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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Trillium Absinthe

It's not beery, but let me draw your attention to an article in today's Oregonian about the newest offering from microdistillery Integrity Spirits: Trillium Absinthe.

Perhaps it was best to take my first taste of absinthe on a hearty Oregon afternoon in July. Sunlight seems suitable inoculation against the potion's legendary sorcery.

My guides were Kieran Sienkiewicz and Rich Phillips, owners of Integrity Spirits, a Southeast Portland micro-distillery making artisanal vodka, gin and now the once-banned absinthe. Come this weekend, they will become the first in Oregon and the second in the nation to bottle and sell the mystique-laden drink, known for centuries as the green fairy....

At the start of the 20th century, the French wine industry pushed its government to ban absinthe. Other countries in Europe followed, and the U.S. ban was applied in 1912. On the fundamental rule of human behavior that something forbidden must be sampled, thousands of tourists visited Spain and other countries that still made and served absinthe....

Last year, the United States recognized that fact by lifting the ban. An Alameda, Calif., distiller was first to market. Sienkiewicz and Phillips said Integrity Spirits is the second with a product ready for sale.

Trillium Absinthe Superieure is expected to be in Oregon liquor stores by the weekend. Cost: $59.95 a bottle.

If you'd like to read a truly fascinating account of absinthe, I can direct you to an article from a couple years ago by Jack Turner in the New Yorker.


  1. Absinthe has an interesting history, but the current American Absinthe interest is more hype than hypnotic. The "Trillium Absinthe" article seemed to leave out the important info on Absinthe.... Why it was so popular in the past!

    First, let me say, I've had some Absinthe when in France about 20 years ago. It was kind of nasty and real bitter. More of a digestive than a quaffable drink.

    The HYPE of Absinthe comes from it's history of being created with Wormwood and wormwoods euphoric effects.

    You need wormwood to make real absinthe, but the herb is difficult to work with. The chemical compound Thujone causes the drink's supposed side effects: hallucinations, artistic inspiration, degeneracy and homicidal mania. Thujone has been prohibited as a food and drink ingredient in the United States since 1912.

    Sounds like fun! Unfortunately, the Government is very strict on the regulations of Thujone levels in MODERN Absinthe and this liquors have NO psychological euphoric effect other than typical alcohol effects.

    So.... It's basically HYPE! Today, most Absinthe's are made with a variety of herbs for more interesting flavor... But there's little to no bang for the buck.

  2. D, you should read that New Yorker article I link to. Your science is a little outdated. The thujone theory has been debunked--turns out that it gets removed during infusion. They tested old bottles to confirm. That article is rich with historical and scientific info--a great read even for people who have no interest in spirits.

  3. I'm the designer for the bottle and came across quite a bit of interesting information on the amount of thujone in classic absinthe recipes (already ususally less than 10arts per million) and what the U.S regs allow (10ppm or less).

    The Wormwood Society (based in Seattle) has a great article that breaks everything down.

    "It's true. After 95 years, real absinthe is now legally available and being sold inside the United States in bars and liquor stores.

    We don't say "legalized" because nothing has changed—it appears absinthe may have been technically legal since 1972, possibly much earlier. What happened?

    Absinthe is not prohibited by name in the US, although until recently the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) exercised its discretionary authority not to allow spirits to be labeled as absinthe.

    Owing to new understandings of the regulatory matters regarding wormwood content, and the recent decision by the TTB to allow labels to bear the term "absinthe," several authentic absinthes are finally emerging into the US market.

    Yes, these are authentic 19th century-style absinthes. The European Union and the US have food standards in place that directly and indirectly regulate absinthe's botanical content, and recent progress in knowledge of regulatory matters and distilling practice have made it possible to produce fully authentic absinthes which will meet US regulations.

    While these absinthes are not absolutely 100% thujone free, the concentration of thujone falls within the current TTB standard for thujone screening: 10ppm, roughly 10mg per liter, which is the European Union standard. Not that it matters much, because it's already been amply demonstrated that thujone is unimportant to the quality or authenticity of absinthe. (see our science section)

    This new development will permit a large variety of quality European absinthes to enter the US market legally as well as permitting authentic absinthe to be made domestically once again. At this writing, as many as five domestic distillers are preparing to release products in the U.S. market.

    More details about this development will be added as they surface. Stay tuned!"

  4. Here's a good cocktail recipe using two Portland distillates. This one was created by Chris Hannah of Arnaud’s French 75 bar in New Orleans, who should know a thing or two about blending French beverage history into New World cocktails.

    Fairy Tarragon
    1 1/2 oz Sub Rosa Tarragon Vodka
    1/2 oz lemon juice
    1/4 oz Integrity Spirits Trillium Absinthe
    1/4 oz Galliano
    1 dash Peychaud's bitters

    Shaken, strained into chilled Martini glass

  5. Anybody having any luck finding the stuff?

    Went to three east side liquor stores this morning and they either hadn't gotten any or were already sold out!

    The bottle is really lovely, by the way. Good job, designer!

    Hope the goods are as good!


  6. Yeah, we bought some from the liquor store in Sellwood today. My previous favorite from the currently available selection was Lucid, but I'm sipping some on the rocks in a very small glass right now and I think Trillium is my new fav!

  7. WRONG!

    It is actually better NOW!

    "a pre-ban bottle of Swiss absinthe that he had analyzed at Merck. The lab found “thujone, ether, cyclohexane, camphor, and fenchone.” How much thujone? One part per million. A decade later, Breaux came up with similar numbers. Must be intense stuff to be dangerous at such low levels. Except that in the United States, absinthe is legal if its thujone content is below—wait for it—ten parts per million."