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Is The Absinthe That Is Now Legal In The U.S. ‘real’ Absinthe?

Spirits
10.08.2010

Absinthe

Time to drop a little nerdy absinthe knowledge on you today.

Since 2007, one of the most popular arguments I’ve seen from disreputable producers and their followers is that the absinthe currently being sold in the U.S. isn’t ‘real’ absinthe. So, I thought I’d give you all the truth behind the marketing-speak.

Many U.S. absinthe nay-sayers argue that products sold in the U.S. don’t contain wormwood (or specifically a chemical contained in wormwood – thujone), and therefore aren’t true absinthes. While the European Union has indeed granted a bit more leeway in regards to thujone content in absinthe (10 mg/l if labeled “absinthe” and up to 35 mg/l if it’s labeled as a “bitters”), the U.S. government has not yet studied absinthe in depth. Therefore, they continue to impose a limit of 10 mg/l.

An uninformed consumer may argue that the limit implies that the US brands don’t contain as much wormwood as those in Europe. This is incorrect because the amount of thujone is not necessarily proportional to the amount of wormwood used. Some of the brands that use the most wormwood in their recipes also have the lowest thujone levels. Further, what those nay-sayers won’t tell you is that both of these numbers are deemed ‘thujone-free’, meaning there is so little present that it won’t cause any detrimental effects.

Another interesting fact relates to thujone levels of pre-ban absinthes. Some still incorrectly believe that pre-ban absinthes contained much higher levels of thujone than modern brands. This idea comes from an armchair assumption in an article written by Dr. Wilfred Arnold where he hypothesized that pre-ban absinthes contained as much as 260 mg/l of thujone. He arrived at this figure by taking the assumed concentration levels of thujone present in wormwood, and multiplied by the known quantities of wormwood used in pre-ban absinthe, assuming 100% recovery of the thujone in the distillate.

Absinthe However, his conclusions have since been solidly debunked. Research found that Dr. Arnold’s article didn’t involve the study or analysis of ANY actual absinthe, modern or vintage. Nor did it take into account the behavior of thujone during distillation. As it happens, thujone itself doesn’t readily vaporize in an alcoholic distillation and most of it stays behind in the pot. So one cannot conclude that the same amount of thujone in raw wormwood will be present in the final product.

More recent studies have overwhelmingly invalidated Dr. Arnold’s theories. In 2008, a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry performed chemical analyses of both pre-ban absinthe and currently produced absinthes that use historic recipes and production methods. The results showed that many pre-ban absinthes would have come in under the current European and/or US thujone limits. It also showed that currently produced absinthes that using the historic recipes had similar levels of thujone, suggesting that thujone levels are rather stable once in the bottle.

In April 2009, a supporting study analyzed the stability of thujone in absinthe. The study found, amongst other things, that absinthe stored in traditional green glass bottles (such as those utilized by most brands of the Belle Époque), and subjected to high amounts of ultraviolet radiation for upwards of 200 hours, showed no decomposition of thujone. This disproved the theory that thujone levels found in pre-ban absinthe may have decreased due to chemical degradation over time.

So, in short: Yes, absinthe in the US is REAL absinthe. It uses all of the traditional and authentic ingredients and in correct proportions. In fact, several of the highest rated absinthes in the world are produced in the U.S.

Next week, we’ll get back to drinking!



Comments

  1. The Wormwood Society | Friday, October 8, 2010

    I know I didn’t get too in depth about production methods, but I was cramped for space. Suffice it to say, many of the best brands out there use historic protocols and use the same ingredients. We can discuss that more at a future date.


  2. Absinthe in the U.S. – Price vs Quality | Mutineer Magazine | Wednesday, March 9, 2011

    […] the only REAL absinthe’ argument that they’ve been using since 2007.  Please see here and here for more information about that marketing and how it is completely […]


  3. jander24@twcny.rr.com | Thursday, March 10, 2011

    who cares…its a badass drink and the taste is amazing…if people want to trip or are expecting to trip go do pychedelics man…its alcohol, get over it


  4. Doris | Saturday, March 12, 2011

    Fascinating. The distillation process should also prove fascinating.


  5. John | Friday, May 25, 2012

    Thujone does not cause hallucinations. At extremely high doses it causes tremors and convulsions in lab animals. Some of the extractable/distillables from fennel, anise and hyssop show equivalent toxicity, but it is only thujone that TTB and FDA are “worried” about. It’s bureaucratic nonsense.


  6. Brian Kropf | Friday, May 25, 2012

    John,

    You are absolutely correct in that it does not cause hallucinations. It doesn’t look like we covered it in post, but another blog (or it was in an absinthe feature we did in the print magazine) that debunked absinthe causing hallucinations.

    This post was more focused on if US made absinthe was “real”, as people get so caught up in thujone content and wormwood.

    Thanks for commenting,

    Cheers!


  7. War | Saturday, February 23, 2013

    Sounds similar to the arguments of U.S. wine is not real wine because it’s not from (insert fancy Europe country here). Thank you, it can be really hard to impossible to separate the truth from the marketing without some outside source to back up your common sense.

    Is there any where I can get a copy or a direction to the debunked absinthe causing hallucinations? It’s been one of my many arguments with people.


  8. Brian Robinson | Friday, March 8, 2013

    War,
    You can visit our site for copious info on the topic. Thanks!


  9. Absinthe at the Zombie Bar | FrightProps Halloween Blog | Friday, April 11, 2014

    […] banned in the United States (modern absinthe still cannot contain more than 10 mg/l of thujone), the highly alcoholic green-colored beverage made from wormwood, fennel and anise has been a […]


  10. Is Absinthe Legal in the U.S.? | Internet Tax Lawyers | Friday, July 25, 2014

    […] Like most other enthusiasts, absinthe aficionados hold strong and differing opinions on whether absinthe with this low level of thujone is absinthe at all. While this 10 ppm level of thujone in absinthe may differ from European standards, many agree that legal “thujone-free” absinthe is pretty much the real thing. […]


  11. Chase Matthews | Wednesday, October 29, 2014

    Did anyone bother to even read the study? I mean I read the study before I read this entirely misleading article, but did anyone else? The study says that pre-ban absinthe contained thujone levels ranging from 5 mg/l to 43 mg/l, with the AVERAGE being around 22 mg/l. Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t 22 mg/l significantly more than the 10 mg/l limit imposed on US absinthes? Lets put that into perspective with what you’ve just said regarding how wormwood levels don’t necessarily influence thujone levels. Since various factors of absinthe production obviously influence thujone levels & US absinthes have to fall below 10 mg/l, US absinthe distillers must now LIMIT and alter how they make their absinthes. Since absinthe can range from about 1-40 mg/l, this means that US made absinthes are restricted from 75% of all the possible herbal combinations, methods, and ways of making absinthe.

    But yes, you’re right US absinthe is still absinthe. What these people SHOULD be saying about US absinthes is exactly what they say about US wine: that they’re basically all cheap pieces of crap that taste like shit. So now I will gladly correct people whenever I hear someone say, “Real absinthe isn’t allowed in the US”, or, “All absinthe sold in the US is fake.”. I will indignantly chuckle at their ignorant & chide remarks, as I pull them aside and say:
    “Ummm EXCUSE me! What I think you mean to say is, ‘GOOD absinthe isn’t allowed in the US’, or, ‘All absinthe sold in the US is SHITTY’. I hate to get all politically correct about things, but you should really make sure your insults are directed in the right way.You see US absinthe isn’t necessarily fake. It’s just cheaply made, horrible tasting shit which is often MISINTERPRETED as being fake.”.


  12. Jason Kendall | Saturday, April 25, 2015

    Well put Chase Matthews! ….well… put, at least. I guess the fact that you read the study so thoroughly should qualify as experience and expertise, in lieu of the most ignorant statement regarding Wine production I have ever found from an otherwise, or POTENTIALLY otherwise knowledgeable consumer. Anyone lumping US wines into any category so broad as “Shitty” or “cheap” is furthest from expert or knowledgeable! Go to Bordeaux and pour a glass of Howell Mountain grown Cabernet for even a Rothschild, themselves, and you’ll be able to see the full amount of amazement that a well-done American Vintner can provide. I’d happily debate the merits of American wines over ANY region, save for the particular blends of Bordeaux, which gives the incredible flavor which a single-grape wine can’t impart upon itself. Yet no Sauvignon can be as deep and rich as numerous California lots produce regularly. Pinto Noir, from Washington down to Cali, also can blow away any Burgundy or (pick your favorite region and insert here)! Same story as a Meritage or Shiraz/Syrah from the Barossa Valley, Australia! Untouchable in its realm by any measure from ANY region! Or try the Chilean Malbec, then a French counterpart and realize you are paying 5x the price for only a fifth of the flavor you must desire, bottling such a grape on its own.

    To say that the US is lacking quality in its wine production is THE most ignorant statement I have read from any drinker. In fact, the “cheap shit” (box wine) is often of better quality here in the US than a counterpart in France, even an investment-only type labeling. I will take the Cade Howell Mountain Reserve of 2005 over the 100x more costly and 100 year more aged Chateau Lafite Rothschild, and laugh at the guy stuck with his Lafite, which is by no means a shot at Lafite’s bottlings. In fact, I’d love any Lafite, but would pay more for a number of American wines, if we base value on taste alone – and I assure you I can put a US wine, in blind testing, up against any region of particular varietal such ad Cab, Pinot, Petite, Zin, or even the blends and offer 100-1 odds that you’ll pick the US varietal over the region you THINK to be superior. Bet.

    As for the write up;
    First, it IS true that you can hallucinate from the long-established Southern Wormwood production methods used primarily in France as well as many lesser-known producers in Eastern European countries, such as The Czech Republic, for instance. I speak from experience, having had nights extremely influenced by all three of my own classifications of the “Green Fairy”, and I will strongly argue that I have hallucinated in cases where ONLY Absynth was consumed, as have my Military bredren who were at my side for those unforgettable yet difficult to recall adventures. First is the most common class; the “fakes” and what I have thus far found domestically. These DO NOT cause any hallucinations, visual, audible nor stimulating. They are merely a liquorice-flavored bitters which is loaded with Proof! Still capable of serious incapacitation, yet nothing more than a 151 Rum or 180 Proof Vodka, for instance. Second are this which are equally high in alcohol content yet only cause drunkenness and often intense dreams, when overdone. I have MANY examples of this occurrence and even a lone night in Prague which was creepy in its having left all four parties woken at 7am (having not crashed until near 6) after eerily similar and VIVID nightmares, very “Alice in Wonderland-y”… and then there is what the old-timers like to declare “REAL” Absynth! Southern Wormwood (usually unused particularly for its intoxicating levels of poisons, similar to the “Magic Mushroom” in many ways, and THESE are the ones often leaving you holding onto the Earth for dear life as you are wisked away to Wonderland in total woken states. I have thrice overdone it on the same particular label and all three times found myself and my fellow compatriots in “Trips”, entranced in full! It is no more than poisoning one’s self to the point of hallucination, yet combined with the intoxication caused by the 73 (or higher) percent alcohol content. So I will have to assume anyone who has had the same thing in any substantial quantity and NOT hallucinated is simply blacking out the experience, as we have recordings which are proof positive of it occurring, and yet on that same excursion I can’t recall my third flaming spoon… lmao

    The reality is that almost all “Absinthe” (American) is “fake” by old-school standards. The legendary Green Fairy has been practically lost in the mix of numerous different production methods, Proof contents and illegality, here in the US as well as in France (where you’d find the right Wormwood TO impart the correct poison, which is not thujone itell but another remnant of the now rarely used CORRECT Wormwood for making the original batches of the Green dreamjuice. Even most virtually lawless Eastern-istans have made the use of this particular Wormwood illegal in the production of consumed product only out of regard for the consumer, who can very easily overdo it and not wake from Wonderland or cause another harm in the hallucinatory state. I have seen it hidden under shelf in bars which openly allowed opium smoking and marijuana, not to mention the many other drugs folks “consume” in such establishments in places such as Kosovo…

    Still, it is correct to say that the US made Absinthe is just as “real” as any recently produced European label, barring the European version of “Moonshine synth” found so sparsely these days however the reality is that the stories of hallucination are not unfounded. I know a number of soldiers who swear by having seen hallucinations after overdoing it with Soju, which doesn’t contain any form of contaminant nor poison or even as high an alcohol content as most vodkas (in most cases). So I’m forced to believe that the human mind is easily manipulated by misconceptions and preconceived notions – just like the well documented “placebo effect”. So I will accept the position of modern Absinthe nor containing any hallucinagin or poison of any sort, but I can certainly attest to the fact that it is not a mere myth or historical game of “Telephone” which has been played on the Absinthe-yearning American public while I was in the state if black market spirit, only. There are still producerstwhile using old methods and which are either not constrained by legality or are operating beneath it, similar to the “Deep South” and Moonshine, here, and that those very few and difficult to find bottlers ARE still producing finished bitters which will take the brain well beyond any effect alcohol or even placebo-belief could provide.

    I still come back to the lecture of Chase’s, which is so regrettably common that it can ALMOST come of as intelligence in spirits when the truth is the exact opposite of the hypothesis given therein. American Vintners are not only decent, but in many cases they produce the absolute finest quality product in the world, as with numerous Beers and other spirits. Just because Keystone Ice sells doesn’t make Great Divide (or any other microbrewery, especially those producing Fresh Hop Ales!) any less quality. Or, for that matter, Robert Mondavi selling 2 million cases of the runoff wine they do bottle should not taint the immaculate quality of their Reserve Vintages and Bottlings. Besides the typical dislike of admission of American supremacy, no legitimate Sommelier in the world would lay claim to the concept of ANY nation, region or varibeing an absolute clean-sweep put up against its American counterpart.



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