Autodidact: self-taught


Absinthe: A Documentary

by V. L. Craven

Absinthe: A Documentary poster

Goths and Absinthe make a natural pair. The green drink has ornate, silver accoutrements, a ritual, is a misunderstood, underground beverage associated with European artists and so on. It’s Slytherin green, for crying out loud.

I tried the U.S. (i.e. non-wormwood)* version a few years ago and, as I’m not an enormous fan of anise, it didn’t do much for me. The ritual aspect and little spoon were the best parts and if I have the opportunity, I will try the real thing.

This is an intro to say that I was interested in Absinthe due to its cache, but I didn’t know a great deal about it, prior to watching the imaginatively documentary titled Absinthe: A Documentary .

After watching it, I came away knowing quite a bit more about the history of the drink. My favourite factoid was that it was probably developed by a woman and, pah!, that’s no good. Women, what do they know? So the recipe was purchased and made famous by a man. This is why there is dispute over where it originated–France or Switzerland.

Absinthe Green Fairy

Prior to watching the documentary, I knew that Absinthe wasn’t as insanity-inducing as people made it out to be for reasons found in number four on  this  list. So when brewers in the film began waxing poetical about how it made them feel I wondered how much of it was what they wanted to feel or thought they were supposed to be feeling. Some sort of placebo effect. Like giving a twelve year old a mint, telling them it’s ecstasy and watching them get ‘high’.

One of the people interviewed in the documentary is Ted Breaux,  Wikipedia  quotes him as saying, ‘the alleged secondary effects of absinthe may be caused by the fact that some of the herbal compounds in the drink act as stimulants, while others act as sedatives, creating an overall lucid effect of awakening.’ Which sounds like drinking strong coffee and alcohol simultaneously, so you’re very awake but also inebriated. I tried not-nearly diluted enough Kapali once and thought I was losing my mind, so if that’s what strong Absinthe is like then I can see where the reputation comes from.

Absinthe Henri Privat-Livemont

Absinthe: a Documentary covers the history, the culture, the mystique and allure, the process of making Absinthe all over Europe, everything the average person interested in the drink could want to know. And it manages to do it in an incredibly dry way. (That’s not a beverage pun, it’s really a freakin’ dry documentary.) It held my interest enough to watch the entire thing, but I would not recommend it to someone who wasn’t already interested in Absinthe–it’s not the sort of thing you’d show to a friend to help explain why you find it fascinating.

I give it 3/5. It  is  a good primer for the already interested.


Bonus content!

In this video (which Reznor hates, btw) Trent starts preparing a glass of Absinthe around the 1.50 mark. Once he drinks a bit there’s a breakdown and the palette goes from blues to harsh green to signify the madness that supposedly accompanies drinking Absinthe.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t include this:

Absinthe Black Books

Manny winds up drinking it straight–no water or sugar. Blerg.

*Correction, the U.S. version has always had wormwood, please see this post for more information about common myths surrounding absinthe.

9 Responses to “Absinthe: A Documentary”

  1. Scarydad Says:

    “Hallucination” can mean different things to different people. I imagine that the little drop of poison in the absinthe, the poison being the wormwood, is not enough to do anything to you with one or two drinks. But if you are drinking it often enough and the wormwood and your body have time to get to know one another, then your experiences might be different. I would test this theory but I don’t have time to stay drunk on absinthe long enough to conduct the experiment.

  2. Autodidact Says:

    Apparently, it’s the thujone in the wormwood, which has to build up in the body over a long period of time–something I’ve recently learned from another person who has a great deal of experience and knowledge of the drink.

    And staying drunk on anything long enough would probably make you start seeing things. 🙂 Better to be sober and a great dad and blogger, though. No?

  3. Scarydad Says:

    Although I do have that Absinthe Robette advert framed in my front room and a bottle of a craft absinthe I got in a little store in Heidelberg on a shelf in my living room. I’ve had a few flings with the green fairy. All it ever got me was drunk though.

    I think it’s funny that it used to be cheap hooch and now it’s top shelf.

  4. Autodidact Says:

    I love that Privat-Livemont poster. It reminds me of Mucha.

    I find the cultural evolution of various substances really interesting. Cocaine in Coke, is a good example. The use of antimony (a heavy metal) as a cure-all in the middle ages is another. ‘I don’t feel so good.’ ‘Take this.’ ‘That didn’t help.’ ‘Take some more, then.’

  5. Evan Camomile Says:

    If you watched the documentary then you should know that the US version DOES contain wormwood. Thujone was never found in large amounts in pre-ban and actually doesn’t build up in the body over time.

    As I type are 20 empty bottles of Absinthe that I’ve consumed over the past two years, and plenty more half empty on their way, both domestic, import, and even pre-ban/vintage. There’s no buildup. Not even when I spent barely an hour sober at an absinthe festival for a few days.

    The peer-reviewed science behind my claims can be found at Stop the frat boy rumor mill of no wormwood in U.S. absinthe and thujone having much of any effect. Both claims are certainly not true, and never were.

    The Temperance Movement lies that led to the absinthe bans were just that, lies, and it is unfortunate that pop culture reinforced them.

  6. Autodidact Says:

    The Thujone level in the U.S. version has to be less than 10 mg/km, which is infinitesimal, and considered by the TTB to be ‘Thujone-free’. So I consider that to be ‘non-wormwood’.

    It’s probably the stimulants vs depressants in the drink that make people think they’re having trippy experiences, like I said in my article.

  7. Evan Camomile Says:

    Thujone does not equal artemesia absinthium content. I’ve tasted absinthes loaded with wormwood that came in well below 10ppm. Also 40% of all pre-ban tested comes in under 10ppm. The ones that tested higher didn’t do so by much maxing out at48.3ppm and an average of 25.4ppm A lot of the Euro brands also fall under the US level even though they are allowed to go up to 35ppm. See my above cited source for the science and data again.

    Keep in mind ppm stands for parts per million. If you want to argue over 25 parts per million be my guest but for a substance as inert as thujone has proven to be it’s not really an issue.

    The limits were set back in the 1930s, well before anyone ever tested the chemical, the regulations just haven’t been updated with current science.

    If you really want thujone then eat the herb sage. Three leaves of that stuff has more thujone than an entire bottle of maxed out EU level absinthe. No one ever had any “absinthe” experiences from sage because thujone never did that kind of stuff.

    Once again, science says no. No matter what rumors and myths feel more elite or edgy, they were just never true.

    I lay out more data in this post, enjoy!

  8. Autodidact Says:

    That is really interesting, thank you for sharing! I’ve edited my post to include your link–it’s really well written and funny. (I like the dead to me bit. Why would anyone set fire to alcohol? You’ve just burned off the alcohol, genius.)

    Have you had any experiences other than just being drunk when drinking Absinthe? When I had it I thought it was the wormwood that gave you the hallucinations and such and since the only thing it did to me was make me tipsy I figured there was little to no wormwood in it.

  9. Evan Camomile Says:

    Thank you, it is much appreciated.

    The only “secondary effect” I can really relate to absinthe is that it is a different kind of drunk. The difference being not much more pronounced than getting drunk off of wine versus drunk off of tequila.

    I tend to be able to think more clearly when drunk on absinthe versus other booze. Most people point to anethole from anise and fenchome from fennel for this as they are stimulating chemicals. A lot of absintheurs call this difference “lucid drunk” and this is where Lucid Absinthe gets its name. I think you quoted Ted Breaux’s explanation of this effect in your post. Ted is a giant in the modern absinthe scene. His Jade series of absinthes have three different absinthes that were chemically reverse engineered from pre-ban bottles, and one that is his own formula after learning from his studies. They are all wonderful absinthes.


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