Is Absinthe Legal in the U.S.?

Dear Deb,

Is Absinthe legal in the U.S.?

Charles

Dear Charles,

Absinthe is legal again in the United States. This is an very recent development, since Absinthe didn’t make its return to the U.S. until 2007. It’s going to cost you to buy a bottle, upwards of about $75 in many cases. But all three traditional types of absinthe are now available in the states, and absinthe is even being produced legally in California these days (also starting in 2007).

Absinthe is a liquor with a colorful past, being both romanticized by its proponents and demonized by its detractors. Around the turn of the 20th century, absinthe had gained such a bad reputation as a poisonous drink that most western countries banned its sale, including the United States in 1905. One key ingredient of absinthe, thujone, is a potent toxin in high quantities. Of course, thujone appears in such small quantities in absinthe that it was never dangerous to the absinthe drinker, though it took ten years of legal work and a whole battery of new tests by the FDA to prove that to the satisfaction of U.S. authorities. Absinthe is proven to be no more deleterious than other high proof liquor drinks.

Meanwhile, the high alcohol content of absinthe and its bewitching green color gave the drink a legendary reputation among the people who enjoyed the green fairy. “Green fairy” is just one of many monikers given to absinthe by its poetic and artistic proponents over years. Other names include “the Green Goddess”, “the Green Witch”, the “Green Muse”, the “Glaucous Witch” and “the Queen of Poisons”. Famous artistic geniuses from Oscar Wilde to Aleister Crowley to Mark Twain to Frank Sinatra, who are each known to have spent time at the legendary Old Absinthe House on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The eloquence of poets and authors alike in celebrating this green liquor, which typically has an alcohol content around 128 proof, may have drawn the attention of the temperance movements that were so active in the early part of the 20th century. An international crusade to ban absinthe, fueled by the misinformation that absinthe literally poisoned its drinkers, saw that the “le fee verte” was banned in most “respectable countries”.

absinthe-legal-us

What went unnoticed was that absinthe was never officially banned in the United Kingdom. When someone at BBH Spirits noticed this in the 1990’s, they began to import absinthe from the newly-formed Czech Republic. This sparked a revival of interest in absinthe and, combined with absinthe products from Portugal and Spain (which also never banned absinthe), the tide began to turn against the anti-absinthe laws. More and more western countries began to lift their bans on absinthe, and the United States followed suit in 2007. These days, the French liquor company, Lucid Brand, got permission from U.S. authorities to import absinthe to the states. Since then, St. George Spirits of Alameda, California, began to produce absinthe legally in the US, calling their brand St. George Absinthe Verte. The Leopold Bros. of Denver also began distilling absinthe, while the Spanish absinthe producer, Obsello, began to import their brand of the green fairy into the United States in 2008.

Those interested in tasting absinthe need to know that the drink is likely to be about 65% alcohol content, while absinthe will also cost you around $75 or more per bottle. Those interested in reading how the absinthe movement brought absinthe back to the United States should read the following New York Times article on Absinthe’s Return.

But if you want to partake legally in the Green Muse, Charles, you can now do so here in the U.S. of A.

Enjoy,

John Clifton

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