Absinthe in the United States

Having had a bad rap – in fact, enduring a century-long ban in the United States – Absinthe is back and legal.

In 2007, two European distillers of the infamous and mysterious liquor were allowed to begin selling it Stateside. Where before it was smuggled into the country from Eastern Europe or bought from illegal producers, there is now absinthe liquor for sale in numerous bars or liquor stores.

Effects of Absinthe

Absinthe is often referred to as the green fairy for its chartreuse hue that it gets from wormwood, the herb containing the chemical thujone which is considered as the culprit that causes hallucinations. This anise-flavored alcohol was a favorite of creative types in the 1800s, including Picasso and Oscar Wilde (the latter included absinthe in many of his writings) and its alleged hallucinogenic effects were rumored to be behind Vincent Van Gogh’s cutting off his ear in 1888. Absinthe has also been blamed for causing epilepsy in addition to delusions.

Many experts now state that the hallucinations and other health-related issues were a result of alcohol poisoning due to the high alcohol content in absinthe (which was typically 50 to 70 percent), rather than the thujone in absinthe. While years of research discredit the supposed transcendental effects of absinthe with thujone, the alcohol is only permitted to be sold in the U.S. if they are thujone-free.

Question of Authenticity

Enthusiasts complain that thujone-free absinthe is not the real deal and what’s available for U.S. consumers are watered-down brands. Case in point: absinthe liquor for sale in the U.S. contain less than 10 parts per million (p.p.m.) of thujone. In contrast, absinthe bottled up before 1900 contained up to 260 p.p.m. of thujone. Many decry that the absinthe beverage you see in U.S. stores are cheap imitations, since the chemical is what gives absinthe its buzz, and is the substance that sets it apart from other alcoholic drinks.

Popular Absinthe Brands

Whether or not they are authentic enough, four absinthe labels were approved by a U.S. federal agency in 2007, and more began trickling in little by little. Below are some of the popular absinthe brands available in the U.S. market:

  • Kübler, Switzerland – $54, alc. 53% vol. (Importer: Altamar Brands, Corona del mar, Calif.)
  • Grande Absente, France – $64, alc. 69% vol. (Importer: Crillon Importers, Paramus, N.J.)
  • Pernod Absinthe, France – $64, alc. 68% vol. (Importer: Pernod Ricard, Purchase, N.Y.)
  • Émile Pernot Vieux Pontarlier, France – $54, alc. 65% vol. (Importer: Tempus Fugut Spirits, San Francisco)
  • St. George Absinthe Verte, United States – $80, alc. 60% vol.
  • Jade Nouvelle-Orléans, France – $111, alc. 68% vol. (Importer: Viridian Spirits, Manhasset, N.Y.)
  • La Clandestine, Switzerland – $74, alc. 54% vol. (Importer: Viridian Spirits, Manhasset, N.Y.)
  • Lucid, France – $60, alc. 62% vol. (Importer: Viridian Spirits, Manhasset, N.Y.)
  • Mansinthe by Marilyn Manson, Switzerland – $62, alc. 66.6% vol. (Importer: Tempus Fugit Spirits, San Francisco)