Monthly Archives: June 2007

Czech Absinth Sculpture

Girl with Absinth 1924

Bedřich Stefan: Girl with Absinth, 1924

Was pre-ban absinthe bitter?

Bitter and Twisted

Certainly not! According to the Wormwood Society’s patronising dictat the following is the case:

It is not as bitter as its reputation suggests, and never has been, as can be attested by those who have tasted pre-ban absinthe. The extermely bitter idea is a modern one, most likely springing from modern attempts to make absinthe without knowing how it was suppossed to taste: raw, undistilled wormwood is the second most bitter botanical known.

According to another equally censorious source (Oxygenee Ltd):

The legend that the French sat at café tables by the thousands sugaring their absinthe to kill its nasty bitterness is due entirely to ignorance propounded by people who’ve never tasted absinthe, and assumed it must be bitter because there’s wormwood in it.

Those pre ban bottles of absinthe have certainly proved useful to the lucky few in deciding exactly what absinthe tasted like – and it’s very good of them to share their knowledge – albeit in a rather brusque manner. Extermely good 🙂

But wait – the spelling might not be the only error in Mr. Gwydion Stone‘s article – if we look at other American sources we see a completely different story:

Absinthe, according to the Century Dictionary, is ‘the common name of a highly aromatic liqueur of an opaline-green color and bitter taste,‘ and is prepared by ‘steeping in alcohol or strong spirit bitter herbs,’ the chief of them being wormwood. It was not denied that it is bitter, that it is used as a beverage, and is not a proprietary preparation. It appeared that the wormwood ‘has a medicianl effect upon the human system as a tonic,’ and that the article contains anisette, a cordial. On the other hand, Boonekamp bitters is a proprietary preparation, recommended to the public as such, and, as prepared according to a private formula, as a remedy for certain specific maladies. The label is duly registered at the patent office. There was evidence tending to show that it contains rhubarb, orange peel, turmeric, and an essential oil, probably oil of anise;

Source: U.S. Supreme Court ERHARDT v. STEINHARDT, 153 U.S. 177 (1894)

Then we have the words of one real absinthe drinker from the Belle Epoque, who descibes the “acrid odor of absinthe” (Paul Verlaine) and his companion says thus:

See the savage Bitters
Rolling down from high mountains!
Wise pilgrims, let us reach
The green-pillared Absinthe…

Arthur Rimabud.

Was pre-ban absinthe bitter? did pre-ban absinthe contain high levels of thujone? Testing bottles of absinthe from the Belle Epoque – which have undergone the process known as feuille morte (dead leaf) – isn’t going to answer the question. Contemporary reports from the era seem a more sensible source than the thunderous condescension of the modern absinthe clique.

Did pre-ban absinthe cause hallucinations as the medics of the age claimed. Let’s ask a very distinguished Englishman in France, Mr Charles Dickens!

Moustachiod men lean over my shoulder and shake pencils at their opposite neighbours fiercely. Seedy men sit silent in corners; prosperous speculators pay with shining gold. Shreiks of vingt-cinq, trente, quatre-vingt-cinq are bandied about like insults. It is the old under Capel Court Inferno with a few moustaches, some plate-glass, and a ribbon or two of the Legion of Honour; as I finish my absinthe in the din, I seem to see a Golden Calf on the marble, plate covered counter, very rampant indeed.

Household World: A Weekly Journal by Charles Dickens (circa 1850)

No Green Fairy – but a Golden Calf instead 😉

Legal News

William Hogarth

 

  • Philip Philips , of St. Gregory’s, was indicted for stealing a Silver Spoon, and 12 Shillings in Money, from the Person of Elizabeth Booth , on the 28th of Feb. last.

The Prosecutor depos’d, That the Prisoner and another Person came to her House on the Day aforesaid, and drank a considerable Quantity of Gin and Wormwood, which raising the Prisoner to a more than ordinary Elevation, he offered Rudeness to her, and perswading her over the Way to his own House, would there have been more familiar than her Modesty would admit of; after this he came home to her House. again, and continued his Rudeness, insomuch that the Prosecutor lost her Pocket and the Money mentioned in the Indictment: But it appearing to the Court that his Design was only on her Charity, and not on her Property, the Jury acquitted him

Old Bailey 5th July, 1727

  • George Deportal , was indicted for stealing on the 17th of Oct. 1 cask fill’d with spirituous liquors called wormwood cordial, value 10 s. 1 cask of plague water, val. 10 s. 1 of brandy, val. 8 s. 1 of rum, val. 8 s. the goods of Noah Bernard . Acquitted

Old Bailey 9th December, 1747.

In the archive there is also the very sad tale of one Catherine Townsend who died August 26th 1718. The court heard how previously she had “teach’d her self a Pint of All-fours (i.e. Carraways, Wormwood, Angelico and Anniseed Water) which she drank, and afterwards let down he Stairs”

Elixir Salutis

Had too much absinthe at Boveresse? Feel a little hung over in Combier? We have the answer:

Daffy’s “elixir salutis”

Take of senna leaves, cleared of their stalks, four ounces; of guaiacum shavings, of dry’d elecampane root, of the seeds of anise, caraway, coriander, and of liquorice root, of each two ounces; of raisins stoned, eight ounces; of French brandy, three quarts; keep them together cold for four days, and then strain out the tincture for use.

It is a proper purge for drunkards, and is a great formula to old women habituated to drams.

Pharmacopoeia Universalis, Robert James 1747

🙂

Boveresse Absinthe Festival 16th June, 2007

Boveresse

The10th annual absinthe festival will be held in Boveresse, Switzerland on June 16, 2007.

According to the invitation they will not only serve absinthe, but also grills, chips, pastries as refreshment. Here is the order of the day:

10:00 – Opening of the festival (Various stands selling secondhand goods, demonstration by the absinthe distillers, sale of absinthe spoons, posters, books on the subject of wormwoood etc)

11:00 – Brass Band

16:00 – Songs from Boveresse schoolchildren

22:30 – 80’s disco with DJ Camili and the chance to take a helicopter ride.
* Inflatable castle * for children

Absinth Returns


 

slavonice.jpg

The modern day renaissance in asbinthe drinking in fact started in the Czech Republic, and the new worldwide popularity can be traced back to a gentleman called Ing. Boháče from Slavonice. One bottle was made for his Besídka Hotel by Radomil Hill, whose family had originally produced absinthe during the high times of The First Republic in the 1920s. The Green Fairy –Zelena Muza – in the absinthe bottle made her first reappearance on the world stage in a beautiful Southern Bohemian town. By chance a theater group Divadlo Sklep -who were involved with the hotel – spotted the absinthe bottle and asked for some, the Green Fairy spread her wings and headed to Prague with that lucky band of actors.

 

besidka.jpg

 

Why would someone ask for absinth? It is actually well known! One only has to look around former Hapsburg Europe for other examples of this homemade thujone rich drink. For example Polish Piołunówka; this brew is named after piołun” which is the Polish word for wormwood; the French word for wormwood is absinthe. Piołunówka is made by macerating wormwood and other herbs in alcohol and not by distilling; it is claimed that this helps the wormwood, and it’s constituent thujone,  to survive in a much more potent form. Then of course there’s Pelinovak from the former countries of Yugoslavia

Pelinkovac

 

Czech Expressions

 

Cake

 

Czech Expression of the Day: Bez práce nejsou koláče. Without work, there is no cake. The cake pictured is known as a Bábovka – not to be consfused with babička (grandmother) . In Australia you can now buy a Czech made wormwood flavoured vodka named Babicka 🙂

PS: Medovnik, or honey cake, which is served everywhere thesedays in Prague, is not Czech – it’s Russian!