Monthly Archives: October 2007

The Three Stages of Absinthe Drinking

Cafe Royal

Oscar Wilde on the effects of absinthe drinking. I wonder what brands of absinthe were served at the Cafe Royal in the high days of real absinthe?Anyway it seems that Oscar was actually floating out of the Cafe Royal – as he describes the tulip heads brushing against his shins. However, perhaps he wishes to suggest that the flowers were only just sprouting from the floor as the impatient waiter poured water from the can. The watering-can is even perhaps an interesting metaphor for the time honoured fashion of pouring water into absinthe? The passage seems to be very precise concerning the three stages of absinthe drinking:

At Oscar Wilde told me-in all his great heavy drawl-of the three stages of Absinthe drinking. The first stage is like ordinary drinking, the second when you begin to see monstrous and cruel things, but if you can persevere you will enter in upon the third stage where you see things that you want to see, wonderful and curious things. One night I was left sitting, drinking alone, and very late in the Cafe Royal, and I had just got into this third stage when a waiter came in with a green apron and began to pile the chairs on the tables. “Time to go, sir,” he called out to me. Then he brought in a watering-can and began to water the floor.“Time’s up, sir. I am afraid you must go now,sir”“Waiter, are you watering the flowers?” I asked, but he didn’t answer. “What are you favourite flowers,waiter” I asked again. “Now,sir, I must really ask you to go now, time’s up,” he said firmly.“I’m sure that tulips are your favourite flowers,” I said, and as I got up and passed into the street I felt-the-heavy-tulip-heads-brushing against my shins”

Absinthe and Oscar by John Fothergill

Did you know?

(i)The Oraon tribals of West Bengal, India, were reported to smoke leaves of the thujone-containing (Uniyal et al. 1985) Artemisia nilagirica (Clarke) Pamp. as an entheogen (Pal & Jain 1989) An entheogen is a substance with psychoactive properties often used in a religious or shamanic context.

(ii) The French define absinthe as hallucinogène:


Absinthe USA: Still “Thujone Free”?

Absinthe Verlains

Here we have Paul Verlaine, a noted absintheur, with his glass of absinthe at the Café François circa. 1890. The distant gaze, or perhaps as The Tate describes it “stupor”, is typical of the way the absinthe drinker was portrayed at the time. When a statue was erected in this great poet’s honour there was an outcry due to the fact that the pedestal was shaped like an absinthe bottle. Verlaine described absinthe as follows:

“For me my glory is but a humble ephemeral Absinthe drunk on the sly, with fear of treason,and if I drink no longer it is for a good reason.”

Another amusing quote that I spotted recently came from Robert Lehrman, an attorney in Washington D.C

“absinthe without thujone is like Playboy without the photos”

Does USA approved absinthe have thujone or not? The answer is that nobody knows: The FDA (27 CFR 13.51) maintains that absinthe must be thujone free – so that seems clear enough. However, due to a margin of error within the TTB system it seems that absinthe with less than 10 parts per million registers as zero thujone. This means that your USA approved absinthe might have anything from 0-10 parts per million contained within it. Don’t expect the manufacturers to specify the level – as they won’t! Why that is I leave for you to work out.

Accodring to a post on a web forum there is a big difference between Lucid Absinthe & Kubler (both available in the USA). The reason why Lucid was first off the block, according to the post, is that it contains NO THUJONE whatsoever:

Lucid wasn’t just under 10ppm. It has no thujone at all. That’s why it was approved so quickly. When Lucid was approved there were calls to the TTB asking what was going on.No thujone at all and you get approved fast (by their standards).


What we do know for sure is that new scientific techniques have been suggested to eliminate the natural thujone content of the real wormwood plant. These include plant chemo-types and “superficial carbon dioxide” extraction, interesting that there is now a chemo-type of non-thujone bearing Artemisia absinthium. I suppose that Absente (absinthe redefined) which uses Artemisia abrotanum, instead of Artemisia absinthium, could start using this wormwood mutation as well? It would seem to make sense. How the manufacturers are delivering these thujone compliant absinthes from the pot is shrouded in mystery – just like the thujone content itself.

It should be noted that many high profile hyped absinthes like La Clandestine also avoid telling their consumers the thujone content. The answer given by them is “It complies with the relevant legislation in most countries” This despite Lemercier Amer d’Absinthe 72% from France having an “unusually high” thujone level of 30mg according to some websites.

Whilst some absinthe manufacturers remain shy about the thujone content of their absinthe the following can be used as a guide : “Horka Lihovina”,“Amer aux Plantes d’Absinthe” or “Bitterspirituose” in Czech, French and German respectively. These are the designations for absinthe with greater than 10mg thujone/l.

I fail to see why manufacturers can’t simply specify the level – consumers want to know. What’s the reason? Care to hazard a guess anyone?

Here’s the USA thujone free definition if that helps at all:


We approve the use of the term “absinthe” on the label of a distilled spirits product and in related advertisements only if the product is “thujone-free” pursuant to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulation at 21 CFR 172.510. Based upon the level of detection of FDA’s prescribed method for testing for the presence of thujone, TTB considers a product to be “thujone-free” if it contains less than 10 parts per million of thujone. However, should the FDA set a new standard for “thujone-free,” in accordance with 27 CFR 13.51, COLAs that are not in compliance with that revised standard will be revoked by operation of regulation.

Source: Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau

Absinthe Ritual

The absinthe fire ritual in French with English subtitles:

Setting absinthe on fire? The interesting point about this video is that we are told that the addition of carmelised sugar, and not the burning of the absinthe, is the key to this ritual.

The Absinthe Drinker

Cafe Slavia Absinth

Arnaud Van De Castelle & The Absinthe Drinker (Piják absintu) Cafe Slavia, Prague

Purl & Absinthe Beer

William Hogarth


Roman Wormwood, two dozen,
Gentian root: 6 lb,
Sweetflag root: 2 lb,
Galanga root: 1-2 lb,
Horseradish: 1 bunch,
Dried orange peel from the Indies: 2 lb,
Juniper berries: 2 lb,
Seville orange seeds, dried: 2 lb,

Cut and bruise all the ingredients, put in a butt, top up with pale or mild ale. Store for one season.

Source: Thomas Threale’s The complete family-brewer, or, The best method of brewing or making any quantity of good strong ale & small-beer.London (1802)

Purl- Royal is a a wine infusion & there is some historical confusion over the terms. Here is the recipe for Purl-Royal:

Take cyder and order it as directed, but colour it not; put a gallon to 20 of right white or Rhenish wine; then strip a pound of Roman wormwood clean from the stalks; when it is well dryed, put it in a canvas bag, and by a thread let in hang in the liquid to the middle 12 or 14 days; and by such an infusion it will give it a pleasing colour and taste, so that it will add a curious flavour to such wines as it shall be mixed withal; but if you want worm-wood wine, and are in a haste for it, get some chymical drops of spirit of worm-wood, and 3 or 4 in a quart is sufficient, striking or shaking the pot or bottle, that it may kindly mix.

Accomplish’d Female Instructor (1710)

An interesting home brew for absinthe beer can be found on Scotty’s latest blog post here. I think this would make a great winter drink or how about serving it for Thanksgiving or Christmas? Leif’s wormwood ale will feature later, hopefully with some clarification of the history of purl. If anyone has any information please post in the comments section.

Rum Fest

A bottle of rum worth over $53,000! The distiller is Wray and Nephew of Jamaica and the unopened bottle, one of only four that exist, dates back to the 1940s. According to the owner of Europe’s first rum festival – Rum Fest – the supplies of Wray & Nephew ran out following the invention of the Mai Tai cocktail. The distillery then changed the production method and so this is a rare opportunity, for someone with more money than sense, to enjoy a “real Mai Tai”

According to Wikipedia – not necessarily a reliable source as we know – the Mai Tai was invented by Don the Beachcomber and here is his recipe:

The Original Trader Vic Formula – 1944

* 2 oz of 17-year old J. Wray & Nephew Rum over shaved ice
* Add juice from one fresh lime
* 1/2 oz Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao
* 1/4 oz Trader Vic’s Rock Candy Syrup
* 1/2 oz French Garnier Orgeat Syrup
* Shake vigorously.
* Add a sprig of fresh mint


The Rum Fest website is at

Wormwood School

A new method of punishment has come to light – perfect for punishing those that disobey the edict: “Thou shalt not set fire to thine absynth” (Song of Gwydion Verse III) It dates back to the absinthe era and so passes muster with the traditionalists. You have been warned.

The school district of East Lichfield is aroused because of the discovery that one of the country school teachers has abandoned the old methods of chastisement and has been compelling disobedient pupils to eat herbs, wild turnip, boneset, and wormwood.

The teacher is a spare the rod advocate, and her method, she says,was to stop the boys plugging the chimney, releasing mice and hard shell crickets, and throwing pepper on the stove.

First she had three recesses a day instead of two and worked other innovations to cement friendships. This failing to take the children’s attention from mischief,she tried the new one, and now the parents are angry.

(New York Post 1907)


Eating wormwood? Actually wormwood is used in the kitchen. It is used as stuffing for various meats – lamb, pork and mostly famously goose. According to one source it is also “used with turnips” to make them more exciting 🙂