Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Absinthe, the federal regulations and technology.

I try to keep an eye on alcoholic beverage news. I find it odd that most of that news comes out on the food pages rather than the business pages of most newspapers. Some newspapers even use the strangest (strange as in I am just awake and without enough caffeine to do much more than ask a question that I cannot repeat here and still sound both professional and PG) headlines. This headline comes from today's Washington Post: A Forbidden Fairy Makes a Comeback. It is about absinthe and here is an excerpt:

Basically, it boils down to chemistry. According to the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, U.S. law prohibits absinthe that contains over 10 parts per million of thujone, the active ingredient in wormwood. Wormwood is the plant that makes absinthe absinthe -- with its mythic tales of hallucination and belle epoque debauchery.

But here's the thing: Just about all absinthe has less than 10 parts per million of thujone and perhaps always did. The ban existed mainly because there had been no way to prove otherwise. Until now. In fact, New Orleans-born chemist Ted Breaux, creator of the new Lucid absinthe, has used modern technology to test bottles from the late 19th century to show that properly made absinthe contained very little thujone.

The Tax and Trade Bureau has done similar tests. "There are currently four absinthe products that we've tested and we're allowing in the marketplace," spokesman Art Resnick says. They are Lucid, Green Moon from France, and two versions of the brand Kubler from Switzerland.

I find more interesting how technology recreates an industry. Absinthe got itself banned for being dangerous. Actually for being very, very dangerous. Better chemistry shows the drink was not necessarily dangerous. The article mentions historians thinking that poorly made absinthe caused the problem. I take from that statement, that poor regulation of the makers helped create the problems. I might be influenced here by the talk on MSNBC of the dangerous Chinese toys.