absinthe legal in Switzerland
June 15, 2004 11:12 AM   Subscribe

Finally absinthe is legal in Switzerland. After nearly a century of believing the hype that the green liquor could lead people to madness, the Swiss government now realizes leagalizing "would actually enable authorities to control the production of the alcohol and tax its sales."
posted by tsarfan (32 comments total)
It's been legal here in Canada for a while -- I've seen it at the liquor store, but more recently it was on a restaurant menu.
posted by Robot Johnny at 11:18 AM on June 15, 2004

I had some a few years back in the Czech Republic. Kind of like drinking paint thinner, only not as tasty.
posted by signal at 11:22 AM on June 15, 2004

I've had it once, a shot served up with melted sugar mixed in. I don't recommend it for lightweights, of which I am one of the lightest. Oy.

I was, however, filled with the urge to draw pictures of circus girls.
posted by RakDaddy at 11:31 AM on June 15, 2004

now if only more governments would realize the same arguments hold for another green substance that should be legal.
posted by christy at 11:32 AM on June 15, 2004

AFAIK, it's been legal in the EU for a while. I love the stuff--nothing will warm you quite like the Green Fairy. Without my flask, I couldn't possibly have survived Bonnaroo.
posted by muckster at 11:33 AM on June 15, 2004

"I had some a few years back in the Czech Republic. Kind of like drinking paint thinner, only not as tasty."


I made and distilled some absinthe some years back - not difficult actually if you have some experience in making beer. Home distilling, is, of course, illegal in most states, but what the heck.

Couldnt handle its consumption in the traditional method, its just too bitter, but it was okay with Sprite (3:1 ratio at least). A buddy and I pretty much spent all day drinking it, experiencing an odd different high quite distinct from the alcohol effects. Next day we felt like someone had beaten our livers with baseball bats. Cant say as I recommend the stuff, but it was fun to make.

Zillions of home recipes for absinthe out there, too many to link.
posted by elendil71 at 11:39 AM on June 15, 2004

That didn't take long. Seems it was being made by the Swiss just not for sale.

If you're seeking sources of European and other absinthes, be resourceful and do web searches. Everything you think you know about absinthe is most probably wrong. Read the FAQ.

Home distilling, is, of course, illegal in most states, but what the heck.
Do you mean selling the alcohol you "home distilled"? Never heard this before which States, beside possibly Utah?
posted by thomcatspike at 11:48 AM on June 15, 2004

Doesn't every culture have some kind of narcotic alcohol libation like this? Whether it's Ouzo, Mescal, whatever the hell Jagermeister is or -- what, Screech? -- these liquid drugs are the kind of thing that seem to show up in a lot of cultures.

That said, despite all the horror stories, I'm inclined to think that any attempts to bring this stuff within the confines of the legality is good news, even if only for all the would-be existentialist writers and surrealist painters out there.
posted by chicobangs at 11:50 AM on June 15, 2004

i've only tried it once, but i liked it. all drugs should be legal. just ask Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, etc. high as kites, all of them. burning bushes and psychedelic wine, oh my!
posted by mrgrimm at 11:57 AM on June 15, 2004

It is only legal in New Zealand. Some European countries turn a blind eye to it,

1. Americans can own a still, but it must be no larger than 1 gallon, and may only be used for water purification or the extraction of essential oils from plants.

My bad elendil71. Why can you buy the beer brewery home kits? See them around Texas at your major chain stores. Many folks make Koloa around Christmas.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:58 AM on June 15, 2004

Distilling; It is only legal in New Zealand. Some European countries turn a blind eye to it,
posted by thomcatspike at 12:01 PM on June 15, 2004

From the FAQ: Why is the word "Thujone" replaced by an image of a Pork Chop every time you type it in the forum?

This is just one of those things that's even funnier when you see it completely out of context.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:02 PM on June 15, 2004

It's a shame the Swiss closed Needle Park.
posted by the fire you left me at 12:15 PM on June 15, 2004

thomcatspike, I am not an expert, but I am reasonably certain that distilling and brewing are different processes.
posted by Karmakaze at 1:12 PM on June 15, 2004

I'm inclined to think that any attempts to bring this stuff within the confines of the legality is good news, even if only for all the would-be existentialist writers and surrealist painters out there.

This stuff spawns existentialist writers and surrealist painters? Then we gotta keep it illegal.
posted by jonmc at 1:15 PM on June 15, 2004

Im not exactly sure why you can brew beer and make wine but not liquor. Some enterprising MeFi'er can prob research it faster than I can (or should be doing) at work :)

Probably is a holdover from prohibition.
posted by elendil71 at 1:18 PM on June 15, 2004

Man o man! I (over)sampled the green fairy one (hazy) night in Barcelona. I don't remember much, but I recall being highly entertained whilst standing in line for the bathroom in a very loud dance club somewhere within the maze of the barri gotic (or maybe el raval?), later having a conversation in childlike French/Spanish/English with a girl that may or may not have been talking to me. At some point I ended up sitting on the ground in an alley mumbling something "spanglish" to passers by while waiting for my friends to exit the club. On the way home, I painted the pavement a grey green. Highly Recommended!
posted by shoepal at 1:24 PM on June 15, 2004

elendil71 & Karmakaze
This may answer it from the FAQs linked earlier.
Spirits- You cannot produce spirits for beverage purposes without paying taxes and without prior approval of paperwork to operate a distilled spirits plant. [See 26 U.S.C. 5601 & 5602 for some of the criminal penalties.] "

"Moonshining is still illegal!! Unlike wine or beer, the laws and regulations governing distilled spirits contain no provision that would allow someone to produce spirits in their home for personal use. "
posted by thomcatspike at 1:32 PM on June 15, 2004

Last year I took a trip to Germany to visit my girlfriend at the time. She had a friend who was dating a significantly older woman who seemed to be somewhat of an art patron. I told him that I wanted to get my hands on some absinthe and he said that he had recently come across a bottle that he would give me. He gave me a bottle that said "Pernod Fils" on it. I took it home to the States and me and a few friends enjoyed the bottle one weekend, pouring the drink over a sugarcube on a fork and trying unsuccessfully to get it to burn.

Now after reading the FAQ here I am kicking myself in the ass. I tried looking for pictures of older bottles and I can't say that the bottle I had matches either the old bottles or the new bottles.

Are there any connoisseurs out there that can tell me if there are any bottles of Pernod Fils being produced today?
Or did me and my friends drink a hundred year old bottle of liquor?
posted by daHIFI at 1:38 PM on June 15, 2004

I'm not exactly sure why you can brew beer and make wine but not liquor.

Home beer and wine production in the United States were technically illegal until 1 Feb 1979, at which time then-President Jimmy Carter signed Senator Alan Cranston's measure making homebrew legal (100 gal. beer annually per individual, 200 gal. max per household).

I suspect that before this time there was an underground industry quietly supplying homebrewers. The situation is the same now for home moonshiners, though the legal situation hasn't quite caught up.

In the United States, there are two issues generally with regards to the criminality of moonshine production: first and foremost is the taxation issue. Liquor taxation is extreme: $13.50/gallon compared to beer at ~$0.58/gallon. Unlicensed brewers are therefore removing a potential revenue stream.

The other reason for licensure is that hard alcohol fermentation is a somewhat difficult and unstable proposition. The process is somewhat dangerous, both to the producer and in uncontrolled instances to the end consumer. Most of the "make you blind" stuff comes from using unwashed radiators, etc, but there's a number of nasties that you can get if you're not careful: fusel oils, for example. Licensure = process control in the eyes of the law.

All that being said, it is possible in America to be a quietly illegal hard liquor distiller on the relatively cheap. One can find suitable equipment fairly easily by googling on "water distillation", many devices are in fact suitable for alcohol distillation and many will include the fact that the still could be used for alcohol distillation -- "were that not illegal".

I myself have walked into homebrew stores, stated my purpose, had the proprietor tell inform me that what I was doing was illegal and then advise me on what sort of yeast I should be using.

By and large I've found the process a bit too time-consuming for what it yields: 5 gallons of wort weeks in the making dissapears very quickly into a single winebottle of 130 proof . I've found its lots easier to get a couple gallons of Gallo and let Ernest & Julio do my fermentation for me.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 2:19 PM on June 15, 2004

daHIFI--Did your bottle look like this?

On a side note...there is a scene in a Laurel & Hardy movie where the boys are trying to impress some ladies and the ladies order Absinthe Frappes.
posted by jaronson at 2:38 PM on June 15, 2004

Most of the "make you blind" stuff comes from using unwashed radiators
Thought being blinded it was in the composition of the alcohol distilled. Like a missing or additional Carbon in the formula being made.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:45 PM on June 15, 2004

Just made legal? I had some in Switzerland a couple of years ago in a very nice restaurant. With the sugar it wasn't bad. It did leave me feeling a little different than your standard tipsy afterwards.
posted by caddis at 3:57 PM on June 15, 2004

I had it in Spain a few years ago--the bottle was brought in from Prague or somewhere--didn't like it.

But I don't see why it should be illegal at all. That everclear stuff probably kills more people each year.
posted by amberglow at 4:09 PM on June 15, 2004

jaronson - yes that is it. Are you telling me it wasn't even absinthe? I remember it had a smell like liquorice and had little crystalline things floating around in it. What is it? gave me a nice trippy feeling also, but that might have just been placebo effect
posted by daHIFI at 4:49 PM on June 15, 2004

May I point you to my critically acclaimed E2 write-up on absinthe? Chances are that most of you who've tried absinthe actually drank some kind of awful artificially-coloured ouzo. The write-up suggests some authentic absinthes you might want to try.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:52 PM on June 15, 2004

daHIFI - Pernod Absinthe is readily available in Australian (and German - I even saw it in Helgoland!) bottleshops, and unlike their regular pastis it is clearly labelled as 'absinthe' on the label. If the bottle you drank only said 'Pernod Fils', then it was ordinary pastis, not absinthe.

Alas, the new absinthe is an artificially coloured oil mix (that is, somebody took a bunch of industrially extracted oils and blended them with ethanol, as opposed to steeping/distilling herbs, spices and flowers). It's better than Hills, though ;)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:03 PM on June 15, 2004

Proper absinthe should taste more or less like Pernod (available all over without the Thujone part that makes it "real" absinthe).

It's been legal in Spain forever and there are a couple of Spanish brands that are quite good including Deva and Mari Mayans.

Most of the Czech versions (which seem to be the only ones imported to Canada) are some kind of crap green colored everclear with Thujone added. The only exception to this is Sebor which is sold in Czech and Ireland.

All this being said Absinthe is a very cerebral drunk. I can't really explain it too well except that I seem to be get a very connected feeling with whomever I'm talking too. That and you don't feel nearly as drunk as you are.
posted by aaronscool at 5:36 PM on June 15, 2004

obiwanwasabi, definitely a case of justifiable self-pluggery. That's a pretty fine article.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:41 PM on June 15, 2004

obiwanwasabi, I used to see bottles of Pernod in TGI Friday's restaurants years ago. I used to think of it as the French version of anisette (Greek version=Ouzo, Italian=Sambuca, et. al.) Would you agree?
posted by jaronson at 6:16 PM on June 15, 2004

{received this e-mail from andy, lurker w/o an account, commenting about the "being blinded” from poorly distilled alcohol}
"Basically the threat of blinding comes from unscrupulous distillers looking to maximize profit by cutting their product with all sorts of other junk like antifreeze, or fools who try to purify denatured alchohol.

The key chemical here is methanol, which in properly brewed and distilled spirits is a non-issue assuming you follow basic procedure. Not only does it form in relatively small amounts, but can easily be removed. Apple juice can contain up to 0.3% methanol, while a poorly distilled spirit is around 0.0186% (and that's before diluting the drink to 80proof or whatever you plan to drink at).
"Going by the UK Department of Heath recommendations one guy ran the numbers and figured you'd have to drink about 70liters of 80proof hooch a day to go over their guidelines. Obviously, you'd be dead from the alcohol poisoning long before the methanol got you.

Even if you did everything wrong short of mixing in paint thinner you'd have a hell of a time blinding yourself. I tip my hat to anyone who manages it.

more info here: http://distiller.servebeer.com/methanol.htm#blind "
Thanks Andy.

Amberglow, # 10 here tells why it is illegal in the USA.
posted by thomcatspike at 8:59 AM on June 16, 2004

My understanding with regards to blindness and other health concerns regarding moonshining stem not from the process of fermentation and distillation, but potentially contamination from unclean aparatus and the product being "stepped on".

This article sums up much of the information I saw on the issue. Most of this stems from the illegal trade and wouldn't be a problem for a home enthusiast.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:18 PM on June 17, 2004

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