Laws have not changed: Absinthe is sort of legal.
Posted 20 December 2007 - 04:12 PM
Almost, well not exactly
I seem to be getting the following question a lot lateley.
I just saw a bottle of absinthe in the liquor store, I thought it was illegal to sell absinthe in the US?
This subject is getting complicated but yes traditional absinthe is illegal to sell. But given the thirst of Americans desire for absinthe the industry is finding a way to get it to the people.
There is a chemical in traditional absinthe called Thujone, this chemical is banned in food products by the FDA. This one chemical is what makes absinthe illegal to sell. Generally Thujone comes from an herb called wormwood that is used in the production process of absinthe.
Companies and the liquor industry have found that by filtering out this chemical they can legally sell their brand of absinthe in the USA.
Seeing dollar signs many distillers and companies are now on a public relations campaign to downplay the role of Thujone and gain acceptance of this form absinthe by the American public. Many are writing articles or launching sites that promote this new view of absinthe in an effort to gain acceptance. Some make statements such as that of Lucid one of the leading brands to enter the us market states "Prohibition is finally over" giving consumers the perception that laws have changed. They are eager to promote the fact they use Grand Wormwood but downplay the removal of Thujone. It all makes for good marketing and others like Kubler and Absinte seem to be following.
Others are even trying to state that their absinthe may contain Thujone or subvertly imply this. The truth is that any absinthe sold in the USA will be determined by the FDA to be "Thujone Free" but some distillers are noting that the test used by the FDA for detecting Thujone has some level of error, or tolerance, some have put it at 10ppm Thujone but my understanding of this is there is no defined level and the test by the FDA is subject to subjective influences such as the use of the sense of sight and smell to detect Thujone.
In the end whatever absinthe you find on the shelf will be "Thujone Free" according to the FDA
Traditional Absinthe in the USA
In the United States, Absinthe was banned in 1912, following the French ban three years before, but the current US Customs restrictions on the importation of Absinthe only are dated from 1958 while the USDA and FDA regulations still ban the sale or importation of any beverage containing wormwood. Despite this and its a negative reputation, Absinthe has seemed to make a comeback in favor of citizens claiming the drink, whether they import it through customs or attempt to make it themselves. People are finding ways to acquire this green beverage.
Absinthe was originally marketed as a cure for several digestive diseases in the late 18th century and early 19th century, and then later sold to the French army as a way to ward off dysentery, tropical fever, and fatigue. Throughout time Absinthe was labeled under Pernod's name which became a staple among intellectual elites all over Europe, since it was hardly affordable for the proletariat. Eventually some incidents and anti-propaganda gave Absinthe a bad reputation. Inexpensive brands would use all type of solvents, copper and dyes to achieve the trademark green color. Those chemicals and toxins often were addressed as the cause for the murder and madness attributed to Absinthe drinking.
After the banning in the USA, it was not until the 1970's when the FDA passed the legislation that forbids the importation and sale of any alcoholic beverages containing artemisia absinthium, also known as wormwood, which is one of the main active ingredients in Absinthe. Although Absinthe without wormwood is commonly for sale in the United States and it is claimed as the favorite drink among contemporary celebrities, artists and intellectuals.
In America, Absinthe failed to attract alternative entrepreneurs, although the possession and consumption of any wormwood variety is not illegal. Today, Absinthe drinkers need to rely on customs for travelers to import Absinthe. Despite its reputation, modern connoisseurs insist that the so-called hallucinogenic effects of Absinthe are nothing but romantic stories or merely a myth, although The New England Journal of Medicine, reported a case of renal failure in a extremely ill-advised individual who drank as little as 10 ml of wormwood oil.
If you plan to taste Absinthe in reasonable, moderate quantities, there is no other city in the United States better than New Orleans. The rage among drinkers in the know is currently the brands made by Ted Breaux via Jade Liqueurs. Jade's "Absinthe Nouvelle-Orléans" is a spectacular product, not only beautifully made but sophisticated in flavor and, based in the historical Absinthe area considered as the finest consumed in New Orleans during la Belle Epoque. Jade Liqueurs also produces "Absinthe Edouard and Verte Suisse 65", reputed as the perfect example of the very highest distiller's art.
Back to the legal aspect, the prevailing consensus of interpretation of United States law among American Absinthe connoisseurs is that:
 It is legal to sell items used in the production of absinthe and even the herb Wormwood but not as part of a food product for human consumption. This derives from an FDA regulation, as opposed to a DEA regulation.
 It is probably illegal for someone outside the country to sell such a product to a citizen living in the US, given that customs regulations specifically forbid the importation of "Absinthe."
 It is probably not illegal to purchase such a product for personal use in the US.
 Absinthe can be and occasionally is seized by United States Customs, if it appears to be for human consumption.
 A faux-Absinthe liqueur called Absente, made with Artemisia abrotanum instead of Artemisia absinthium (wormwood), is sold legally in the United States however, the FDA prohibition extends to all Artemisia species, including even, in theory, Artemisia dracunculus, known as tarragon.
However, Absinthe is sold in most US retail liquor stores, or can be acquired via internet or catalogs because the export version made for the United States does not contain wormwood.
Posted 20 December 2007 - 06:04 PM
i've only ever had Un Emille (I believe is the name) when it comes to actual absinthe. I did once drink some "home-made absinthe" though it could have just been really old green cough syrup for all i know...
thanks for the info, mang
Posted 20 December 2007 - 08:59 PM