milan Hlavsa and Egon Bondy of The Plastic People
What about The Plastic People of the Universe, an avant-garde Czech rock band, and the formation of Charter 77? It was the arrest of these musicians by the Communist regime that prompted Vaclav Havel to write Charter 77. The Plastic People were heavily influenced by The Velvet Underground and most recently played in London. This performance followed a hiatus which was ended at former President Havel’s request to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Charter 77.
I thought this might be of interest to the researchers:
I was just reading an article from http://www.thujone.info discussing the chemical in absinthe.
What struck me was this text, the sixth paragraph in the “definition of pre-ban absinthe” section:
“Typical historic recipes are given in the books of Duplais , Fritsch , Bedel  and de Brevans . The composition of herbs used along with the wormwood differs from recipe to recipe. To improve the taste or add coloring, anise, star anise, lemon balm, hyssop, juniper, nutmeg, veronica, angelica root, melissa, coriander, camomile or parsley were added. Each country produced its own types of absinthe. For example, in the Czech Republic, peppermint was added, but neither anise nor fennel. In Switzerland, melissa, hyssop or angelica root were added to the Swiss alpine wormwood, which was a valued ingredient due to its strong aroma , while in France, coriander was added.”
Note the source numbers. I checked the references section at the end of the PDF, and numbers 27, 28, 30, and 31 correspond respectively with publications from the years 1891, 1908, 1882, and 1899. I certainly would like to see these sources, but their dates can be safely assumed to be authentic. And why not?
So what am I getting at with all this research? This quote:
“For example, in the Czech Republic, peppermint was added, but neither anise nor fennel.”
It must come from one of those antique source materials.
Absinth at the 1936 Olympics? Unless the Czechs or the Spanish brought some along, the only absinth would have been this fine fellow. Absinth was born in 1926 and won a gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, he was ridden by Major Friedrich Gerhard. Here’s Friedrich with two pals celebrating after the award.
A couple of years later their comrades arrived uninvited in Prague, and the popularity of absinth grew by virtue of a Nazi alcohol tax, which made absinth an attractively priced spirit. The Fischer distillery in Vienna, the former capital of the Austro Hungarian Empire, has a price list in it’s archives, which must date from the post 1938 Anschluss, listing absynth at 4.67 Reich Marks per litre. If anyone can work out what that is in today’s money, I’d like to know.
Thank you to Sarah who wrote asking about the Czech spirit that is traditionally served at Masopust (Czech Mardi Gras). This is not absinthe (although there was plenty of absinth around during the festival this year) but zhřívanica — an elixir meant for fortifying the system. Absinthe also began it’s commercial life as an elixir by the way. Before that absinthe was part of the rich herbal tradition of rustic liquor making in Europe. Such recipes were passed down amongst families and within village communities, and the Bohemian lands are a rich source of these kind of drinks. This special masopust spirit that Sarah asks about is a particularly odd one because of what is usually used to serve the drink; ice and a slice? No…not quite, something decidely Czech…read on 🙂
is liquor that has been infused with herbs, diluted with water and mixed with caramel. Caramelising spirits is common to both absinthe (when taken using the Czech fire method) and this rustic liquor. The name of the liquor derives from the intended result; to heat up, and the drink is usually served hot.
So what does one serve zhřívanica with? Traditionally pieces of bacon fat are used to garnish the brew – more commonly thesedays it’s butter (or low fat spread!) Not to everyone’s taste and I’ll stick to the absinthe I think!
Here is the recipe for zhřívanica
1/2 litru lihoviny, např. režné, 3 dkg másla, lžíce cukru, skořice, hřebíček, nové koření, 3 kuličky pepře, 1 dcl vody.
Cukr pálíme na másle na karamel. Zvlášť povaříme asi 10 minut ve vodě koření. Poté ji vlijeme na karamel. Chvíli povaříme, až se karamel rozpustí a přilijeme alkohol. Ohřejeme, ale nevaříme! Zjemníme kouskem másla. Podáváme teplé.
Our resident language expert will no doubt oblige with a grammatical translation 🙂
Back in the early 70s the Czech label Supraphon released on LP Six Uncles in Reduta, thought to be the first live recording of Prague jazz. Now a new series is being released on CD in co-production with a British-based label. The playing is on a very high level and the sonics excellent, being two-channel direct to DAT without multitracking. The recordings are made in one of the studios of Prague Radio. Prague has become a rather hot jazz environment, with talented musicians, some who have played there since the 60s, as well as a new wave of players from the West. Many young people flock to the jazz clubs around the historical Czech city; it has been compared to Paris in the 30s. These two CDs display just two distinctive approaches to jazz in Prague. (John Henry)
Paris in the 1930s!
Open air jazz playing is also a feature of the Golden City, the Old Town Square (Staromestske namesti) and Charles Bridge being the main venues. Czech beer is the finest in the world; try unpasteurised real Pilsner Urquell from a tankovna — available at U Pinkasu in Prague — or visit the brewery in Plzen.
Summer is here! – what are you waiting for? Prague and Czech absinth are waiting for you 🙂 How about this:
Modern, contemporary and latin jazz with progressive Czech jazzmen at Michalská 9, Prague 1 (U Stare Pani). Great atmosphere, great staff and absinthe! The staff speak excellent English – like most in Prague – but in case you have any problems here’s Part 1 of Essential Czech:
Dám si jedno absinth prosím. means: I’ll have an absinth please.