I have always wondered why absinthe has been made illegal to make or sell in France and the United States. I have read that absinthe contains thujone, which is a chemical also found in the herb (plant) sage. So, thujone itself, could not have been the problem. Then I've also read about the French alcoholic who killed his family and himself. But, mere absinthe consumption has never been linked to more crime than that ... and usually legislators need to see a pattern or trend, not an isolated event. So, I have never understood why absinthe has been such an infamous beverage.
Imagine my surprise, when digging through an old book titled:
A Treatise on the Manufacture and Distillation of Alcoholic Liquors
By Pierre Duplais, Pierre Duplais, jr.
Causes of the Pernicious Effects of Absinthe.
This so-called Swiss absinthe has attracted public attention for some time, and much credit is due to the writers of many scientific and medical essays, for indicating with so much persevering energy the abuses of this product, a horrible curse which is killing the youth of our colleges, decimating the army, and will cause the fatal debasement of the rising generation.
In order to increase the sale of this truly horrible beverage, the idea has been invented of mixing it with syrups of gum, so called, and which most generally do not contain a particle of gum, and which, on account of the vile method of the manufacture, only bring in their train an increase of the evil.
Of course these evils are not to be attributed to first- class houses, who only sell for consumption perfectly distilled absinthes that are free from all adulterations.
We have no intention, by what has just been said, to advise the use of this liquor, however well it may be made, but to set forth the fact that, in many localities, sufficient care is not taken in the selection of the plants, and in conducting the distillation. This results from the fact that most persons who undertake this work are ignorant of the first principles of distillation. So much is this the case, that, if allowed to express an opinion on so serious a question, we should advise the authorities—
1. To require that all liquor distillers who manufacture absinthe, or any other spirituous liquors, should have some knowledge of chemistry and botany, should be of good character, and be possessed of organs of taste and smell accurate enough to be of use in estimating the quality of the materials passing through their hands.
2. That a certificate or diploma as a distiller should be conferred on him only after his having proved, by a satisfactory official examination, that he is possessed of a competent knowledge of the theoretical principles of the trade he wishes to pursue.
3. Finally, that he should serve for at least one year as an apprentice, in order that he may, on entering into the business, add also practical knowledge to the theoretical which he should possess. By following this plan, we would have good and true distillers. While at the present time a large proportion of the young men, who set up in this business, have very little knowledge, they very often leave trades having little or no connection with distilling, and at the end of a few months' apprenticeship, sometimes under a man more ignorant than themselves, they present themselves as master workmen at the distillery or the brewery. Why, then, should it be cause for astonishment if badly manufactured products of distillation enter into our daily consumption?
We cannot close this article without giving some advice on the distillation of absinthe.
The plants should be picked over, as only the tops are distilled, and the flow phlegm should never be pushed to the end of the distillation. It may be objected that the liquor will be less penetrating, and will have less bouquet; we answer, so much the better for the consumer. They may rejoin that the price will be much higher : we reply, what is the difference? it will sell all the better for that.
We cannot omit to recommend the use of calamus aromaticus, and angelica root in the proportion of 125 grammes to the hundred litres of the product, with balm, hyssop, and the small absinthe for the coloring, which should always be made hot.
But why are absinthes so bad in Paris? It is because the greater proportion of absinthes sold are not distilled, but made from essences, which, as is well known are highly charged with empyreumatic essential oils. Now, if the proportion of these essences is too great, as is almost always the case, they are not completely dissolved, and the absinthe so manufactured, after being swallowed, leaves an acrid taste, and a lasting and painful sense of heat and discomfort in the mouth, throat, stomach, and even in the urinary organs in persons who use it habitually.
In conclusion, absinthe, as a medicine, like most other plants, has some useful properties; but as a favorite and daily drink it has its dangers and becomes very often fatal. But it is certain that if this liquor was always of good quality and properly prepared, it would not play such sad havoc, and would spare many useful men to the country.