absinthe

Absinthe receives EU protected status

Going forward, absinthe (real French absinthe, not the fake kind one finds in America, for example) will have protected status from the European Union. The Telegraph reports that Brussels has ruled that absinthe produced in the Pontarlier region of eastern France, along the Swiss border, is to be branded with the special geographic indication mark PGI.

Said mark is used to signify a product “originating in a specific place, region or country whose given quality, reputation or other characteristic is essentially attributable to its geographical origin and at least one of the production steps of which takes place in the defined geographical area.”

Before absinthe was prohibited by the French government in 1915, Pontarlier was known as the main producer of the hallucinogenic green spirit, enjoyed by the likes of Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso. It wasn’t until the end of the twentieth century, when the prohibition was partially overturned, that the region resumed production of absinthe, albeit a weaker version. However, the market was soon overwhelmed by swarms of foreign competitors who offered cheaper imitations.

The purpose of the new European protected status is to weed out these foreign versions and allow Pontarlier to reclaim its reputation as the one source of real, authentic absinthe.

Francois Guy, who runs one of the two largest absinthe producers in Pontarlier, spoke about what the market was like.

“We even found South African absinthe with Napoleon and the fleur de lys on the label,” Guy said, indicating the extent of the absinthe fraud.

Guy also spoke about thujone, the element of wormwood long believed to be responsible for absinthe’s allegedly harmful effects. According to Guy this is a misconception. The destruction wrought by absinthe was due to its high alcohol percentage, which has been brought down significantly since production resumed in the ‘90s.

“It was above all the alcohol levels and huge quantities of absinthe consumed in the Belle Epoque that caused such serious damage,” Guy explained.

With that said, the levels of thujone in modern absinthe are also lower than in the past.

“Its quantity has been reduced to make it inoffensive but it remains essential for the taste,” Guy said.

In any case, look for the PGI label.