I sit at my door, smoking a cigarette and sipping my absinthe, and I enjoy every day without a care in the world.
- Paul Gaugin, 1897
Time again for the annual absinthe festival in the French Jura. Right in Pontarlier - the 2006 Absinthiades. As always with a lot of enthusiasts, collectors, distillers and professionals on the subject mixed with curious newcomers to the world of absinthe.
Arriving, as usual, at the Geneva international airport around noon. An hour and a half later I arrived at the Hôtel Campanille in the outskirts of Pontarlier and checked in to the room. Got a little lunch at Le McDonald's around the corner and headed off to the train station to pick up Ted Breaux (Jade Liquors).
We went to the Emile Pernot distillery to meet up with Peter Schaf (Liqueurs de France) and David Nathan-Maister (Oxygenee.com). We had the pleasure of meeting Marc Thuillier and his adorable wife and of course the good people working at the distillery.
Me and Ted went off for a quick bite at a restaurant in the basement of the Hotel S:t Pierre where we got waitered by probably the only lady in there who spoke english. Let's just say she loved to talk. A lot. Had a nice glass of the local wine "Macvin du Jura" and a really fine pizza!
After dinner it was time to head over to the Theatre Bernard Blier for the panel discussion about absinthe. Tension was in the air, to say the least. The panel included a Swiss "scientist" who obviously knew very little of what he was doing and the ever so self-centered Francois Guy was debating his wonderful views of what is absinthe and not. He needs to do a reality check.
After the panel, David, Ted and I headed over to the local metal-grunge-drunk-hippie-bar to get a couple of beers before Ted and I headed back out to our hotel. Trust me when I say I have rarely seen such a diverse crowd as that of the guests to this bar! Anything from dressed up hipsters to completely shitfaced heavy metal relics from the early 80's.
After a nice breakfast it was time to kickstart the Absinthiades for real.
The antiques show started and we were all browsing for finds. As usual there were some fakes and modern replicas made to look antique. But there were certainly many nice things to buy or just drool at. Frenchman Phil was there to showcase a few of his things - his replica of the Cusenier Brouille among others. Also met up with author Benoit Noel and got his latest book on the subject, "A comme Absinthe - Z comme Zola".
During the afternoon there was a "peoples jury" tasting the absinthes entered for the annual concours de degustation. The result from that would be presented along with the results of the professional jury and the "VIP jury" on Sunday.
Later on, back to the Emile Pernot distillery for a more or less historic moment. David purchased a bottle of circa 1910 65% Edouard Pernod absinthe at the antiques show and we opened it up at the distillery. Much to the joy of many a visitors who had never before seen or much less tasted a pre-ban absinthe. After very careful work, to be sure not to break the cork, the bottle was opened.
With its wonderful feuille mort color and a room filling scent of 100 year old goodness we all enjoyed a little sampling of this magnificent piece of absinthe history. Along the tasting of the Edouard Pernod, we also sampled some other vintage products brought there by David. A sample of the Pernot anise liqueur from around 1940, a sample of a very sweet Liqueur d'Anis and also a sample of a circa 1970-1975 Portoguese Ancora Absinto. That one just wasn't good.
It was a pleasure to see the people there sampling and tasting all this. This was where we met up with the charming Louisa Chu, chef and all-things-food-journalist, and with the very nice couple Chris Dickey (Paris Bureau chief for Newsweek) and his lovely wife Carol. As always it was a pleasure to meet Markus Lion again and also the owners of the Matter-Luginbühl distillery (Kallnacher) Oliver and Nicole and not to forget, Dutchman Serge Helfrich.
We all went to the Coté Pont for dinner in the evening, 17 people and lots of lovely food and wine. Frank, owner of Combier joined us as well as Francois, owner of Emile Pernot. It was a very nice evening with lots of laughter and many many wonderful stories told by Chris.
Eventually the restaurant obviously wanted to close for the evening so, in pouring rain we headed back to the hotel. Markus Lion, also staying at the Campanille, offered us some drinks, and who would turn that down? Nice Duplais prototypes. Good things will come out of that, I'm sure.
First stop, the Theatre Bernard Blier for jury duty in the Professional Jury of the 2006 concours de degusation. Two hours of hard work, sampling, spitting and tasting. As usual there were far too many really bad absinthes entered and only a few goodies.
However, the result was nice to see. I sat at the same table as Francois Guy and watched him make a complete fool out of himself when he commented on the lovely green color of the Absinthe Duplais. He just couldn't grasp that it was completely natural and historically accurate in production. Then again, his absinthe isn't really anything to write home about. Envy?
So, after the tasting, we headed back to the Pernot distillery and helped finishing the sealing and packing of L'Artisanale bottles. We also had the pleasure of sampling a prototype of the forthcoming Marilyn Manson absinthe - Mansinthe. Distilled at the Matter-luginbühl distillery in Kallnach and made by Markus Lion it is bound to be a quality product. The one we tasted was a prototype of what was first intended as a special US-version, but since the rules have changed just in time for the release of the final version of the Mansinthe, there will be only one version sold internationally. Authentic and 100% natural. The prototype we tested here was a very early one and the color clearly artificial.
We did some more browsing around the antiques fair and of course visited the Pontarlier museum looking at the wonderful collection of absinthiana, and the Sunday just passed.
Evening, hungry, time for food. Peter, Francois, Frank and me met up with Helfrich and the good italian crowd, Margherita and Paolo and their friend at the restaurant of Hôtel du Poste. They brought a bunch of really nice Italian wines and liquors that we all enjoyed and we had a really great dinner. I also recieved a sample of the improved Farom Old Blanche prototype, an italian absinthe blanche. Very nice!
Late night, back at the hotel again. Watching a little crappy French TV, reflecting over the past few days. It's really easy to understand why I love these things so much. The company of very good people and friends. A lot of very good wines (and sometimes not so good wines) and plenty of really lovely food. Along all that, the spirit of absinthe, everywhere. What is there not to love?
Why didn't I book a flight a bit later? Driving back to Geneva, and catching my flight back home. Everything is back to normal, only I now have some new absinthes to enjoy, some champagne, some local Macvin and some red wines. Life is pretty good after all.
A great many thanks to all the people I met there for a great weekend!
Many writers "of old" wrote poems or passages about absinthe. Some drank it, some didn't. Find some of them here as well as reviews and notes on modern books about absinthe.
The Absinthe Poetry section has seen several updates the past days. Poems and information about more authors; Antonin Artaud, Arthur Symons, Francis Saltus Saltus, Florence Folsom and Robert Loveman. Open your mind and have a drink while you enjoy their lyrics.
It's the new bistro, the new bar in town. A good place to meet when meeting in real life isn't always an option. Meet me on facebook for more updates from the absinthe world.