There was a time when you’d have to be mad to take a swig from a bottle of absinthe. However, the once-forbidden anise-flavored spirit has experienced a resurgence in popularity and is now the go-to tipple for many partygoers – from bachelorette parties to golden wedding anniversaries. But how did it get here?
In eighteenth-century Switzerland, Dr. Pierre Ordinaire, having recently escaped the turmoil of the French Revolution, set up shop in the tiny village of Couvet and immediately returned to experimenting with chemicals. After a laborious round of hits and misses, these trials eventually yielded a greenish concoction consisting primarily of wormwood, anise, and fennel.
This all-purpose elixir was used locally for some years until the French doctor, as one version of history tells us, passed the recipe along to the Henriod sisters, who, in turn, shared it with a Major Dubied, and his son-in-law, Henry-Louis Pernod, in 1797. What resulted was the very first absinthe distillery – Dubied Père et Fils.
Over the years, absinthe has made quite a name for itself. It became known colloquially as the “Green Fairy,” named for its swirling translucent hue (when it became modish to add a lump of sugar to the drink, the resulting kaleidoscope of color became known as “releasing the Green Fairy”). It has been used as an anti-malarial vaccine. Absinthe even overtook wine (during a brief period of particularly devastating harvests) as France’s most popular beverage. And then it was banned outright in the early 1900s as a result of (unproven) claims of epilepsy, tuberculosis, madness, and crime.
But like the worrying effects of cannabis in the 1960s, absinthe’s reputation as a gateway to immorality and deviancy soon resolved. Now, absinthe flows as freely as ever in France, the epicenter of absinthe culture, and abroad and is still manufactured by Pernod.