Absinthe?

Sthenno

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They sell absinthe in wetherspoon's now, which is a mildly worrying thought. As shots or 'bullrush' - red bull, vodka and absinthe. It must be really watered down though as I've had nine before and been fine, and I'm only a wee girl...
 

Bilderberger

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My local CASA bar sells Absinthe. It is the Sebor stuff, which I have always assumed to be sanitised stuff - with as much mind-bending property as Jack Daniels. I think it is £4 per shot - and you get it in a mini little bong thing - which you get to keep.

If I got to the stage where I was thinking "you know what, I'm gonna have an Absinthe" I think it would be unlikely that I would be able to take a small ornate glass bong home safely..........
 
A

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ethelred said:
the same is claimed for Tequela which has its origins in Peyote
Yeah, but isn't that specifically Mescal Tequila, the one with the worm in the bottom that lives in Peyote cactii and feeds off the mescaline that the plant contains?

Anyone eaten the worm? Does it give you an opiate high?
 
A

Anonymous

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Tequila is superb stuff. Great for dancing. Although I used to know a slightly worrying bloke who would pour it in his eye!

I think that the only reason you get high off the worm is because you've already drunk a whole bottle to get to it!
 
A

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Angelo said:
I think that the only reason you get high off the worm is because you've already drunk a whole bottle to get to it!

Hehe, quite probably - a good excuse to vomit too!! :spinning
 

_Lizard23_

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As far as I am aware (please note, the following contains half-remembered facts and opinions based on personal experience):

Tequilla is made from agave (?) cactus and has nothing to do with peyote or any other mescaline-bearing cactus, the "mescal" worm being something else entirely from mescaline, and a sad affectation of macho drinkers which South American people no doubt find hysterical.

Absinthe was banned in France because it was the contemporary equivalent of strong white cider - cheap and nasty and drunk by layabouts .... not because of any proven neurotoxicity.
Bootleg Absinthe (called, if I recall, Le Bleu or La Bleue?) did however cause blindness etc due to the presence of wood alcohol and adulterants (as with Potcheen and other illicit spirits).

The Czech Absinthes which have become popular are recent and over-hyped inventions and contain very little other than aniseed (or star anise), alcohol and colouring and sometimes odd flavourings to make them seem more exotic, and many of them do not even louche (go cloudy with the addition of water, which as far as I am aware is the only traditional method of drinking such spirits, although sugar was also added to absinthe as unlike Pernod which is disgustingly sweet, it was probably rather sharp).

Wormwood, and to a lesser extent sage, do contain thujone which is mildly psychoactive - not hallucinogenic as such.

The Spanish have been quietly making absinthe all along, and brands such as Deva are extremely palatable mixed long with water and with a little sugar added and do seem to have a slightly something-that-other-strong-spirits-don't-have feel to them - a slight stimulant effect. I cannot emphasise enough that absinthe was not and is not a hallucinogenic substance, it will not make you "trip" any more than any other alcoholic beverage, no matter how much of it you drink.

Anyone who drinks strong spirits, especially neat and/or in large quantities in the hope of attaining some sort of non-alcohol induced "high" is asking for health problems, either acute or chronic, and anyone who pays up to £4 a shot for what is essentially little more than coloured vodka in a bar is an idiot.
 

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The Mystery of the Green Menace

The Mystery of the Green Menace
It's been celebrated as a muse and banned as a poiso n. Now an obsessed microbiologist has cracked the code for absinthe - and distilled his own.
By Brian Ashcraft


At first, Ted Breaux dismissed the urgent warnings on TV and radio. He even ignored the sirens that started blaring Saturday afternoon. "The last two times they evacuated the city, I stayed," says Breaux, 39, a chemist and environmental microbiologist. But when he woke up on Sunday, August 28, the hurricane had become a Category 5 and was still bearing down on New Orleans. He decided it was time to get out of his house on the floodplain just south of Lake Pontchartrain. He packed his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution with all the essentials: clothes, toiletries, a laptop, some WorldWar IIrifles, am mo, and $15,000 worth of absinthe.

It took Breaux six hours to go 20 miles, and a full day to reach refuge in Huntsville, Alabama. He spent the next week watching Fox News, looking at aerial photos of New Orleans on his laptop, wondering if his friends had made it out, and cursing himself for not remembering to grab his original 1908 copy of Aux Pays d'Absinthe.

Raised in New Orleans, a city once dubbed the Absinthe Capital of the World, Breaux has long been fascinated with the drink. Absinthe is a 140-proof green liqueur made from herbs like fennel, anise, and the exceptionally bitter leaves of Artemisia absinthium. That last ingredient, also known as wormwood, gives the drink its name - and itssinister reputation. For a century, absinthe has been demonized and outla wed, based on the belief that it leads to absinthism - far worse than mere alcoholism. Drinking it supposedly causes epilepsy and "crim inal dementia."

Breaux has made understanding the drink his life's work. He has pored over hundred-year-old texts, few of them in English. He has corresponded with other amateur liquor historians. The more he's learned, the more he's felt compelled to use his knowledge of chemistry to crack the absinthe code, figure out exactly what's in it, puncture the myths surrounding it - and maybe even drink a glass or two.

Dressed in a black muscle T-shirt, blue jeans, and a Dolce & Gabbana belt, Breaux looks as if he'd be more at home on Bourbon Street than in a research lab. It's a humid summer morning in July, about a month before Hurricane Katrina will strike, and he's showing me around Environmental Analytical Solutions Inc., a chemical testing facility among the warehouses and body shops near Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

On the outside, EASI is classic New Orleans: red brick, white pillars. But inside it's more like a set from WarGames: dot matrix printers, ancient PCs, and nine Hewlett-Packard gas chromatography-mass spectrometer machines attached to large blue tanks of helium and hydrogen. This is where Breaux does his lab work, testing water samples for pollution and pesticides. In his downtime, he studies absinthe here.

Using the GCMS app aratus, he's able to break the liqueur down into its component molecules. "It's like forensics," Breaux says, gesturing toward the machines. "Give me one microliter of absinthe and I know exactly what it's going to taste like."

Breaux explains how the testing works. He takes a bottle of the liqueur, inserts a syringe through the cork (absinthe oxidizes like wine once the bottle is open), and extracts a few milliliters. He transfers the sample into a vial, which is lifted by a robotic arm into the gas chromatography tower. There it is separated into its components. Then the mass spectrometer identifies them and measures their relative quantities.

One of the ingredients is thujone, a compound in wormwood that is toxic if it's ingested, capable of causing violent seizures and kidney failure. Breaux hands me a bottle of pure liquid thujone. "Take a whiff," he says with an evil grin. I recoil at the odor - it's like menthol laced with napalm. This is the noxious chemical compound responsible for absinthe's bad reputation. The question that's been debated for years is, Just how much thujone is there in absinthe?

Absinthe was first distilled in 1792 in Switzerland, where it was marketed as a medicinal elixir, a cure for stomach ailments. High concentrations of chlorophyll gave it a rich olive color. In the 19th century, people began turning to the minty drink less for pains of the stomach than for pains of the soul. Absinthe came to be associated with artists and Moulin Rouge bohemians. Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Van Gogh, and Picasso were devotees. Toulouse-Lautrec carried some in a hollowed-out cane. Oscar Wilde wrote, "What difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset?" Soon absinthe was the social lubricant of choice for a broad swath of Europeans - artists and otherwise. In 1874, the French sipped 700,000 liters of the stuff; by the turn of the century, consumption had shot up to 36 million liters, driven in part by a phylloxera infestation that had devastated the wine-grape harvest.

By the early 20th century, absinthe was becoming popular in America. It found a natural reception in New Orleans, where the bon temps were already rolling. Breaux's own great-grandparents were known to enjoy an occasional glass. But the drink was drawing fire for its thujone content. "It is truly madness in a bottle, and no habitual drinker can claim that he will not become acriminal," declared one politician. The anti-absinthe fervor climaxed in 1905, when Swiss farmer Jean Lanfrayshot his pregnant wife and two daughters after downing two glasses. (Overlooked was what else Lanfray consumed that day: crème de menthe, cognac, seven glasses of wine, coffee with brandy, and another liter of wine.) By the end of World War I, the "green menace" was made illegal everywhere in western Europe except Spain. No reputable distillery still made it.

The son of a NASA engineer, Breaux was always interested in how things work. At 13, he snuck out at night and rode his bike to the University of Louisiana campus to hack into its mainframe. "I'd snoop in people's records and ste al the source code for videogames," he says. When he was 14, he figured out how to hot-wire bulldozers left overnight at construction sites; he and his friends would stage races. Later, while majoring in microbiology in Lafa yette, Breaux tended bar and developed an interest in the chemistry of liquor. "Why is this tequila better than that one? Because it's aged a certain length of time or made with a higher concentration of a certain plant," he says. "I could see the science in it."

Breaux became a connoisseur at a young age. He was she lling out a hundred bucks for cognac and mystifying his college buddies by bringing Martell Cordon Bleu to par ties. So it's no wonder that, a decade later, immersed in the history and makeup of absinthe, he was eager to taste the stuff. But it was nearly impossible to find. He had to content himself with its paraphernalia. While walking through the French Quarter one Saturday morning a decade ago, he spotted an absinthe spoon in the window of an antique shop. The slotted, sieve-like device was an essential part of the ritual of preparing the drink: You placed a sugar cube on the spoon and slowly poured cold water through it to dilute the strong liqueur. Breaux started stockpiling absinthe accessories, but this proved to be a frustrating tease. "It was like having a pipe but nothing to smoke."

So Breaux decided to make some himself. He found a French-language history book with "pre-ban protocols," a vague description of how absinthe was made back before it was outlawed. Ar med with the protocols, he prepared a batch in the lab. The result? "Not very good," he concedes. "I couldn't imag ine that being the most popular liqueur in France."

He got his chance to taste the real thing in 1996, when a friend spotted a bottle marked "old French liquor" at an estate sale. They were asking $300, and Breaux, seeing it was a vintage Spanish Pernod Tar ragona absinthe, immediately wrote a check. When he got it to his lab, he plunged a syringe through the cork, extracted one precious sip, and downed it. "It had a honeyed texture, distinct herbal and floral notes, and a gentle roundness uncharacteristic of such a strong liquor," he says. "Those protocols were crap."

Breaux wasn't the only one rediscovering the long-banned beverage. In Europe, food regulations adopted by the EU in 1988 had neglected to mention absinthe, and when they superseded national laws, the drink was effectively re-legalized. New distilleries were popping up all over Europe, selling what Breaux dismisses as "mouthwash and vodka in a bottle, with some aromatherapy oil." Absinthe had disappeared so completely for so long that no one knew how to make it anymore. Including Breaux, who continued trying to reverse engineer it in his lab.

The new absinthes became popular among hipsters, just as the drink had been 125 years before. But now the presence of thujone was a selling point. Marilyn Manson boasted of recording an album while "on" absinthe. Johnny Depp compared its effects to marijuana. "Drink too much," he said, "and you suddenly realize why Van Gogh cut off his ear."

This wasn't just idle celebrity conjecture. In a 1989 Scientific American article, an American biochemist named Wilfred Arnold hypothesized that Van Gogh's insanity (acute intermittent porphyria, he speculated) was caused by the thujone in absinthe. Based on the description of raw materials used to make the liqueur, Arnold calculated that the thujone content was a dangerous 250 parts per million. "I would advise not drinking it," he says.

Breaux rejects Arnold's methodology. "He didn't take the effects of the distillation process into account," Breaux says. "He made a WAG - a wild-assed guess." Breaux wanted to settle the thujone question once and for all. And he was uniquely positioned to do so. "Back when the original was around, they didn't have any decent analytical chemistry. And when Arnold performed his research, he didn't have any samples of the original liqueur. I have both," he says.

At the EASI lab, Breaux ran tests on the pre-ban absinthe samples, as well as on samples spiked with thujone (from the very bottle I had sniffed). This allowed him to isolate the toxic compound. He spent his free time studying the test results, and late one night in June 2000 he had his answer. "I was stunned. Everything that I had been told was complete nonsense." In the antique absinthes he had collected, the thujone content was an order of magnitude smaller than Arnold's predictions. In many instances, it was a homeopathically minuscule 5 parts per million.

Breaux went public with his findings, but not in a peer-reviewed scholarly journal. "Here I am with just a bachelor's in microbiology. I knew I could be tarred and feathered." Instead, he posted his test results in the discussion threads at La Fee Verte, an online gathering place for absinthe geeks. Flame wars erupted, and Breaux cited his research to buttress his point about thujone concentrations. The site's moderator eventually dubbed him "elite absinthe enforcer."

Breaux's conclusions were vindicated in early 2005, when a food-safety group working for the German government tested pre-ban absinthe. Dirk Lachenmeier, who ran the study (called "Thujone - Cause of Absinthism?") concluded that absinthe is not any more harmful than other spirit drinks. But the biggest vindication came at the Absinth des Jahres contest in 2004, for which expert judges sampled newly distilled absinthes from all over the world. A little-known candidate, Nouvelle-Orléans, garnered perfect scores and won a gold medal. "Without doubt, the release of Nouvelle-Orléans was a milestone in the history of modern absinthe," says Arthur Frayn, one of the judges. The distiller? Ted Breaux.

"You can read a paragraph or two on how to make wine, but that doesn't mean you're going to make Chateau Latour," says Breaux. "What I've done is, I've made a Chateau Latour." In the process of proving that absinthe wasn't insanity-inducing poison, he had cracked its code. He'd sourced the concentrations of all the herbs it contained and even traced them to their original regions of cultivation. He knew precisely which classes of wine spirits those herbs were combined with. Making and marketing his own brand was the next logical step. "Nouvelle-Orléans is part vintage absinthe, part Ted Breaux, and part New Orleans flair," he says.

Nouvelle-Orléans is just one absinthe formulation Breaux has mastered. He also makes re-creations of pre-ban bottles. He shows me one that he just distilled, based on an Edouard Pernod absinthe, and I'm dying to taste it. Breaux begins to prepare it in the traditional French manner, a process as intricate as a tea ceremony. First he decants a couple of ounces into two widemouthed glasses specially made for the drink. A strong licorice aroma wafts across the table. Then he adds 5 or 6 ounces of ice-cold water, letting it trickle through a silver dripper into the glass. "Pour it slowly," he says. "That's the secret to making it taste good. If the water's too warm, it will taste like donkeypiss."

The drink turns milky, and a condensate floats to the top. This is called the louche, a word that's come to mean "disreputable." Breaux hands it to me and tells me there's no need to stir away the louche or add sugar to an absinthe this fine. I take a sip. The flavor is subtle, dry, complex. It makes my tongue feel a little numb.

"It's like an herbal speedball," he says. "Some of the compounds are excitatory, some are sedative. That's the real reason artists liked it. Drink two or three glasses and you can feel the effects of the alcohol, but your mind stays clear - you can still work."

Breaux is on his second glass, and I'm still finishing my first as he brings me up to speed on the latest developments in his ongoing absinthe detective story - if most of the thujone isn't present in the drink, where has it gone? "My initial estimation was that it's left behind in the distillation process. But now, I think it probably evaporates out of the Artemisia absinthium when it dries," he says.

I take a few swallows from my second glass of the 140-proof liquor with increasingly unsteady hands. "Americans drink to get drunk," observes Breaux. "Whereas in France, getting drunk is just a consequence of sampling too much wine you really like." I'm starting to feel very, very French.

In between hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Ted Breaux went back to New Orleans. He snuck past two police checkpoints and into the Gentilly Terrace neighborhood to survey the damage to his home. Its contents were destroyed, and it reeked of sewage and rot. The house will need to be bulldozed. Breaux says he won't rebuild on that spot, which is 8 feet below sea level. But neither will he flee the city where his family has lived for 200 years. "I just don't know what's going to happen next."

One thing Breaux knows is that his work with absinthe will go on. Nouvelle-Orléans is distilled in France and sold only in Europe. Absinthe is still illegal in the US under FDA regulations. ("But American connoisseurs are able to find it," he says cryptically.) Breaux supervises its production in the small Loire Valley town of Saumur, at a beautiful old distillery with ironwork by Gustave Eiffel and 125-year-old absinthe-making equipment. He struck a deal with the Combier family, which owns the factory. "I said, let me distill here, and I'll help you create new liqueurs," Breaux says.

Later this year, the partners will release their latest innovation - a liqueur made from tobacco. Specifically, a strong, spicy strain of tobacco called Perique, which Breaux claims is the world's rarest commercial crop. "It's grown on one 15-acre plot in south Louisiana, near Convent." Tobacco beverages are tricky to prepare - and even more scarce than absinthe. After all, as Breaux explains, "nicotine is toxic if it's ingested."

Contributing editor Brian Ashcraft ([email protected]) wrote about the film Sin City in issue 13.04.

Absinthe
 

INT21

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I can't open the link on absinth to check it.

I if I recall correctly the original stuff contained Wormwood. This is highly toxic and lead to the expression 'Absinth makes the brain cells wander'.
 
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ramonmercado

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Ok, now add alcohol etc.

One of the country's rarest and most threatened wild plants has "astounded" conservationists by thriving on an industrial-estate nature reserve.

The field wormwood plants grow on one of the tiniest reserves in England in Brandon, Suffolk. Botanists and volunteers of the group Plantlife said the number of flowering plants had rocketed from two in 2019, to 85 at the latest count. Plantlife said traffic at the site kept hungry deer and rabbits away.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-suffolk-55908473
 

Herr Cloaca

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Tequilla is made from agave (?) cactus and has nothing to do with peyote or any other mescaline-bearing cactus, the "mescal" worm being something else entirely from mescaline, and a sad affectation of macho drinkers which South American people no doubt find hysterical.
It's blue agave, which isn't a cactus. It looks a bit like a pineapple. They chop the leaves off and chuck the core into ovens. The worm isn't a worm, it's a caterpillar.

Absinthe was banned in France because it was the contemporary equivalent of strong white cider - cheap and nasty and drunk by layabouts .... not because of any proven neurotoxicity.
Correct.
 

ChasFink

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The reason for the ban in France (and elsewhere) is more complex. Following a grape blight that led to inferior wine and higher prices, wine producers staged a campaign against distilled spirits, especially the popular absinthe, claiming it was more detrimental to health than the "natural" alcohol of wine. This slowly gained momentum in harmony with the general worldwide temperance movement, and reached a peak with the Jean Lanfray story mentioned in the lengthy quote in ramonmercado's post #37 above. The fact that thujone, a poisonous substance, was known to be in the product helped the demonization.

Many modern absinthe aficionados doubt the high thujone levels attributed to pre-ban absinthe, and those who can afford to buy ancient bottles of the stuff say it was quite like the quality modern product. By the way, the vodka-and-mouthwash brands some have mentioned in this thread, often associated with Bohemia or the Czech Republic generally, are not absinthe in the classical sense. They are flavored and colored formulas, not distilled with botanicals as true absinthe is. That's why many took to igniting the sugar - not something done in old France: the Czech stuff won't get cloudy when water is added, but the hot sugar syrup will simulate the effect. (These products are usually labeled "absinth", without the "e".)

I have tasted several brands of modern absinthe, and can say it does not cause hallucinations. Levels of thujone that could cause this would also likely be near- deadly. However, I think there may be something to the belief that absinthe doesn't make you as sleepy as other liquor, so it can result in a more lucid drunkenness.
 

feinman

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Agreed. I've had both the real and tincture version and they don't do lot more than just get you drunk. And, you have to like the flavor of licorice! It reminds me of green ouzo. Want something herbal that kicks yr butt? I'd go with Jägermeister; I remember it having an anaesthetizing quality as well as getting you drunk.
 

maximus otter

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Agreed. I've had both the real and tincture version and they don't do lot more than just get you drunk. And, you have to like the flavor of licorice! It reminds me of green ouzo. Want something herbal that kicks yr butt? I'd go with Jägermeister; I remember it having an anaesthetizing quality as well as getting you drunk.
Years ago l talked to a German deerstalker. They do most of their shooting of roe deer from high seats. It can get rather cold and boring sitting about, possibly for hours, so they got into the habit of taking a hip flask of something warming as a practical/morale response (Jägermeister means “Master Hunter” in German).

I was dubious about drinking before shooting, but he explained it very rationally:

“You sit in the seat for an hour, then take a swig. Another half an hour, a second pull on the flask. Fifteen minutes later... You get the idea. Now the flask is empty, and a single roe buck wanders into view. You squint at it, but - being so cabbaged - you can’t help but see twenty deer. Now all you have to do is shoot into the middle of that herd, and you’re guaranteed a kill!”

maximus otter
 
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littlebrowndragon

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Does absinthe taste significantly different from some of those eastern Mediterranean drinks such as ouzo or raki, does anybody know? (I'm assuming they are made from the same stuff as absinthe i.e. aniseed)?
 

EnolaGaia

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Does absinthe taste significantly different from some of those eastern Mediterranean drinks such as ouzo or raki, does anybody know? (I'm assuming they are made from the same stuff as absinthe i.e. aniseed)?
No, not significantly different ... (At least to me - I gag at anise flavoring, so they all taste equivalently foul to me.)
 

littlebrowndragon

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Thank you, EnolaGaia. Luckily I do not mind aniseed flavouring and enjoyed ouzo and raki when I got a chance to drink them.
 

ChasFink

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I haven't tried the others, but yes, absinthe is predominantly anise flavored. Many people say you'll like it if you like liquorice/licorice, but while I do like absinthe, I really don't enjoy that vile black candy. It may have something to do with the fact that I don't like my absinthe very sweet, or it may be that most licorice is made from inferior ingredients.
 

Souleater

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Thank you, EnolaGaia. Luckily I do not mind aniseed flavouring and enjoyed ouzo and raki when I got a chance to drink them.
In my experience, the proper stuff does have an aniseedy base but the overwhelming taste is the bitterness of the wormwood, i remember a couple of mates and i drank a bottle of decent absinthe between us, before going out for a curry, we remembered going into the restaurant but that is about all until the morning lol
 
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