Few spirits incite more controversy than absinthe. The vivid green anise-flavored liquor is known for its high alcohol content and reputation for causing hallucinations and madness, qualities that have made it alternately coveted and reviled. Those qualities resulted in France banning absinthe in 1915, but opinions change as time progresses. Now, the French government has voted to lift the ban and release absinthe to the public once again.
Though absinthe was first distilled in Switzerland, it gained most of its fame in France – it gained most of its notoriety there as well, which could explain why France is the last country in the European Union to lift the ban on absinthe sales. The absinthe ban was lifted across the rest of the EU in 1988. France has remained the lone hold-out based on a legal technicality, allowing for the sale of absinthe facsimiles like pastis and Pernod, and even absinthe production in France, while forbidding sale of anything actually labeled as “absinthe.”
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Now, the French government has voted to allow absinthe sales once again. According to the BBC, this may have been triggered by Switzerland’s recently approved request to give its Val-de-Travers region exclusive rights to absinthe production within the country. While this request does not currently involve the EU, says the BBC, “it is possible that the Swiss could seek to extend the ruling across the block.” This would be bad news for France financially, since it remains one of the world’s biggest absinthe producers – but it’s hard to protest when you can’t even sell the stuff in your own country.
With the absinthe ban lifted, sales are sure to boom as French bars and shops are able to stock true absinthe in their stores. Whether Switzerland presses forward with seeking exclusive rights remains to be seen, but for today, it’s a celebration for absinthe producers, absinthe connoisseurs, and a slice of France's own rich heritage.