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.
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
A 16th Century Russian medic at the court of Tsar Basil III prescribes the use of wormwood. (see details below) Wormwood comes in many forms, and it is unclear if the writer means grande wormwood, as used in real absinthe, or another variety.
What is interesting is to see the writer mention wormwood use in conception (could be a translation error). Is this an early reference to absinthe’s noted aphrodisiac effect? I don’t know, but it got me thinking. Tsar Basil certainly had problems producing an heir – he divorced his first wife as she was barren. His second wife later managed to produce a little darling called Ivan The Terrible! Ivan went on to beat his daugher in law causing a miscarriage, and then killed his own son.
Many people think that knowledge of herbs were much deeper in ancient times, that we have lost many secrets, is that right?
It is partly right. For instance modern physicians advice to take wormwood liqueur to improve appetite and stir up digestion. Nickolay Lubchanin advises to take wormwood juice with honey and sugar to those suffering from fever. To improve blood composition one must boil wormwood in wine and take it on an empty stomach in the morning.
Another prescription is for ill eyes and eyelids: one must mix up wormwood juice with honey and smear one’s eyelids for “the eyes to become light”. If one drinks this compound, according to Nickolay Lubchanin, it helps conception. Wormwood juice was considered more useful than herb extract. Here is the analogue of modern popular “liver cleaning”: drink wormwood juice ten days running 3 zolotniks (1 zolotnik is equal to about 4,23 gram) mixed with sugar. It will give one a good skin colour.
Dr. Tatyana Isachenko talking to Pravda about a manuscript by Nickolay Lubchanin (1534)
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)
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.