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).

Source

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:

Thujone-Free.

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

34 responses to “Absinthe USA: Still “Thujone Free”?

  1. Comments lost, Shabba

  2. Absintheur writes: “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.””

    Two points:-

    1. I don’t recall Claude-Alain or I saying “It complies with the relevant legislation in most countries,” although it seems a fair statement to make.

    2. We don’t “avoid telling .. consumers the thujone content:” we just don’t make a point of it since we prefer to focus on quality and taste. I understand that other companies prefer to focus on the thujone content of their products.

    Every few months I get an email asking about the thujone level in La Clandestine and I reply with the information requested.

    The irony in all this is that brands like Hill’s (along with many other Czech absinths) don’t publicise their thujone level either, so why don’t you take this point up with them? In fact according to one of their major customers (LCBO in Canada), Hill’s has less than 1 ppm of thujone.

  3. 1.You said that on Wed, March 21st, 2007

    2. OK fair enough, so tell me what the thujone level of La Clandestine is right now please – if it’s not a secret.

  4. So I guess my comments were lost twice now, eh? Convenient.😉

    Mod: I lost three messages actually as I pressed the wrong command.

  5. Re. La Clandestine’s thujone level: email me and I will be happy to tell you.

    As I said before, it’s not something that we want or need to focus on. We don’t publish it on our site for that reason, so I see absolutely no need to publish this information on this site. Especially given your rather selective use of information.

    You write “I fail to see why manufacturers can’t simply specify the level – consumers want to know.” I agree that a few consumers may want to know but it seems to me to be a very small minority based on the emails I have seen in my time working on absinthe. Maybe this is because consumers now understand that it is not the most important factor.

    Having drunk both Hill’s (less than 1 ppm) and 330 (apparently 330 ppm), I couldn’t honestly state that the effects of one (for me) were 330 times the other. Or even twice as much. Much ado about nothing?

  6. It doesn’t say ““Amer aux Plantes d’Absinthe” or “Bitterspirituose” so I guess it is less than 10mg, or am I wrong?

  7. Absintheur: your obsession with this issue never fails to amaze me.

    Would you buy champagne based on the number of bubbles in each glass?

    Why don’t you criticise Hill’s for having less than 1 ppm of thujone? Or is that OK for them, but not for brands like Lucid?

  8. As the Sales Director for La Clandestine you should answer the question and not obfuscate, as it raises the question of why you are doing this.

    Codex Alimentarius Commission 1979 and European Union regulations don’t apply to the Swiss Federation? I am asking a civil question – please answer.

    If La Clandestine (or any other of the absinthe that you sell) is high thujone it should be sold as an “Amer aux Plantes d’Absinthe”. Why can’t you just answer the question instead of making cute remarks about champage?

  9. I have said several times already how I will answer this – by email.

    This is nothing to do with obfuscation. We simply choose not to promote on the basis of thujone because we feel we have so much more to offer.

    Unlike some other products which promote primarily on the basis of thujone ….

    Talking of obfuscation – a subject you clearly know a lot about – when will you answer the questions I pose here about Hill’s? Or the multitude of unanswered questions posed by others?

    End of this debate as far as I am concerned. Until you stop obfuscating!

  10. Absintheur, you’re getting petulant again. Alan clearly stated his position and reasons for not giving the information in a public forum. He also offered to supply it to you privately if you e-mailed him. Once you have the information, from a reputable source, in your possession I think you’d be free to use it in an honest discussion of the facts. Do your research, no one is stopping you from contacting the appropriate people or using what resources you have.

  11. Do you honestly think that he will tell this secret in an email, Pán Bůh?

    we feel we have so much more to offer

    Yes? I understand that Mr. Bugnon uses a single walled alambic. This is most unusual and causes a fierce direct heat on the herbs and is contary to the norm:

    Alambics designed for the distillation of absinthe are almost always based on a bain-marie system, so that the herb mass can be indirectly heated by steam, without risk of scorching.

    Perhaps this unusual alambic used by Bugnon could be explained further: Does it affect the thujone content? What is the reason that he chooses to use this alambic – is it a monetary consideration, or is there a philosophy behind it’s use?

  12. I for one applaud Alan for not publishing thujone content. Why propugate the myth that it matters?

    ” is it a monetary consideration, or is there a philosophy behind it’s use?”
    Don’t you already know the answer to that question? I thought you read his explanation as to why he uses them. You certainly seems smug in pointing out the explanatory passage earlier.

    Not surprisingly, Absintheur, you haven’t answered any of the questions regarding why Thujone is so important, and you haven’t answered my questions about which absinthe made you hallucinate.

  13. — “Do you honestly think that he will tell this secret in an email, Pán Bůh?”

    Absolutely. It worked for me. A discreet inquiry and a rapid response. I now know the answer, although in deference to his stated policy I won’t reveal it here either.

    Absintheur, there are times when you’re very intriguing in your ability to dredge up facts and arguments. A deft researcher when you want to be. Other times you appear to want the answers handed to you on a silver platter. I suspect when wheedling comments your true objective is to obtain the quotes for later, selective, out-of-context use.

    Use your resources honestly. You’ll get honest answers. But the idle speculations are amusing, too, if occasionally petulant.

  14. We all know that Alan is a master of the backstage email and I refuse to become involved in any “discreet enquiry” (as you put it) regardng the thujone content of his products. We all know about his modus operandi, thank you. His equivocation on this subject is sufficient to allow people to reach their own conclusion.

    I wonder what Angelique brings home on the thujone scale…the distilate is macerated in wormwood just like Vallon. Do you know that mystery as well, Pán Bůh?

  15. But Alan has already proven his willingness to divulge the thujone contents of the products he markets for. Even when the enquiry comes from a Czech IP. Oh, wait, that’s it — you need to protect your secret identity. Wouldn’t want us to find out that you do in fact have your own ties to commercial absinth production and sales. Sorry. Your anonymity is safe with us.

    But enough of the ad hominem stuff. I’m sure that you are every bit as personally respectable as Alan is. Likely much more respectable than me as well. Shabba, though, with all respect to the other parties here, I suspect rises head-and-shoulders above us all.

    Help us get this discussion back on a grounded basis. I, like Shabba, am very curious why you are so concerned with thujone content. And even more so to know if you’ve ever had hallucinations result from drinking absinth.

  16. that you do in fact have your own ties to commercial absinth production and sales

    Really? That’s news to me. Care to elaborate this fantasy of yours? I enjoy your “man in the pub” opinions.

    Shabba is no doubt a highly respectable person and I am sure that Alan is also a pillar of the community. Thank you for sharing these quaint courteous observations.

  17. “Care to elaborate?”

    I don’t know the precise basis for Pan Buh’s comment. But while I give reasons for why we choose not to publicise La Clandestine’s thujone content, you seem to do everything you can to prevent us knowing who you are. It does seem that you have something to hide.

  18. Your nasty side beginning to show, Alan? You are not good under pressure I see. I know why you are angry😉 I know many things, Alan.

    However, just because I know a lot about the machinations of the absinthe industry doesn’t mean that I am involved in the commercial exploitation of Artemisia absinthium. You wish to undermine our expose of the “real absinthe” project by suggesting that our motives are commercial when they are not. If you wish to seek the genus of this blog look at your own cack-handed activities – perhaps you will find the answer there.

  19. Why the censorship? You keep my first two paragraphs and remove the last five. I thought censorship was dead and buried in the Czech Republic. Apparently not.

    There is ZERO point in trying to have a debate with such blatant censorship. So if I choose to respond to you in future, I’ll post my answers elsewhere.

  20. 😀 À Bientôt

    Anyway, I’m off to look at an Emil Filla…have a nice afternoon.

  21. Pax, gentlemen, pax. What the fuss is all about? Have some absinthe and relax. It is All Saints’ Day/Hallo’ween/Samhain!

  22. Filla doesn’t usually get much respect outside the native community. You attempting to “go native”?

  23. Man in the pub posts idle speculation believing friendly blog host is telling the truth (cough, cough) with soft denials of not being involved in absinth manufacture or distribution. At present. But man in the pub hypothesizes that he is working hard to correct this omission.

    Can you laugh that off, or am I getting warm?

  24. Nope. Think again, Hercules Parrot – excercise those little grey cells of which you have many I am sure.

    Would you like to create an absinthe, Pán Bůh? Like Hiram has done…perhaps you should read up on that old Moravian medic and give it a try? Or have you already tried? The nearest I have come is growing some AA in my garden to see what it tastes like in a stuffing.

    Did you see Filla’s Still Life with Absinthe & Fan? No more hints for you…I do enjoy your posts.

    Talking of Marteau Verte and vanity distillations…I see that MV is designated as Bitterspirituose meaning its >10mg thujone and therefore unlikely to be available in the Quckymart, USA.

  25. You have a garden? Hmm. So you’re not just a bored, lonely ex-pat living in a panalak, then. But not a lot of garden space in the city, either.

  26. I haven’t been around for awhile (new house, moving, new job, etc), however, this is getting me creeped…

    “You have a garden? Hmm. So you’re not just a bored, lonely ex-pat living in a panalak, then. But not a lot of garden space in the city, either.”

    Ol’ Buh’s and Alan’s preoccupation with getting Absintheur to “reveal his identity” is borderline pathological and, ultimately, futile, juvenile nonsense and game playing. For a couple reasons:

    1. It obfuscates any sort of rationale and logical debate/conversation.

    2. Proves a limited capacity for defending your positions.

    3. Is just plain creepy. We’re not talking 6th grade crush on a girl so I’m going to google here name creepy. We’re talking “do you hear the lambs screaming, Clarese?” stalker/serial killer creepy.

    Hell, I’ve made a point of being pretty open about myself and nowadays I’m starting to think that maybe I’ve made the wrong decision.

  27. It would seem odd if Absintheur hadn’t already taken it on himself to use real names, locations and made claims about people’s connections to the industry.

    That he started it and now can’t take it seems to be common in this blog.

  28. I don’t think he ever said that he “can’t take it”. In fact, he hasn’t said anything of the sort.

    What I’m saying, though, is this:

    Those folks are starting to give me the heebie jeebies.

  29. Sorry, Leif. Er, no, actually. I’m not sorry at all if you’re creeped out. Maybe you should find another site on the Internet that you’re more comfortable with. After all, it’s only idle speculation. Surely, you can’t find offense in that?

    Absintheur holds all the cards here. Absintheur rarely hesitates to bring his supposed knowledge of real life personalities to this site. Absintheur often engages in censoring the posts of contributors, skewing the balance of what would be known about the real, sometimes personal, interactions of the characters here. Clearly, you’re aware of that, and any of your assertions to the contrary are demonstrably ingenuous.

    Me? I’m just curious about someone with as much interest in absinth(e) as I have and who seemingly lives within distance to meet and with whom I could share this interest in real life. Alas, it’s not to be. Our host likely fears that I am only after a taste of his Mystique and other Franco-Swiss absinthes that my be squirreled away in the hidden lair.

  30. Please…

    The party line that gets toted of “absintheur edits me!”, “absintheur skews facts!”, “absinther is the bride of satan!” is getting old.

    In fact, you should probably take your own advice and “find another site on the Internet that you’re more comfortable with” or…stop whining, man up, and play the game.

  31. Hard to play the game when every other post we make is either cut out or ‘lost’ because they ‘hit the wrong button’.

  32. No whining, whinging or belly-aching from me. Facts is facts. I just wasn’t aware that absintheur is the bride of Satan. Wicked cool. I’ll just have to remember to address her as a female from here on out, lest the ol’ Nick get angry. Of course, now I want to meet her all the more, I’m sure Satan wouldn’t settle for anything less than totally hot.

    Oh, and the problem of censorship stands, and I’ve brought it up privately with you, Leif. In the context of another, more comfortable site. Do I need to remind you?

  33. “No whining, whinging or belly-aching from me. Facts is facts.”

    “Absintheur holds all the cards here. Absintheur rarely hesitates to bring his supposed knowledge of real life personalities to this site. Absintheur often engages in censoring the posts of contributors, skewing the balance of what would be known about the real, sometimes personal, interactions of the characters here.”

    Yeah, glad to hear that isn’t whining…

    Anyway, no need to remind me of our “private conversation” on WS, however, I’m still waiting for your reply back from my end of it, so maybe I should be the one reminding you.

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