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The Dark Side Of Absinthe

Absinthe was first banned in the Congo Free State in 1898, later in Brazil and Belgium in 1906, in Holland in 1908, in Switzerland during 1910, in the United States in 1912 and finally in France, shocked by the first defeats of World War I, by the year 1915, the date that ended the final period to the magical and historic elixir that had once captivated, delighted and inspired a the romantic nation, the ban extended for almost one century.

After the progressive banning in most countries the great Absinthe-producing companies went bankrupt, amalgamated, or switched to producing pastis, while others transferred their production to Spain or Portugal, where Absinthe was never banned and the production of Absinthe continues until present day although on a small scale. Absinthe has never been banned in the United Kingdom or in most Southern and Eastern Europe countries where it still was not produced for decades.

Absinthe was banned after continuous denouncements remarking on its negative effects in drunken individuals. The pressure to ban Absinthe inexorably increased year after year and the last straw was a series of particularly brutal family murders which were blamed on Absinthe consumption. Among them the most notorious was the celebrated Lanfray case that riveted the European press in 1905.

It was a Swiss peasant of French stock named Jean Lanfray, after having drunk two glasses of Absinthe, shot his pregnant wife and two daughters, before attempting to kill himself. For good or bad he failed, and was found the next morning collapsed across his family's dead bodies. Of course, the public reaction to the case was extraordinary, and it focused on just one single detail, the two glasses of Absinthe he had drunk beforehand.

No one considered the fact that Lanfray was a complete alcoholic, who habitually drank up to 5 liters of wine a day. It was forgotten also that on the day of the attack he drank not only the two Absinthes before going to work hours before such tragedy, but he also consumed a "crème de menthe", six glasses of wine and a cognac as part of his habits to help get his lunch down. He also got another glass of wine before leaving work, a cup of coffee with brandy in it, an entire liter of wine when he arrived home, and then finally another coffee with Marc in it.

But with a multitude wishing to ban Absinthe, people had no doubt; it must have been the Absinthe that caused it and nothing else. Within a few weeks after, a petition demanding that Absinthe be banned in Switzerland was signed by over 82,000 inhabitants. Absinthe producers realized too late that their businesses and livelihoods were in jeopardy, and fought a desperate rearguard action, organizing counter petitions and promoting the health benefits of their beverages.

By then, there was an increasing vogue for oxygen enriched drink, the "Absinthe oxygénée", and many brands were sold under the designation of "Absinthe hygenique". Bailly and Cousin Jeune among some other Absinthes producers claimed to offer thujone free liqueur, the "Absinthe sans-thuj". However these never seem to have caught on because the science behind the claims of the manufacturers, determined as being dubious and corrupt in the preparation.

The management of the biggest producer, Pernod Fills, were of Jewish origin and Arthur and Edmond Vielle-Picard, who purchased a controlling interest in the company in 1894, were half-Jewish, financially powerful but lacked political influence in the Chamber of Deputies. In France, still reeling from the anti-semitism exposed by the Dreyfus affair, further aggravated the situation and the popular press, led by the left-wing Parisian daily Le Matin was virulently pro-prohibition. The momentum to ban the drink was now unstoppable and before long it arrived.