The Absinthe Drinker

Cafe Slavia Absinth

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

33 responses to “The Absinthe Drinker

  1. Painting looks excellent, well-preserved. What Arnaud is drinking???

  2. Yes, the cafe was a favourite with Václav Havel during his dissident years. Later Hilary Clinton drank absinth there with President Havel – Bill Clinton played the sax at a jazz club up the road.

    The painting is big and it’s an important place (thus full of tourists). He is drinkin’ Hill’s..neat…there’s no sign of fire 😉 I understand that he also went to the “Absinthe Time” bar.

    There’s even a Czech absinthe called Oliva after the painter. Did you try it? I think Wild Bill Turkey has.

  3. Yes, there was a thread about, Olive has not reached Poland yet, but I would like to give it a try, seems to be very promising, if scarcely available here.

  4. You won’t find it here either. Wild Bill is the only person I have ever seen write about it. Rather strange as it is an absinth s bublinkami (perlivy absinth) and I don’t know of any other.

  5. That’s a Czechbrand that I’d really like to try, I just have never goten around to ordering it, mainly because it’s the only absinthe you can buy on their site. I tend to like to order in bulk to minimize shipping costs per bottle.

  6. Love the painting too.

  7. However, due to current Swiss law, and some insecure Swiss absinthe producers, we cannot call it an Absinthe Suisse even though it clearly follows the Suisse style procedures and was even labeled as such when we found it. When the term “Absinthe Suisse” was used 100 years ago, it did not have anything to do with the location it was made, merely to tell the buyer what style of absinthe they were buying. Just as Pilsner beer today is not only coming from Plzen, Czech Republic. Interestingly the Swiss make a (very poor) Pilsner beer in Switzerland, perhaps they should not be allowed to call it Pilsner.

  8. Unfortunately, Pilsener can be found anywhere if the best for me always was Plznensky Prazdroj, or Pilsener Urquell as it is called as well. The others are just approximation of the original.

    I believe the Swiss might fight to receive AOC for la bleue style as the regional Swiss product. If they go for “Absinthe Suisse” which as it has been said does not denote geographical origin but style, they will be at war with numerous French absinthe makers as well.

    It will bring more harm than good.

  9. Hence the importance of proper classification of absinthe.

  10. Exactly, but knowing EU’s laziness it will take more than another 20 years they have spent for classifying other spirits and/or spirit-drinks.

    However, if the Swiss get AOC for “la bleue”, it should be a good move. “Absinthe Suisse” should be better not restrictive and applicable to any product (no matter where made) as long as it follows the procedures.

    And France should do something with that oxymoronic “spiritueuex a base de extrait de plantes d’absinthe” and quit that chauvinist fenchone limit of 5 mg/l, which as we all know makes 95% of les bleues and other absinthes illegal.

  11. Pilsner Urquell is best unpasteurised of course – at the brewery in plastic cups or better at the pubs that serve it in a proper glass.

    la bleue was manufactured in France during the pre-ban era I think. Why do some people say that it was invented post ban to avoid detection? Is this another tall tale from the mountains -like the story of the Henroids and Dr Ordinaire – or is it just a mistake?

  12. Swiss la bleus were purportedly made colorless to avoid detection from authorities. Since absinthe was typically green (sometimes red), it was easy to pass off a clear absinthe as something else all together.

    I haven’t done any research on it, that’s just what I’ve heard. If I have some time today, I’ll find out a little more to see if that’s correct or not.

  13. During the pre-ban era, it seems that we have had
    both: la blanche which varied from la bleue in terms
    of star anise content.

    En 1792, le canton de Neuchâtel voit naître sur son
    sol un nouvel apéritif alcoolisé distillé à
    partir de plantes d’absinthe. C’est le médecin
    français franc-comtois Pierre Ordinaire qui l’élabore
    avec ” La Mère Henriod “, sa gouvernante (ce qui
    vaut de houleux débats entre la France et la Suisse
    sur l’origine géographique de la liqueur d’absinthe).
    En 1797, la première distillerie d’absinthe
    s’ouvre à Couvet dans le Val-de-Travers sous
    l’impulsion de Daniel Henri Dubied et de son gendre
    Henri Louis Pernod. Rapidement, les distilleries se
    succèdent dans la petite vallée et l’absinthe
    connaît un succès populaire fulgurant. On la
    surnomme affectueusement ” la Bleue ” ou ” la Fée
    verte “.


    Shabba, you are right about cheating the authorities,
    in fact the majority of the absinthe market was
    controlled by “verte” style in the heyday.

    “La bleue” as having exactly the same colour as creme
    de menthe blanche, vodka, gin or white rum could be
    bootlegged easily, then and arising no further

  14. Even with the quaint jibberish of auto translation I see that the source uses the term “born” when it should be “commercialised”

    (i) Henroid sisters were 10 years old in 1797 and unlikely to be involved in the sale of recipes at that age.

    (ii) Nobody called Dr Ordinaire existed ( most likely a literary joke by the Pernod dynasty)

    (iii) Distillations of wormwood, anise and fennel can be seen elsewhere and long predate the tricky sisters of Couvet, or whoever sold the recipe to the intended dupe called Major Dubied.They are from an established medicinal tradtion in my opinion and I’ve given sources before.

    (iv) Absinthe was available and is recorded as “mon absinthe” in French correspendence before 1797. Most likely knocked up on a still at the back of an apothecary. It’s name was already in use.

    The Val de Travers can only lay claim to being the birthplace of the mass commercialism of absinthe and nothing more.

    Here’s the Babelfish jibberish for those that learnt Russian and not French:

    In 1792, the canton of Neuchâtel sees being born on its ground a new alcoholic aperitif distilled starting from plants from wormwood. It is the French doctor frank-comtois Pierre Ordinaire which works out it with “the Henriod Mother”, his controlling (what is worth surging debates between France and Switzerland on the geographical origin of liquor of wormwood). In 1797, the first distilling of wormwood opens in Couvet in Valley-of-Through under the impulse of Daniel Henri Dubied and his son-in-law Henri Louis Pernod. Quickly, distillings follow one another in the small valley and the wormwood is a popular success fulgurating. It affectionately is called “the Blue one” or “the green Fairy”.

    One important point is the tax on alcohol.

    Smuggling absinthe using “pregnant” women was used to get the drink into Paris. I would suggest that La Bleue developed because of this commercial imperative in pre ban Belle Epoque France. I’ll source this data about smuggling shortly. For reasons that are obvious – it was illicit – there is unlikely to be much historical data, perhaps in police reports though.

  15. Absintheur, the sparkling Oliva Absinthe seems to be a promise unfulfilled. At least commercially. I don’t believe they’ve ever released it. Why don’t you stop by their offices and inquire?

    Where are you drinking unfiltered Plzeň besides on the brewery tour? They don’t even serve it at the restaurant there.

    Anybody else think that Arnaud Van De Castelle has a pained look on his face that he’s trying unsuccessfully to conceal? My guess is that Hill’s is not to his liking.

  16. He doesn’t look astonished, indeed. But maybe he is drinking it for the very first time?

    Talking of Dr Oridinaire, I personally believe in him, maybe he was named otherwise or something, historians should have their say, Pernod fils or Duval were too big jetsets at the time to actually need such a marketing plot to boost the sales which were already really high.

    And his story adds a bit of romanticism to the whole story.

  17. For reasons known only to themselves they serve Hill’s neat. I just knew that Pán Bůh was going to make that comment.

    Dr Ordinaire is portrayed as a Frenchman living in Switzerland as a refugee from “la Terreur”. Further, he is portaryed in such a way (some say) as to suggest he is a joke on Don Quixote. He only exists in Pernod correspondence, and is mostly likely an expression of the still existant historic tensions across the national border. He was probably added to the story to give absinthe a French provenance and pander to the nationalism of the time.

    Hiram once called him the absinthe “Santa Claus” – so perhaps he’ll come down the chimney in a few months with a bottle of Marteau Verte.

  18. Will Arnaud be posting some of his impressions? It would be nice to hear it from him, is he gone already?

    Don Quichote, Santa, fine guys, indeed. Someone has to believe in them, otherwise life would be so dull.

  19. Or even Don Quixote. 😉

  20. The House of Pernod and Sons is so intimately associated with the origins and progress of the absinthe industry that it is impossible to separate or distinguish the history of the one from the other.

    The origins of absinthe are thus the obligatory preamble to the history of the House of Pernod & Sons which we propose to recount in these pages. In spite of the name Swiss absinthe by which it often goes, the famous liqueur is of French origin.

    At the end of the last century a French doctor, Dr. Ordinaire, exiled in Switzerland, chose Couvet for the theater of his medical activity. We cannot resist the urge to reproduce the portrait drawn of him by a Swiss writer.

    He was, apparently, an eccentric, of great height, riding through the Val de Travers on a small Corsican horse known in region as the Rocket. His unusual appearance did not fail to surprise the village populations; it gave rise to many jokes and persistent astonishment among the children. Ordinaire did not appear to be concerned with this; the gravity of his character was not affected. He was a doctor not without talents for his time, and he did a good job of bringing the medical art to the Val de Travers. He joined the practice of medicine to that of pharmacology; the majority of doctors of the countryside did no differently. Mr. Ordinaire did not scorn the panaceas, he employed one in particular, the elixir of wormwood, composed of aromatic plants of which only he knew the secret. Many people, having made use of it, declared themselves radically cured and the doctor could not pretend to be other than pleased and to prescribe its use.

    Dr. Ordinaire would have been well astonished if anyone had predicted the high destinies to which his elixir would be called. At his death the mysterious recipe passed into the hands of the young Henriod ladies of Couvet. Cultivating the necessary herbs themselves in their garden, they distilled them in the family home.

    Maison Pernod Fils – 1896 Catalogue

    Anyone know who the “Swiss writer” is?

  21. DR. LEGRAND de SAULE (1830-1866), fondateur de la Société de Médecine Légale, reports 17 symptons of absinthe imbibing incl. hallucination. I saw Doc Pete Ordinary on a horse made of salad leaves.

  22. Oh really? Perhaps you’d like to write a poem about it 🙄

  23. Didn’t know where to post this, so this place is as good as any, I guess.

    Hill’s has been discontinued.

  24. “Salad leaves” is redundant.

    Either way, there’s more to the story and I may just write a poem about it (if you don’t mind hardcore Bukowski-esque poems)!

  25. 🙂 Salad Leaves or “Rocket” has been resurrected by Oxy in bottle form:

    Absinthe Roquette 1797.

    Archive Spirits is a joint venture between David Nathan-Maister of Oxygenee, and Peter Schaf

    Wouldn’t iambic pentameter / mock heroic (Pope) be a fitting tribute to this mythical comic figurehead riding round the Val de Travers on his old nag?

  26. The original 1797 was pretty darned good. This one’s supposed to be even better.

  27. What was the 1797 like? It was a limited run, wasn’t it?

  28. Yup. I still have two bottles of it aging. The third bottle I opened and drank.

    GREAT natural perdiot green color. Louche was quite nice, but mouth feel ended up just a tad thin. The flavor was excellent. Medicinal but not in a bad way. Nice up-front wormwood profile with touches of anise, fennel and angelica. A hint of sweetness at the end. Also I detected just a hint of sweet celery, which lends itself to the medicinal edge I mentioned.

    Overall, I scored it an 85 out of 100. I liked it alot. It’s very unique. Of the four limited runs they did at the same time, I’d rank it 3 of 4. I liked the L’Artisanale best, the Wormwood Blanche 2nd, 1797 3rd, and the Rouge 4th.

    But, even though I gave them a ranking in 1-4, I highly enjoyed all four, and if and when they produce more, I’ll be buying them. The Rouge and new 1797 are already on my list. I REALLY hope they do more of the other two.

  29. The first run 1797 is what every absinth that describes itself as “medicinal” or “herbal elixer” should strive for. From the herbal taste to the pleasing bitterness.

    Of interest the wormwood blanche, which obviously has more wormwood in it than the 1797, was easily a a couple degrees less bitter. Showing just because it has wormwood doesn’t mean it must be bitter (Some companies (across the globe) seem to wave away their lazyness/inexperience by claiming that more wormwood=more bitterness).

  30. “Anyone know who the “Swiss writer” is?”.


  31. Member of Société Suisse du Conte was he? Fairy Tales are very popular here, especially at Christmas.

  32. Hi,
    my travel in East Country was fantastic and the people meeting very friendly. Praha is a nice beautiful place and now I anderstand why many people says “little Paris”. I have discover all the place, shop and bar where we can drink absinth. I have testing many kinds of products and I can see cleary now the very bad and the must beautiful Tcheque absinth. I have meeting a famous painter (Jiri Sliva) and many Tcheque Scientific (Historian of Art, Sociologist). You can listen me on the Praha Radio, I have give an intervieuw in Slavia Café.

  33. now the very bad and the must beautiful Tcheque absinth.

    🙂 Hi Arnaud! Please tell us which you find very bad and which you liked.

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