Moss blasts “chemical” absinthes

An absinthe producer has slammed lower-strength versions of the spirit, saying they are the results of “chemical trickery”.

Alan Moss, commercial director of Artemisia Distribution, distributor of the 53% abv absinthe La Clandestine, also blasted “lower quality” absinthes for hyping their thujone content and suggesting it has drug-like qualities, saying that such a tactic suggests they have little else to boast about.

Speaking to the drinks business, Moss said: “Lower abv absinthes are not traditional and in fact they have to do some chemical trickery to get the product down to 38%.

“A proper absinthe should be at a decent strength because otherwise you are bringing in chemical tricks and artificial colouring. The only way you can keep a 38% abv product green is through artificial means.

“To make a true green absinthe, there are two stages to the distillation process. The first one is the distillation of the herbs, which results in a clear product. The second stage is another 24-hour distillation.

“There are some brands out there that skip this stage and just add a dash of green colouring after the first distillation, though this doesn’t add anything to the quality of the drink. The second stage doesn’t just make it green, it adds depth and character to the drink.

“Many ‘absinthes’ that came out around 1998-2000 were low in quality and there was marketing around them that suggested ‘drink absinthe and see strange little green fairies’.

“People were suckered in and bought the product thinking this would be the case, and of course it wasn’t. As a result they rejected the category. Once you have bought a drink and all you get from it is a bad taste you are not going to come back to it again.”

Absinthe is on the rise though, Moss insists, pointing to the fact it is riding the crest of a wave of nostalgia in the drinks industry.

“In the US last year there were three cocktail books released dedicated solely to absinthe,” he said. “A lot of the trendy bars in places like New York, Los Angeles, Florida and suchlike are promoting it and bartenders are rediscovering old cocktails.

“The Savoy cocktail book of 1930 contained 104 absinthe cocktails and, I believe, only three with vodka.

“There is a global move to old cocktails anyway, and this is really helping the absinthe category.

“People are looking back to how it was being drunk 100 years ago and the appreciation levels are rising.

“However, the category needs to focus on quality across the board. A lot of brands spent a lot of money promoting their low-quality absinthes and people eventually saw through them.

“What the industry needs is a globally-accepted legal definition for what constitutes a proper absinthe.”

Where do you stand on the issue? Comment below or email: alan.lodge@thedrinksbusiness.com

10 Responses to “Moss blasts “chemical” absinthes”

  1. Ian Hutton says:

    There is something even worse than producing low-strength versions of absinthe and that is producing artificially high-strength absinthes. A company (you know who you are) that brings out versions of ‘absinthe’ at around 90% brings the whole sector into disrepute. The strength of absinthe straight from the still is around 82.5% abv, anything higher has been produced by adding flavour and colouring to pure alcohol. This is not what absinthe is about.

  2. Boerboel says:

    For a more informed point of view (i.e one not based upon naked self-interest) I would like to quote a leading authority::

    “During the Belle Epoque there were high-end fully distilled absinthes, and absinthes made from essences. There were absinthes made in the classic areas of France and Switzerland, and absinthes made in many other countries, in most cases of inferior quality but serving the particular tastes of their local market. There were absinthes in non-traditional colours, like red or pink. There were sweetened absinthes, and there were sparkling absinthes. There were even absinthes made without wormwood. The same is true today… just as a supermarket might for instance offer everything from grade A organic grain-fed prime fillet to budget frozen burger patties. Consumers seem to get their head around the concept that these two extremes still fall under the broad category of “meat”, and I’m confident that customers …are similarly able to understand that the category of “absinthe” might encompass a diverse range of products, some wildly dissimilar.”

  3. vapeur says:

    And in those same times, there were ‘bathtub’ gins, ersatz whiskeys, and a host of similarly shameful, adulterated products that were marketed and sold under false pretenses to the detriment of consumers.

    Whereas today those categories are granted regulatory qualifiers that provide basic consumer protections, none exists for absinthe, and that is indeed a problem as Moss clarifies here. So long as faux, industrialized ‘absinthes’ are allowed to be marketed under the pretenses that they contain some legitimate connection to the famous spirit, the consumer faces a minefield of obstacles that threaten the recognition and growth of absinthe as a category.

  4. admin says:

    Article amended at 12:37 for clarity. Alan Moss is the commercial director of Artemisia Distribution, distributor of La Clandestine, not the owner of La Clandestine.

  5. Dirk Lachenmeier says:

    While I basically agree that the public awareness about absinthe quality is not high, there is something factually wrong in your description of the production processs: “To make a true green absinthe, there are two stages to the distillation process. The first one is the distillation of the herbs, which results in a clear product. The second stage is another 24-hour distillation.”
    Do you mean maceration in the second stage? I am puzzled about how a green colour can be reached by distillation (as the chlorophyll of the herbs is not volatile). Check, e.g., http://www.substanceabusepolicy.com/content/1/1/14

  6. Ian Hutton says:

    The absinthe challenge to all producers, distributors and resellers of absinthe. Would you happily drink every absinthe that you produce and/or sell and confidently offer it to your friends to drink whilst explaining exactly how it was made and its provenance?

  7. Alan Moss says:

    Ian Hutton and vapeur make some good comments. In fact, when I referred to a 38% strength “absinthe” in what was a fairly extensive discussion, I was just using that as one example. I also mentioned the fact that an artificially green “absinthe” made at 50% has been withdrawn from the US market after millions of dollars worth of marketing spend. Perhaps a good indication that in the USA, at least, trade and consumers can see through marketing and are not always taken in by it.

    The major point to be made is the last line quoted in the article: “What the industry needs is a globally-accepted legal definition for what constitutes a proper absinthe.” If the consumer can be protected when buying Scotch or champagne, then of course he should be similarly protected when buying a £50 or $70 dollar bottle of absinthe.

  8. Israel Moore says:

    To clarify: While the first stage is distilled, the second stage for coloring is not distilled at all. Coloring herbs are soaked in distillate from stage and then heated to a low heat, extracting chlorophyl. But this is not distilled a second time. Mr. Moss is correct when he states that there is no way to keep a green color at 38% alcohol strength naturally. Actually, the color will not keep well unless the abbreviated alcohol is around 68%, which is why many vintage absinthes were diluted to that strength.

  9. mark berlanga says:

    There should be room for all the (safe ) absinthes . Let the poorer quality be used in clubs check style (burnt). Let the good ones be savored in upscale bars and restaurants and homes where it will get the attention it deserves. Yes there should be a global “law ” as to what absinthe is . But there should also be categories like swiss or by color, or by herbal flavor. The average Joe on the street doesn’t know jack about absinthe. But , he dose not know about all the different styles of Scotch or even whiskey either . Education! Education! Education! In NYC last century , there was a successful add campaign that might even still be going on. It was for a clothing store chain . The last line of the add went ” an educated consumer is our best customer”. This holds especially true for absinthe.

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