The Absinthe Revival
La Fée Absinthe
We are to focus on the detail of Absinthe’s Renaissance, though first here are some of the main differences within real Absinthe, and key pre-ban dates…
Copyright and ownership: La Fée, La Fée Absinthe Parisienne & The La Fée Eye device are trademarks and/or registered trademarks of Green Utopia ltd. and/or La Fée LLP ©, UK Brand and Trademark owner. International distributor: BBH Spirits
La Fée Absinthe
The name Absinthe is derived from the Latin for Grand Wormwood: Artemisia Absinthium. In Greek Mythology Artemis is Goddess of the Hunt, Forests and Hills.
Core ingredients: Grand Absinthe (Grand Wormwood/Artemisia Absinthium)
Green and/or Star Anis (source of the classic louche)
And a variety of other herbs to each distillers choosing… (La Fée Absinthe Parisienne contains a secret ingredient a rare herb which the museum insists is present and adds to its balance)
Which styles were/are most popular?
*Historical Consumption: 90% (France & her colonial empire) 10% (mainly in Switzerland)
*Renaissance Consumption: 75% (mainly international USA, UK) 12.5% (Mainly Switzerland and USA)
(12.5% New Modern Czech Style)
*Based on BBH & La Fée market research, and trading Absinthe for over 13 years
1792 – Following initial works by Mère Henriod, Frenchman Dr. Pierre Ordinaire develops his first version of Absinthe in Couvet, Switzerland.
1805 – Henri-Louis Pernod opens a distillery in Pontarlier, France, 30km from Couvet
(Absinthe distilling spreads across France over the next 100 years)
Mid C19th – French Government issue Absinthe to soldiers to ward of disease, becoming even more popular in the boulevards and Cafés of Paris and other major cities.
1870 – Phylloxera decimates vineyards across Europe and especially France – Absinthe becomes the perfect replacement for wine, accelerating Absinthe’s popularity.
1890’s – 1915 cult status gone, and now enjoyed by millions during the heyday of the Moulin Rouge.
1906 – Belgium
1908 / 1910 – Switzerland
1912 – United States of America
1914 / 1915 – France
1932 Italy (by referendum)
Politics: Wine producers looking to recover their former market
The Temperance Movement gaining momentum
There would have been some un-regulated poor quality production – causing alcohol poisoning
The Out Break of the Great War: WW1
In the UK, Gin (Mother’s Ruin) was also vilified (C18th), but today is a very respectable category – as Absinthe will become!
The Absinthe Revival
Setting the precedent all commercial Absinthe follows today
Top: Extract from the document made available to all UK County Councils (from November 1998) to prove legality of absinthe
Bottom: Extract from EEC directive covering thujone in food and drink
21st June 1998:
a] George Rowley commissioned the first test that applied the EU directive for food and drink to commercial Absinthe
b] Crucially the testing included Thujone, showing distilled Grand Wormwood in Absinthe spirits results in less than 10 ppm Thujone, being an approved level in all spirits under EU regulations.
There are no specific rules for Absinthe: We threw the EU food and drink legal rulebook at Absinthe, setting the guidelines all commercial Absinthes follow around the world to this day – this precedent has enabled the Absinthe categories safe return [Signatures included; UK Trading Standards, the EU approved laboratory and GWR – dated 8th July 1998]
Absinthe takes a wrong turn: invoking the fury of the French Absinthe Museum in Auvers~Sur~Oise and Marie-Claude Delahaye!
We launch Absinth (no “e” – modern Czech version) in Europe in the United Kingdom with the modern Sugar and Burn ritual (see above).
Launched November 1998 at the Groucho Club, Soho, London by Green Bohemia (George Rowley, Tom Hodgkinson, Gavin Pretor-Pinney & John Moore)
Our first customer
What did we do wrong? – Lots!!!
Wrong Colour – Electric Blue
Wrong Taste – Minimal Anis
Wrong country – Not French or Swiss
Could we return real Absinthe to France?
Returning the distilling, bottling and labelling of true Absinthe to France:
February 1999: George visited the Museum with Jane Rowley (fiancée now wife), Helen Cocaign (friend in Paris) for our first meeting with Marie-Claude Delahaye:
The fact finding mission was limited, as Marie-Claude recognized George from the UK Press – we had a difficult first meeting as Marie-Claude was 100% against my activities – effectively accusing us of misleading the public with our Czech Fauxsinthe… She was right (although it was not deliberate), and it took several attempts to persuade Marie-Claude that we were equally serious and wished to return true Absinthe.
Team La Fée
Finding the right people to recreate a traditional French Absinthe:
1, Marie-Claude Delahaye (The French Absinthe Museum, Auvers~Sur~Oise) Absinthe writer & historian: This would give La Fée an assurance that what we distil would be historically accurate .
2, Christian Camax: Master Distiller of Pastis, based in the periphery of Paris, whose distillery had historic links with Absinthe production. He also brought with him access to old copper stills. Christian recently retired and his works are being ably carried through by Cherry Rocher.
3, George Rowley: Brand and category development, management, distribution (BBH Spirits).
Green Utopia Ltd. was formed, which later would become La Fée LLP, operating under the directive: To return traditional Absinthe distilling to France, following strict guidelines on Provenance, Authenticity and Quality.
At this time absinthe was considered to be totally illegal in France, following the ban of 1915.
Working with Marie-Claude Delahaye
In May 1999, George wrote to Marie-Claude, explaining his proposition…
Extract from the original letter: ‘Following our visit to your museum earlier this year I took full note of your comments you made on the subject of true French Absinthe. Unfortunately as we all know it is illegal under French Law to produce any form of absinthe at present. To start the delicate process of trying to reverse this situation I am in the process of forming a new company that is to be Anglo-French with global marketing aspirations for Absinthe. The sole objective of the company is to produce the most authentic French Absinthe that one can legally make and sell under EU Law.’
Development 1999 / 2000
Under a veil of secrecy, recipes were trialled, rejected and reworked… Until a balance of Wormwood and Anis with the other herbs was found: A work in progress…
Finding a distiller was not easy, George’s first visit was to Ryssen, near Calais. After a successful meeting they declined to proceed due to Absinthe’s historical reputation.
Then came Suprex, in Paris, where we met Christian Camax, who then agreed to work with Marie-Claude and George on project La Fée.
Many numbered samples were sent by Christian to both Marie-Claude and George, and here are some examples of the correspondence between us (often written the museum’s on postcards) fine tuning the La Fée recipe.
Approval arrives from Directorate-General of Customs and Indirect Taxes: Absinthe for Export only! 25th May 2000
Real Absinthe Returned To France By Team La Fée in 2000:
George Rowley & Marie-Claude Delahaye launch the first Absinthe to be distilled in France since the 1915 Ban; at the Groucho Club, Soho, London – 25th July 2000
France’s leading drinks company recommended La Fée…
Published in 2001 by Pernod Ricard UK (Pernod-Ricard at this time owned Wild Turkey) recommended La Fée Absinthe* in their Wild Sazerac.
*”As an alternative to La Fée Absinthe, try Pernod.” (At this time Pernod did not produce any Pernod aux extraits de plantes d’absinthe)
Pernod join the Party: late 2001/2002
This was an important event for Absinthe’s future as a category: Pernod’s (the world’s second largest drinks company) action in producing Pernod aux extraits de plantes d’absinthe @ 68%ABV helped reinforce the categories future and the work Team La Fée had carried out to date.
Absinthe production across France starts to open up:
Guy Distillery, Pontarlier – a favourite of ours.
Absente initially without the key ingredient Grand Absinthe; similar to Pastis, lower ABV, partly targeting USA, where Absinthe was still banned until 2007.
Versinthe first product was a cold soak with added sugar at 45%ABV, though did contain some wormwood technically not an Absinthe and labeled as an ANIS spirit, similar to Pastis. We believe in around 2002 they produced their first distilled Absinthe: Versinthe La Blanche.
Who did what & when? It’s best to contact the respective distilleries, only remember: Absinthe is distilled and has no added sugar to qualify, ideally 68% to 72% ABV and Verte if French and the label should say Absinthe (refer above: What is Absinthe?)
La Fée’s first sales in France: 2003
In 2003 the first bottles of La Fée were sold in France, using the terminology Aux Plantes d’Absinthe. (All exports since 2000 are labelled Absinthe)
Our first order for France
French Customs held the goods in their grey area. It took 6 months of proving its was legal for them to finally release to our client in France.
Because of the French public’s state of mind toward Absinthe is one of being generally illegal, La Fée focused all our efforts on export and education around the world, based on Provenance, Authenticity and Quality; PAQ… With the aim of reinforcing the Absinthe category and La Fée Brand in all main markets.
As Drunk By…
Team Saatchi Creates its First Campaign for La Fée Absinthe.
Team Saatchi created a series of press ads promoting La Fée Absinthe in the UK.
The Toulouse Lautrec and Van Gogh appeared in selected lifestyle and art publications such as Art Review, whose readership would appreciate both the brand and its history.
The campaign was developed on behalf of Green Utopia (La Fée LLP)/BBH Spirits, who produce and market the La Fée Absinthe brand worldwide.
Cherry Rocher (Distilling Since 1705): distil La Fée Absinthe Parisienne from 2007
La Fée was distilled in Paris from 2000 to 2007. The stills were dismantled under the umbrella of La Martiniquaise and La Fée distilling was moved south, to the Rhone Valley at Cherry Rocher, who’s distilling heritage dates back to 1705.
Bottling to this day is maintained in Paris for our core folio (La Fée Absinthe Parisienne, Bohemian and NV Absinthe Verte) with our La Fée X.S range being distilled and bottled in Pontarlier (France) and Couvet (Switzerland), then transported to our central hub for all La Fee’s bonded and logistical operations – now exporting to over 38 countries, and including 22 states in the USA.
Taking Absinthe Ultra Premium
2005: Following the lifting of the Swiss ban, La Fée started a project to take Absinthe from Premium to Ultra Premium by introducing a wine based Amer Absinthe in the respective birthplace of absinthe and her spiritual home, being:
Couvet, Switzerland: La Fée X.S Suisse – working with the best local master distiller
Pontarlier, France: La Fée X.S Française – working with the best local master distiller (launched side-by-side in 2006)
The Mayor of presenting George with the Gold Spoon for the third year running at the Absinthiades. We were banned last year, having won in 2007, 2008 & 2009 (3 straight wins and you’re out, giving others a chance!)
2007 USA Ban lifted
A brand-new French product: Lucid (62%abv – American owned) launched in the USA in 2007. This was after America adopted the rules on Thujone (which we used for Europe in 1998) via the codex committee on food additives in December 2006: Crucially, Zero Thujone was re-classified as 10ppm or less in a Spirit they did not adopt the 35 ppm allowed for Amers in the EU, opening up the USA to the spirit.
They just beat Kubler (a Swiss Absinthe) as first to this new market. In 2008 a German company published data showing pre-ban absinthe contained levels of Thujone which were no greater than those found in traditional (French Verte recipe) distilled absinthe like La Fée today. Reinforcing what we discovered in 2000 when Marie-Claude Delahaye, Cristian Camax and myself launched the first real French Absinthe, since the 1915 ban: Now called La Fée Absinthe Parisienne and exported globally.
Front Page of the joint World Health & Food and Agriculture Organisations Codex on Food Additives. December 2006
TTB Guidelines on Absinthe, which is not recognised as a category in the USA
La Fée Launch in the USA – 2008
July 2008: Marie-Claude Delahaye & George Rowley travel to New York to launch La Fée Absinthe Parisienne. The event was held at the Openhouse Gallery, SoHo, NYC.
Following this launch La Fée (Absinthe Parisienne our legally required fanciful name) proceeded to expand across the USA; now available in 22 states. This was later joined by NV (Absinthe Verte our fanciful name). NV stands for ENVY
La Fée Launch in the USA – 2008
Available in 38 countries, including USA ( 22 States ), UK. France, Italy, Dubai, South Africa, India, China, Brazil, Australia etc.
Full List www.lafee.com/buy-now
Repeal of the French Absinthe Ban
Institutions: The Spirits Business Absinthe Masters (London), Absinthiades (Pontarlier), International Wine & Spirits Comp. (London), International Spirits Challenge (London), San Francisco World Spirits Comp., Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Fair, Chicago Beverage Testing Institute
From left to right: Marie-Claude Delahaye, Marie-Delphine Benech (FFS), Luc Laborie (La Martiniquaise), George & Jane Rowley meeting in Paris in April 2010 presenting dossier of evidence to FFS
October 2009: Swiss Judge in Bern awards IPG to distillers in Val-de-Travers region for geographical protection of Absinthe across Switzerland.
April 2010: First meeting of the FFS (Fédération Française des Spiritueux) for French Absinthe distillers La Fée present a dossier of evidence to support France’s position against the possible harmonisation of this IPG across the EU (copy of the dossier is included with this presentation on the USB drive)
The French position is difficult to defend whilst the Absinthe Ban of 1915 still stands; restricting any future defence if the Swiss try to harmonise the IPG across Europe.
Ambassadors for Real Absinthe Around the world
Sydney Bar Show
Slow Food, Turin
Tales of the Cocktail, NOLA
Some Celebrities… with La Fée
Dita Von Teese
Black Eyed Peas
George Rowley, Marie-Claude Delahaye & Jean Cristophe Novelli
Lifting the Ban?
YES: France claims its rightful place on the world stage for the Absinthe category… A part of her heritage and a national right!
NO: French are prevented from making and selling French Absinthe anywhere in the world… But would be forced to sell Swiss Absinthe regardless.