A History Of Absinthe
The name Absinthe is derived from French and it refers to a strong liqueur made with herbs and predominant presence of flowers and leaves of the medicinal plant Artemisia absinthium, also called wormwood. This liqueur is widely known for its popularity in France, especially because it is associated with French Impressionists artists and writers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it was first produced near Couvet in Switzerland, and nearby Pontarlier in the Doubs, a largely forgotten part of rural France, nestled in the wooded foothills of the Jura Mountains.
It was the favorite drink in Paris in the Belle Époque, muse of bohemian musicians and writers, of the Moulin Rouge and the cafes of Montmartre, a world plenty of starving struggling artists and glittering courtesans, when the most popular brand of Absinthe known to the world was Pernod Fills. Precisely, Maison Pernod Fills published in 1896 a rare promotional booklet profusely illustrated with numerous engravings showing the factory and the technology used in the production of Pernod Fills Absinthe.
Years later, in 1905 Pernod Fills published their 1805-1905 Centenary catalogue with the same text as the 1896 version, but the beautiful engravings were replaced by photographs. Another book, "Au Pays de l'Absinthe" written by Edmond Couleru, was published in 1908, primarily with the purpose to counteract the increasingly strident anti-Absinthe propaganda of the temperance movement.
This work is the most authoritative contemporary resource on the history, production and consumption of Absinthe and particularly interesting by all the detailed statistical information on Absinthe consumption patterns, and how the growth of and expansion of the industry was developed. Although a good effort in those times, Absinthe was finally prohibited in 1915 and banned for almost a century until its recent revival.
However, the history of Absinthe does not really begin in the 1800 years and can be found dated back to the middle 18th Century, full of legends about the origins of this drink attributed to Dr. Pierre Ordinaire as the inventor in 1792, although the manufacture of Absinthe-like drinks in the Neuchatel region is recorded from the 1750's or even earlier. It is also documented that the two Henriod sisters were making the drink even before Dr Ordinaire's arrival in the Val de Travers, the fact that seeds the theory to consider that Dr Ordinaire was just an euphoric enthusiast doctor who promoted the use of Absinthe as a herbal tonic and folk remedy in the region.
By the year 1805, the Pernod Fills Absinthe company was founded in Pontarlier in the Doubs region, and it was run by Henri-Louis Pernod, Dubied's son-in-law. Napoleon III Empire, from 1852 to the downfall with the Prussian invasion in 1870 was part of the golden age for Absinthe. In those earlier days, there were just two stills producing only 16 liters of Absinthe per day, but shortly afterwards the elder Dubied and his son split from Pernod to return to their own company that later was passed down to a cousin named Fritz Duval.
While Pernod Fills went from strength to strength, Henri-Louis's son purchased 36 000 square meters of land on the outskirts of Pontarlier alongside the Doubs River and built a factory with a daily production exceeding 400 liters. When Louis died in 1850, his sons Fritz and Louis-Alfred took over the reins and the factory had 26 stills producing 20,000 liters a day.
Louis' sons were assisted financially by the Veil-Picard banking family and also by Arthur Borel, a brilliant Swiss engineer and close associate of the Pernod's for 3 generations. Borel was the designer of most of the factories and the innovative distilling, bottling and packaging equipment that allows the continued expansions.
Pernod Fills become quickly one of the largest and most successful companies in France, and pioneer in the humane and enlightened treatment of its mostly female workers. In 1873 a profit-sharing and pension scheme was introduced to insure its workers against accidents, gave them unemployment compensation and provided medical benefits, all at the company's own expense.