Vice Squad
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Present Absinthe

The March 13, 2006 New Yorker brings a fine article by Jack Turner about non-snus Vice Squad obsession absinthe. (A scanned pdf version apparently is available from halfway down this page.) The article details the efforts of one committed individual -- Ted Breaux -- to reproduce the sorts of absinthes that were available circa-1900, prior to the misguided ban. Breaux has determined that there was essentially no thujone in the pre-ban absinthes. (Thujone is the chemical in wormwood, an input into absinthe production, that presumably was responsible for any toxic properties of the drink -- at least those toxic properties that are not common to all high-alcohol concoctions.) Furthermore, the ur-absinthe is not even bitter: a proper distillation process removes both the thujone and the bitterness.

In the US, you still don't see absinthe on your grocer's shelves, even though it is legal (accidentally?) in Europe. But you can still find some in the good ol' USA, it seems (though as always, do not rely upon this info as legal advice):
The current trade takes place mostly on the Internet, thanks to a curious legal loophole. The Department of Agriculture's 1912 ban affected only sales and distillation of the drink; consumption and possession remain legal. Travellers returning to the U.S. with a bottle or customers buying it from Europe on the Internet are not guilty of any crime, though they could have their bottle confiscated.
As Vice Squad frequently notes, legal consumption, purchase, and (for the most part) possession were features of US national alcohol Prohibition, too; it took the drug war lunacy for purchase and possession to become proscribed.


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