Absinthe INFO [merged]
Posted 13 December 2004 - 11:19 AM
Posted 13 December 2004 - 01:19 PM
Posted 13 December 2004 - 11:05 PM
Posted 13 December 2004 - 11:42 PM
Posted 14 December 2004 - 10:51 AM
Posted 27 October 2005 - 06:48 PM
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 its sinister reputation. For a century, absinthe has been demonized and outlawed, based on the belief that it leads to absinthism - far worse than mere alcoholism. Drinking it supposedly causes epilepsy and "criminal 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 War Games: 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 apparatus, 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 a criminal," declared one politician. The anti-absinthe fervor climaxed in 1905, when Swiss farmer Jean Lanfray shot 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 steal 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 Lafayette, 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 shelling out a hundred bucks for cognac and mystifying his college buddies by bringing Martell Cordon Bleu to parties. 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. Armed with the protocols, he prepared a batch in the lab. The result? "Not very good," he concedes. "I couldn't imagine 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 Tarragona 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 donkey piss."
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."
originally from : http://www.wired.com...nthe&topic_set=
Posted 27 October 2005 - 07:12 PM
i love absinthe...i didn't know that there
was better stuff i could get...i used to get
mine from spain...thnx...i'll have to try
Posted 28 October 2005 - 12:06 AM
Posted 28 October 2005 - 06:00 AM
Posted 01 November 2005 - 07:37 PM
Any Absinthe people out there if so what brand is the best, and what options are there for getting it in countries where it is illegal besides destilling it yourself? My interest is piqued after reading that this person's Absinthe is so good no sugar is required to make the awful taste disappear.
Posted 08 November 2005 - 10:58 PM
Posted 09 November 2005 - 01:00 AM
I've also talked with someone who's had some as well.
And I don't think I ever heard any hype saying that absinthe is hallucinogenic, psychoactive maybe. But then, alcohol can be hallucinogenic at high enough doses, where do you think the pink elephants come from?:dance: :dance:
Anyways, as far as the effects of absinthe, well first off its real strong alcohol. But besides getting a buzz or really fucked up, there is something extra.
The absinthe kit your buddy obtained was a bunch of wormwood and some other herbs, right? with instructions to soak it in high proof alcohol, then distill, followed by more herb soak?
That's the problem with absinthe kits, they either dont' make absinthe, or require you to set up a still which is pretty complicated.
No, my absinthe experiences don't compare whatsoever to the experiences I've had on shrooms or lsd. But my absinthe experiences do seem different from regular alcohol intoxication. Also two of my friends that have drunk this stuff (one drank half a bottle but is a regular alcoholic, the other only one shot and rarely drinks otherwise) reported vivid nightmares from which they could not wake. One reported finally awakening, but everything was blue.
If you reread that article about the dude in New Orleans, you might note a passage that states the effects are like a very clear buzz, inwhich motor control is fuzzy as with any alcohol, but clearheaded creativity abounds, which is why so many artists favored it.
Hope that helps.
Posted 09 November 2005 - 01:33 AM
When I drink it, I usually only take half an oz mixed with a few ounces of water at once. I never do more than 2 ounces in an hour or so unless I feel like being carried out of the room by someone.
The experience is like what Beastmaster said. You get very drunk, but your mind is pretty much clear. You become more creative than usual, which for me leads to elaborate forms of silliness.
As hallucinations go,
If someone is hallucinating from absinthe, then they've probably poisoned themselves.
Posted 10 November 2005 - 12:11 PM
ive drank it and all i can say is that its a very clear drunkenness. like youd think twice before fucking the fat bitch, but do her anyways.
Posted 03 December 2005 - 11:40 AM
curious to see a tobacco based brew too
Posted 09 December 2005 - 02:34 AM
Posted 09 December 2005 - 09:37 AM
You shouldn't have any problems with ordering though.
Posted 09 December 2005 - 07:08 PM
Although I have never ordered the drink, I am really not all that suprised that many vendors will ship to US...and it being illegal doesn't make much of an obsticle if you consider how many seed banks will ship MJ seeds to the US despite them being illegal as well.