Absinthe: The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of the Green Fairy
There exists a Latin alchemical treatise on wormwood dating from 1667 that appears to give details on the distillation of a spirituous liquor containing some of the very ingredients we know as the herb bill of a traditional absinthe. It is still being translated at this writing, but it appears to be the earliest known record of distilled absinthe-like liquor.
Although we will likely never know the exact origins of the very first absinthe ever distilled or the name of its inventor, the beginnings of commercial absinthe are pretty well documented.
It began with Abram-Louis Perrenoud, a distiller by trade, living in Couvet in the Val de Travers region of Switzerland. Somewhere around the year 1794, Abram-Louis scribbled this recipe in his diary:
Extract of Absinthe
For 18 pots of eau-de vie, (approximately 34 litres)
a large bucket of grand wormwood,
2 handfuls of lemon balm
2 of green anise
same amount of fennel
1 handful of petite wormwood
same amount of hyssop.
The formulation gained regional popularity not merely as a tonic, ostensibly its intended purpose, but as a beverage in its own right.
Major Daniel-Henri Dubied, a lace merchant with no distilling experience, recognized the commercial potential of the formula and purchased the recipe from Perrenoud, employing Abram-Louis’ son Henri-Louis, who had learned the distilling trade from his father. In 1798, along with Dubied’s sons, they began producing absinthe under the name of Dubied Père et Fils. In 1805, after several permutations of partnership, Henri-Louis changed his surname from Perrenoud to Pernod and he established a distillery of his own in Pontarlier, France: Pernod Fils.
Over the next one hundred and ten years many brands, some extraordinary and many substandard, came and went. Pernod Fils remained the standard to which all aspired – or chose to imitate.