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Photo: Eric Litton, Wikipedia.fr
An Encounter with the Green Michael Cranmer has sampled many drinks in many countries - sometimes too many. But he had never encountered the Green Fairy – the mythical Fée Verte. Muse to poets, painters, and writers in la Belle- Époque, it was banned for 80 years after being falsely credited with causing madness and epilepsy. But Absinthe is back and legal. He journeyed across France to uncover the fascinating tale. My insomnia sparked the whole thing off. I listened to a radio programme in the wee small hours entitled ‘Absinthe Makes the Art Grow Fonder’. It told of madness, creative genius, smuggling, fairies, suicide and debauchery in le demi-monde of Montmartre in la Belle-Époque. Captivated, I set out to discover more. Until that point my conception of absinthe was scant: a perilously potent drink containing wormwood, banned for its reputation for causing madness - Vincent Van Gogh’s insanity was a result of drinking it to excess. I had naively always visualised an actual worm in the drink, squirming in the wooden barrels in which it was stored, so I had never tried it, now though, my appetite was well-and-truly whetted. But what exactly was it, and where did it come from? A certain Dr. Ordinaire (you couldn’t make that up) fleeing the guillotines of the French Revolution, settled across the border in Couvet, Switzerland. He adapted a local herbal folk remedy to cure patients, and, on his death-bed, passed on the secret recipe. Fast forward five years and we find Henri- Louis Pernod, father of the brand still in existence today, opening a distillery in Couvet, then, in 1805, to dodge the excisemen, a bigger one over the border in Pontarlier, France. The Doc’s wormwood potion, now called Absinthe, was proving very successful and soon Pernod was churning out 25,000 litres a year. Before long there were 22 distilleries utilising the locally-harvested plant - Artemisia absinthium - which, with the addition of imported Spanish aniseed, gave the drink its emerald-green hue.
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