Absinthe from Switzerland
Who invented it??? The Swiss of course! The origin of absinthe is undoubtedly in the Val de Travers. In the middle of the 18th century, an advertisement in a Neuchâtel newspaper drew attention to a panacea that later robbed an entire nation (France) of its senses and could only be brought under control by a ban. A good 100 years later, absinthe is on everyone's lips again and is experiencing an incredible renaissance, in which we have been involved since the year 2000.
The origin of absinthe
The herbal schnapps named after the wormwood herb (Artemisia absinthium) was most likely produced, sold and consumed for the first time in today's Canton Neuchatel. In any case, it is documented that wine mixed with vermouth was already available there in the 1730s. Historically, the Principality of Neuchâtel was not yet part of the Swiss Confederation, but part of Prussia. Strictly speaking, absinthe is a Prussian invention! But since this discussion can quickly be taken to the point of absurdity, we'll leave it at that. In any case, the region of origin is the Val de Travers.
In any case, it is historically proven that the French country doctor and refugee from the Revolution, Dr. Ordinaire, sold the self-produced panacea "Elixir d'Absinthe" to his patients across the country with his horse Roquette. After his death, it is very likely that the recipe ended up in the hands of the Henriod family from Couvet, who continued production and sale. Other sources report that it was the other way around and that the recipe originally came from the Henriod sisters. It will probably no longer be possible to determine with certainty. In any case, both names are very closely linked to the origin of absinthe.
Major Dubied and his son-in-law Henri-Louis Pernod
Word quickly spread in the Val de Travers that absinthe has a healing effect, and that's how it happened it is that Major Dubied bought the recipe from the Henriod sisters in 1797 in order to go into business with the green fairy with his son and son-in-law. The three set up a small distillery and produced the sensational amount of 16 liters a day.
The absinthe industry in the small Val de Travers
The absinthe boom was a real blessing for the Val de Travers, then in the destitute valley happy about every job. Since the days of Major Dubied, a veritable industry developed, because with absinthe came label printers. In addition to the great wormwood, numerous other herbs were cultivated on the high-lying areas. Wood processing companies produced crates and hauliers transported the goods all over the world.
In Switzerland there were up to 40 absinthe distilleries. In the small Val de Travers alone there were 13, 4 further in Canton Neuchatel, 11 in Geneva, 4 in Vallis and even 6 in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Among them well-known companies such as Edouard Pernod, Legler Pernod, Berger, Kübler & Romang, Duval, Donier-Tüller, Almen & Kopp, Schumacher & Ammann and many more.
A referendum with far-reaching consequences
When the men of Switzerland voted on the future of absinthe in the summer of 1908, many things became very clear. The result was clear with just under 64% against absinthe, but if you look at the distribution of the votes, it becomes clear that the opponents of absinthe came mainly from eastern Switzerland, a part of Switzerland in which absinthe hardly played a role. On the other hand, in western Switzerland, most voters were in favor of absinthe - a region that benefited greatly from absinthe economically. Despite all this, the ban came on October 7th, 1910. The production and sale of absinthe was prohibited until 2005. Interestingly, the consumption was not forbidden!
The canton of Neuchatel was the last to join the Swiss Confederation in 1812. Even today you can see a certain rejection attitude towards decisions from Bern in the mentality of the population. It is therefore not surprising that many people who were economically dependent on absinthe felt cheated and did not comply with the ban. There are countless anecdotes from the moonlighting era that make you smile today, but that were dead serious at the time. For example, the statement of a convicted moonshiner about his activity: You know, if you drive to Monaco, park down in the port. I, on the other hand, drive up to the castle... So it was cheerfully burned black and everyone took part. Plumbers made small burners from old pots, pharmacists supplied the herbs and you could buy raw alcohol in the drugstore. Everything considered in isolation is completely legit, but taken together it is of course a scam that was prosecuted by the federal alcohol administration for a long time. After all, a ban is a ban!
2005 - the return of the green fairy
Since the 90s you could buy absinthe everywhere in Europe again. Absinthe was never banned in various EU countries and that was the basis for the approval. In Switzerland, however, the clocks tick a little slower and so the Swiss had to wait until legalization in 2005. Black distillers could now go to the federal alcohol administration, report themselves, only to be granted an amnesty and on top of that receive a distilling licence. 10-20 distilleries quickly emerged. However, the state also benefited from this through tax revenue and nobody had to hide their burning port anymore.
People like Pierre-André Delachaux regretted the hype about the green fairy, because he and his friends value the conspiratorial meetings and the mysterious flair of the absinthe of the Val de Travers called La Bleue. With commerce, the green fairy died a second time.
2007 - Success turns into megalomania
Some burners' success went to their heads during this time. A group of former bootleggers submitted an application to the Federal Office for Agriculture to reserve the names "Absinthe", "La Bleue" and "Fée Verte" as protected geographical indications. The result would have been that absinthe could only have been produced exclusively in the Val de Travers. An enormous outcry went through the international absinthe scene, because this was a serious economic threat for many companies. There were about 40 objections from companies from all over the world against this submission. In the first instance, the interest group from the Val de Travers was chosen. However, the judgment was reversed in the second instance and the freedom of absinthe triumphed over the nonsensical initiative. All in all, absinthe has suffered enormously as a result of this history and perhaps that's why it never really made it out of its niche.