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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.”.


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