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Absinthe Around the World and the Implications for the USA

Spirits
01.18.2011

A few weeks ago, I was approached by Alan Moss, a long time Wormwood Society member, who asked if he could do a complimentary article to a piece I did recently.  Who am I to say ‘no’?  Alan is the Global Ambassador for La Clandestine absinthe and the main contributor to the Real Absinthe blog.  I thought you all might like a global perspective on the absinthe renaissance.

I enjoyed Brian’s earlier article about absinthe in Spain: it showed absinthe can be different in some countries, and yet very similar. A range of qualities, pricing and packaging, and a trend almost everywhere towards quality.

I’ve been a member of the Wormwood Society for six years and I’ve been working on La Clandestine absinthe almost all that time. I’ve sold liquor in 50 plus countries since 1989 so I’ve been privileged to travel, to experience and to observe. I see interesting global trends on absinthe and it will be interesting to see how they affect the US market (and vice versa).

QUALITY

In the USA, absinthe quality is generally much higher than in most countries around the world. You can easily find shops in NYC, LA, Chicago, etc with more than a dozen good quality absinthes. This is almost impossible in Europe where just one or two cities may have one or two shops like that (mixed with lower quality lines).

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The US focus on quality absinthe will spread globally.

BUT ALMOST NO RULES

Most countries have no legislation defining absinthe. Only Switzerland has rules insisting on distillation and no artificial colours. If the USA adopted the Swiss rules, that would remove about 20 products from the US market: that may not happen.

THE GOOD ..

One of the more exciting developments I have seen is Sydney’s stand-alone absinthe bar.

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They only sell absinthe, and only quality absinthes. After one year, they are looking to expand elsewhere.

THE BAD …

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Russia and Australia have pre-mixed, artificial absinthe drinks. Although a couple have hit the US, based on global developments, I doubt that this sector will survive. The recent ban on Four Loko shows, thankfully, that the US authorities are alive to the potential of abuse with such brands.

AND THE UGLY!

In some cities in Europe, absinthe binging (especially by tourists in Prague) continues. The locals get rich, the tourists get wasted and swear that they will never drink absinthe again.

WHAT HAPPENS OVER TIME … OUTSIDE THE USA …

An interesting question. Especially since many countries have seen a boom and bust as consumers come into absinthe for the wrong reasons (will they see green fairies?) and neglect to hang around for the taste. So far that hasn’t happened in the USA, although the economy hasn’t done much for drinks over $60! Bars and shops still see the opportunities; maybe 30 or more of the 70 plus absinthes approved for US launch will survive and prosper in the USA. That’s more than can be found elsewhere. Interesting to see that absinthe is having a second wind with bartenders in London, Montreal, Tokyo, even Prague ..


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Discovering good absinthes: a real renaissance is now underway there.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT .. INSIDE THE USA?

The big question.

A continued move to quality. The move to craft spirits benefits real absinthe. I doubt whether consumers will continue to buy artificially coloured and/or pre-sweetened absinthes currently available for $60 plus. I’m biased, but I am convinced that the market will move that way (as it is doing now in Europe and in some parts of Canada and Asia).

Cocktails will be key to the growth of good absinthe.  A few simple absinthe cocktails (Death in the Afternoon with champagne, caipirinhas made with absinthe instead of cachaca) will become mainstream and will drive absinthe trial.

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A partial shake-out in the US. There are more absinthes than can be sustained nationwide. Sadly some good absinthes may disappear (hopefully more at lower quality levels).

Prices won’t increase, and could well fall with the Euro’s weakness.

Not all good news, then, but more good than bad. The last few years have been wonderful for US absinthe lovers and the best is yet to come.

Santé!

Alan Moss is the Global Ambassador for La Clandestine absinthe and the main contributor to the Real Absinthe blog.



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