Préambule :

- L'histoire de l'Absinthe vue par la Maison Pernod en 1896 -
- Une recette d'Absinthe (Médicamenteuse) de Pologne de 1534 -
- Une recette d'Absinthe Anglaise (Médicamenteuse) de 1705 -

L'Origine :

Image flottante If one wants to define the date when absinthe as an aperitif was born, it can be situated somewhere in the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century in times disturbed by French revolution.
The book by l'Abbé RECOLLET entitled "NOUVELLE CHYMIE DU GOUT ET DE L'ODORAT, ou l'art de composer facilement et à peu de frais les liqueurs à boire et les eaux de senteurs" which was published in 1755, 1766 and 1774 gives us a hint where to look for the birth of then medicine that in a long run became the most popular spirit of France lasting more than 100 years.
Wormwood has been used in medicine since the antiquity. Wormwood of Saintogne (West of France) was used as vermifugum very popular in the Roman times. Nevertheless, we speak here about medicines which usually tend to be very bitter and terribly tasting, what was no wonder taking into account the extreme bitterness of the plant.
Abbé Recollet seems to have a solution towards that problem what he explains here: By maceration followed by subsequent distillation we are preserving the active ingredients as well as eliminating the bitterness. Abott claims that that liqueur excited the appétit. Wait, wait, is not it the beginning of an aperitif?
"It flatters the gout" he adds. How does he know it? Maybe Mr Abbé had been the earliest wormwood liqueur drinker long before certain Doctor Ordinaire...

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Image flottante The oldest recipe for absinthe, a spirit not medicine would be that of d'Abraham-Louis Perrenoud from around 1794 or 1797.
As you can see it is close to the recipes of the late 19th century, if the amount of wormwood is more important than that of green anise. As the handwriting is hardly readable, we may only speculate the recipe calls for the following ingredients: tall wormwood, , mint, melissa, anise, fennel, calamus, small wormwood, hyssop.
While the recipes of the 19th century are constant as regards anise content and compliant with Swiss recipes, the French based theirs on the 18th century medicament recipes thus resulting in ones with sugar and very poor in anise.

Here below we can see undoubtedly the oldest advertisement for absinthe.
Moreover, absinthe here is advertised just like kirschenwasser, so definitely a spirit for consumption, not a medicine. Taking into account there must have already been a great demand for the product, it is no wonder the producer decided to advertise it.
Reading what the modern historians claim that the producer "Perrenod fils et Boiteux" became "Pernod" in 1805 is really annoying since the advertisement in question is dated 1808
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Arrêt sur Image en 1816 :

Nota : click on picture to read full text.

C-L CADET in the second volume of "Journal de Pharmacie" delivers an interesting insight into absinthe:
1/ In the second year of the journal's publication (which will have another edition in 20 years) it clearly shows the interest in that spirit since 1816
2/ It gives us the proper name of "extrait d'absinthe de Suisse" later to be shortened to Extrait d'Absinthe Suisse" and finally to "Absinthe Suisse"
3/ It locates the place of production geographically, in the majority of the Swiss cities near the Alps
4/ Its recipe indicates the alcoholic strength (which is 24% Cartier, so 65% Gay-Lussac)
5/ It even mentions the details on the consumers'choice as to the colour (green or white)
This detail has its importance: if one colours it green, that indicates that the drink is made to be consumed as it is-neat, and not mixed with wine. On the other hand the 65% vol. would let us think that it has already been diluted. No information regarding the louche or trouble is given, though...
Moreover, were the people able to drink spirits at 65% neat?
A mystery remains when one has started diluting that spirit with water and finally why? In fact, diluting was not the natural way of spirits' consumption.
6/ It indicates again the connection with medicine.
The extrait d'absinthe Suisse" was made by Swiss pharmacists: the small alembic that the recipe calls for, the further use of the spirit for making vulneraire, the whole article is directed at the world of pharmacy.

Just like Recollet brings us in the 18th century the recipe for a medicine that is evolving into an alcoholic aperitif, Cadet in 1816 talks already about the spirit to be drunk which has its origins in the world of pharmacy.

Undoubtedly absinthe comes from Switzerland, just like vulneraire known as falltrank. The Swiss, wandering the Alps, were the specialists in bringing such medicinal plants of the mountains, moreover, it was very popular. The Swiss healers even came to Paris to distribute their products.
In fact, the pharmacists of Switzerland, whose products were already known in France and who understood how important the distribution was, created a spirit which not only tasting good, had medicinal virtues. It was obvious that the reputation of Swiss medicinal plants could have contributed to nothing else than success.
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1820 - L'Absinthe et Napoléon :

Is absinthe drunk in Café Lemblin in Paris where the soldiers had their rest ?
Was absinthe the tipple of choice of the Great Army ?
And Napoleon, was he an absinthe drinker?
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1824 - Problèmes sanitaires :

Some modern authors want us to believe that absinthe suffered from unjust prohibition of 1915 which was the result of conspiracy.
Some blame the wine lobbies, some make unfounded associations with freemasonry or the anti-Dreyfuss movement. The text from 1824 which you can read below clearly gives a description of symptoms connected with absinthe consumption. During more than one century, absinthe has undergone many attacks which brought about its prohibition. It is surprising to see to how well absinthe fought back many of the medical accusations. Its toxicity has never been proven scientifically if noted several times in minor cases.
Absinthe is as immortal as the Phoenix
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1828 - Petite Absinthe et Anis :

Image flottante In 1828 absinthe is well-known to the public, the phase of discovery is far behind us.
The author of the article below, J-J Virey decides to inform people about the finest absinthe, to indicate its supremacy again, the one coming from Switzerland.
Virey is more than conscious that there already is a production of French absinthe in full swing-absinthe of lesser quality. Due to the fact, absinthe is not a fashion, but in regular consumption, one has to seek standards of the quality and inform the consumers.

In the article, Virey talks about manufacture and consumption
1/ The success of the original Swiss absinthe lies in the use of genepi, a small wormwood from the Alps, much more aromatic than Artemisia pontica.
The problem is that genepi is not suitable for mass consumption because it is difficult to domesticate and must be cultivated at high altitudes.
It confirms that especially in France, instead of genepi, pontica is used, what gives worse results but as pontica is bigger and cultivated more easily-it will soon dominate the Swiss recipes as well, what will be a natural outcome of genepi getting scarcier and scarcier and in the increase of demand for absinthe
2/ The end of article reveals the method of consumption, absinthe is drunk with water and the use of anise in absinthe what is responsible for "trouble" is Swiss idea. One can speculate, but maybe in 1828 absinthes made in France were still low in anise?

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Recette Française 1831 :

A standard French style absinthe recipe of 1831.
Low in anise.
What piques our interest is the precised mentioning of using fresh flowertops of wormwood. Fresh wormwood corresponds to three times its weight of dried wormwood what might be the explanation for the incredible quantities of wormwood used in the recipes from the early 19th century.
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1832 - Le Médicament Fléau :

Image flottante Fake absinthe quickly follows as they are born the same time. The text below, of 1832, is an evidence for those who may doubt.
"A poor man, who imitates everything the rich man does, fancies drinking wormwood water and that liquor, after brandy, is one that is the most popular amongst the people of Paris".
The cycle is repeated, whenever the rich devote themselves to a new drug, it becomes fashion, when the poor imitate it, it becomes plague.

At the beginning of the text, author assures us that absinthe was born in the early 19th century and was of Swiss origin.
Furthermore, it confirms the medicinal roots of absinthe.

When confronted with the text of 1828, it is now clear that it was the Swiss who transformed a medicine into an aperitif mainly due to the inclusion of green anise to make it louche once the water is added. Originally, it was the way of drinking spirit for medicinal purposes, after all.
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Coup de butoir de 1845 :

Who knows that absinthe was already prohibited in 1845?
It all started with a letter of the prefect of Aveyron to the Minister of War. It concerns one of his fellow citizens and the defense of his trade (absinthe maker, that is).
The prefect, on the example of anti-absinthe propaganda article teaches us about absinthe killing almost as much as Arabes in the Army of Africa, as well as 4 officers, two from the department of health, who returned to France suffering from mental disease due to the overindulgence in absinthe.

Nota : Click on picture to read full texte.

The Ministry of War orders an investigation.
Samples are taken and analysed.
No adulteration of the seized absinthes is mentioned.
Therefore department of health of the army concludes the problem is directly connected with the high degree of alcohol of the spirit as well as the essential oils it includes that can be blamed for causing excitation.
Prohibition of absinthe amongst the troops in Algeria becomes a fact October 3, 1845

Coup de butoir de 1861 :

This time we have a prefect of police accusing absinthe of not being good for health.
The investigation is interesting as it concerns more than 20 Paris absinthe makers.
However neither possible adulteration, nor any evidence is found.
Absinthes in question vary in alcoholic strength, though-33-72% and their recipes are analysed. Nevertheless since there is no homogeneity amongst the producers, it is recommended to make absinthe limited to 45% abv.

Nota : Click on picture to read full text.

Following that investigation, it is not stated whether the limit to 45% had ever been implemented.
However, the law prohibiting absinthe amongst the troops in Algeria is in action. What a sincere and just world of law it is!

Coup de butoir de 1871 :

A sudden impact comes in 1871 when we can observe a significant increase in the taxation of absinthe.
Absinthe is taxed as if it were a pure alcohol! Maybe for absinthe at 65%, a brutal increase of 100-65=35% relates to alcohol, but it has a pernicious effect for the alcoholic strength-no matter if absinthe is bottled at 45% or 72%, the tax is the same, what makes it understandable there was no interest in lowering alcoholic strength.
However, the attack in on the herb itself, not on the spirit alone !

1883 - Edouard Pernod revendique encore l'utilisation du Génépi :

In 1883, Joseph Favre writes a text of absinthe made by Edouard Pernod which presents the historical use of genepi in Switzerland. The article points out again the Swiss and pharmacist origin of absinthe. It even includes a small anecdote about Napoleon Bonaparte, at the time of his crossing of St Bernard in 1800. Who knew even the Emperor could contribute to the success of the spirit.

It makes it clear that the first absinthe recipes called for genepi. Favre explains it by terms of petite and grande absinthe where Artemisia rupestris is petite absinthe and thus glacialis would be grande. Artemisia absinthium is not mentioned at all.

It is a pity that article comes so late. Virey is not in opposition to that idea which also rejects Artemisia absinthium. Nevertheless, we touch upon the sacred field of consumers and the so-called "experts" who see the absolute evil in claiming Artemisia pontica cannot be referred to as "petite absinthe".

Edouard Pernod is proud of using genepi for the colouration in 1883 and it is in fact a part of advertising argument. (Well, he does not say to us to use genepi instead of artemisia absinthium in the distillation, undoubtedly the consumers of 1883 would not like that idea.).

Regarding the text itself it is one of few on the defensive side whereas the majority from these days were sponsored by anti-absinthe lobbies and were slowly leading to the definitive ban.

.... 1915, Interdiction totale ....

.... 2011, Le Phénix renaît ....

(Translated by "BOGGY" for your pleasure.)