Nothing encapsulates the “authenticity, lost” quality of Golden Age bar culture quite like Absinthe. Between 1840 and its eventual ban in Europe in the early 1900s, the much-mythologized “Green Fairy” soared to the height of drinking culture. Every day Parisians (and the French and Swiss, in general) conducted a daily routine that included two solid hours for absinthe every day, between 5p and 7p—the earliest version of “happy hour,” then called the “green hour.” The botanical-infused spirit became such a part of French culture that it even called into question wine’s place in the market, thereby making a very real enemy.
Throughout its peak popularity—during which France alone consumed 36 million liters of Absinthe per year—Absinthe became embattled at every front with the European Temperance movement and the powerful wine lobby. France’s cultural wine-dark queen was eager to use the Temperance movement, and many other dubious tools, to destroy her economic challenger. When, in 1905, a raging alcoholic killed his family in a series of gruesome murders after a full day of drinking, these lobbyists seized their chance to stir up moral panic, eventually pushing for Absinthe’s ban in Western Europe by 1915.
With America’s Prohibition in 1919, Absinthe had officially lost its battle, keeping a few small outposts in Spain and Central Europe. For the subsequent 100 years, harmful myths about Absinthe’s ingredients, allegedly poisonous properties, and deleterious effects dominated global drinking culture. If not for the work of a small handful of people, there’s a chance we never would have recovered this ingenious spirit. Fortunately, that’s not the case.
In our search to provide the most authentic drinking experience possible, we often turn to late-nineteenth century recipes and ingredients, many of which have been lost. During this process, we’ve also fallen in love with Absinthe and the extraordinary subtleties the spirit has to offer. This most iconic, most mythified spirit has captivated the West Main team, helping us to understand—just a little bit—the “Absinthe-mania” of 1890s France.
True to form, we’re in up to our ears with Absinthe science and history (and Absinthe itself) and we’re all too eager to share it with all of you—the many elements and characters in the Story of Absinthe are as compelling as the spirit itself. Consequently, we’re starting a series of seminars to share all we can about various spirits that we find interesting, with Absinthe being first on our list. There is simply more to know about the spirit, its history, its actual science, and its profile on your palate than can be communicated in a casual interaction.
Spirits 110: the Story of Absinthe will be hosted on Sunday and Monday evenings with intimate groups of enthusiasts, aficionados, and the generally curious. We’ll taste herbal tinctures to help train palates to the variety of herbs most common in Absinthe, including the much maligned Grand Wormwood whose once instantaneously recognizable flavor has been all but forgotten. We’ll share half a dozen absinthes from our ever-growing collection to show you the variety of styles and expressions of this variform spirit. And we’ll share dinner.
For now, we’re hosting these seminars every 2 months. Seats are super limited because we want to share the experience in a memorable, personal way. You can stay tuned to our social media for updates about classes, or you can sign up here on the website for priority notifications about classes, events, and any new absinthe that we get in.