Taste of Absinthe


Pages 24 – 26

It is from the appearance of industrial alcohols made by distillation of grains, beets, potatoes, and molasses that alcoholism is born and grows with astonishing speed, bringing with it an increase in criminality, mental illness, and suicides. Such is the thesis supported by Mr. Lannelongue and many speakers from extremely diverse groups in the Chamber, without said thesis being seriously contradicted by anybody. The work of the doctors and chemists has revealed the existence of ethanol and a whole series of other alcohols having different molecular compositions and higher boiling points; that’s why they were given the name higher alcohols, which lends ambiguity, since it is proven that it is precisely these alcohols whose effects are especially harmful to the human organism. Without claiming that spirits distilled from wine, pure ethanol, are completely innocent and can be misused with impunity, which would be an absurdity, we have the right to agree, following scientists such as Dujardin-Beaumetz and Audige, that their effects cannot be compared with those of industrial alcohols. Dr. Lannelongue, after having declared that they have not been able to discover the harmful principle in ethanol, sought to determine the dose at which this alcohol becomes harmful to man. He estimates that an adult can consume 120 grams of it with impunity, which corresponds to about one liter of wine at 8 degrees per day, or to eight small glasses of Armagnac at 50 degrees. The scientist/doctor combated the allegations of certain writers who accuse that spirits distilled from wine contain elements as dangerous as those known to exist in industrial alcohols. He quoted on that occasion the opinion of Lancereau which affirms that “brandies and homemade wine are not more dangerous than wine”; that of Laborde which claims in turn that “brandy from wine is well tolerated because it possesses minimum toxic power”; and finally that of Girard which gives an assent by saying that “brandy from wine is harmless in moderate amounts “. To fill the hole dug into the budget by the reduction of taxes on drinks known as healthy, the surtax on alcohol would not serve, they dreamed up a special tax on spirits, absinthe in particular, naturally with much insistence on the dangers presented to the public health by the abuse of that drink.

But in the anathemas that certain speakers launched with glee against it, we never found anything to belie the conclusions at which we arrived after a calm and reasoned examination of the question; we met no argument able to convince us of the toxic effects of the essences contained in a well-made absinthe, taken in the doses which we indicated and which are precise. One rose with vehemence against the shameful products too often sold for consumption under the name of absinthe: the fact was brought out that many make these products themselves by cold mixing unrectified industrial alcohol with essences which are true poisons, so that the consumer suffers a double poisoning by bad alcohol and by the essences. All decent people will share the indignation raised by the revelations made in House of Commons regarding the intrigues of these culprits; everyone will applaud the severe measurements the Government has decided to take to ensure the hygienic control of drinks and to put a stop to the systematic poisoning of the Frenchconsumer. But it is necessary to take care not to confuse the products of an infamous industry with absinthe such as is carefully distilled in the factory of Pernod & Sons, using spirits distilled from wines chosen from among the best of Languedoc and Roussillon, and aromatic plants of the best quality. There is between them the same difference as between wine made from fresh grapes, pure juice of the vine, and the degenerate drink made under the name of wine in certain warehouses for the use of the Parisian population.