EU grants absinthe protected geographical status

Absinthe, the green spirit once banned in France for 80 years, has been granted protected geographic status after a 15-year battle launched by producers in the commune of Pontarlier.

The new geographical indication, given the green light earlier this month, protects the phrase ‘Absinthe de Pontarlier’ and the traditional methods used to make the spirit in this area. Pontarlier is a commune in eastern France close to the Swiss border.

Absinthe used on its own “may continue to be used in labelling and presentations within the territory of the Union provided that the principles and rules applicable in its legal order are complied with”.

These rules stipulate that the spirit must be clear, pale-yellow with greenish hues that louches when water is added, turning to an “ivory-like opalescent shade and a cloudiness that renders it opaque”.

As for the ingredients, true absinthe must include wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), which should also be the dominant aroma. 

The spirit must also contain at least 20mg of thujone per litre, the active ingredient in wormwood. It was this compound that was wrongly blamed for causing hallucinations and brain damage, resulting in the spirit being banned in France in 1915. Such side effects were more likely the result of drinking too much of the high-strength spirit.

The ban was partially lifted during the 1990s and in 2003, absinthe could be sold in France through a legal loophole. 96 years after it was first prohibited, the ban was finally lifted on absinthe in France in 2011. 

The wormwood and anise flavoured spirit must now be made to a strength of 45% ABV or higher.

Philippe Chapon, vice president of La Route de l’absinthe, told Le Parisien: “This label is a guarantee which states that in Pontarlier and the surrounding area, we distill true absinthe which has been grown here, in the Arlier plain and which is made according to such quality principles. It’s a real step forward.”

Nicknamed the green fairy or la fée verte, absinthe was once the drink of choice among creatives and bohemian artists in late 19th century Paris. Famous drinkers of the notorious spirit include Charles Baudelaire, Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Lord Byron.

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