Ted Breaux is the creator of Lucid Absinthe Supérieure. He is a chemist and environmental microbiologist. The recipe for Lucid was developed by reverse-engineering absinthe made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Absinthe was banned in the U.S. in 1912. Despite what you may have heard, it does not cause hallucinations or insanity. Over a century of romanticization has caused this widespread misinformation to be accepted as fact. Here, we discuss the crusade to dispel this myth and the overturning of the ban on March 5th, 2007.
Sinical Magazine: March 5th is the 4 year anniversary of the legalization of absinthe. How were you and Viridian Spirits able to overturn the U.S. ban on absinthe?
Ted Breaux: The effort to overturn the longstanding (95 year) U.S. ban on absinthe required a year's worth of patience in reeducating the U.S. government on absinthe, and reassuring them that our aim was to bring it back as it truly appeared and not as some have made it out to be. Basically, modern science has revealed nothing wrong with vintage absinthe, and this proves what we?ve suspected all along, that being the original reasoning behind the smear campaign against absinthe was politically and economically motivated. Nevertheless, quite a bit of time and effort was required in getting this evidence in front of the decision makers and proving that our intentions in debunking the myths of the past were genuine. The U.S. TTB rewarded our efforts by approving Lucid as the first genuine absinthe to be distributed in the U.S. since 1912.
Sinical Magazine: How far do you think absinthe has come towards mainstream acceptance?
Ted Breaux: Since Lucid was launched in 2007, availability has outpaced education. And while the acceptance of absinthe is fairly widespread, the understanding of absinthe and how to utilize it in both classic and modern cocktails takes more time. Virtually every appearance and promotion I make these days pertains to the education of absinthe and how to work with it effectively. Absinthe was a staple of every decent bar in the mainstream U.S. at the time of its banning. Today, we Americans are underexposed to the flavor of anise (the primary flavor of absinthe), so our palates are a little different than they were a century ago.
Sinical Magazine: What is the legal status of absinthe in France?
Ted Breaux: It's been technically legal to produce absinthe in France since the E.U. food and beverage regulations were adopted by founding members in 1988. However, the French recognized the door being opened, and passed an obscure decree that banned use of the lone word “absinthe” from product labels, and deliberately restricted the use of some key herbs (e.g. fennel) important to the spirit. Having distilled absinthe in France since early 2004, that obscure regulation eventually caught up with me, and I almost ended up in a French jail. After thousands of dollars in fines and many months, we put our legal resources to work again in France, and were successful in overturning these hindrances and getting the French to formally legalize use of the term “absinthe”.
Sinical Magazine: Last year, Swiss makers of absinthe in the Val de Travers region tried to monopolise the use of the term "absinthe". Do you know the current status of that that claim?
Ted Breaux: Presently, Switzerland is the only country that has a law that defines standards for being able to rightfully label a product as “absinthe”. As a result, inferior, industrial brands that are adulterated with additives and food coloring cannot be sold there. This has angered large commercial interests that produce inferior brands, who have responded by applying pressure to the Swiss government to abandon their standards. The effort by small Swiss producers to restrict the term “absinthe” represents a knee jerk response to counter the pressure coming from these industrial producers. The problem with this is it threatens to also alienate those of us who distill absinthe true to tradition. So while it represents a just cause, it?s a shortsighted way to address the problem, and we?ve had no choice but to formally oppose it. Due to the sheer opposition it?s received, I expect that it will fail.
Sinical Magazine: Can you tell us what sets Lucid Absinthe Supérieure apart from other brands of absinthe?
Ted Breaux: If one checks the verbiage on a bottle of Lucid, he/she will not find terms like “Herbal Liqueur” and/or “Contains FD&C Blue, Yellow, etc.” This is because traditional absinthe was never bottled with sugar (not a liqueur), and neither is Lucid. Likewise, just as no bottle of good red wine is colored with red dye, Lucid contains no artificial coloring. Everything about it is natural and distilled entirely true to tradition. Lucid is a craft product, as are the finest, most genuine absinthes on today?s market. Fortunately, with a few notable exceptions, many products on the U.S. market today are actually distilled directly from herbs and of good quality. In Europe, at least 90% of absinthe amounts to nothing more than alcohol, commercial flavorings, artificial dye, and a large price tag.
Sinical Magazine: How is Lucid absinthe produced?
Ted Breaux: Lucid absinthe is produced entirely by hand, involves distilling great quantities of herbs using 130 year-old handmade copper absinthe stills, and is finished using the antiquated coloring methods from the 19th century. There are few places on Earth where absinthe can be crafted this way in a distillery that actually produced absinthe a century ago, and retains its original equipment. The Combier distillery (where Lucid is produced) features architecture by Gustave Eiffel, and is a living museum. I perform all my distillation there, including Lucid, my personal Jade Liqueurs absinthes, and other artisanal, craft products.
Sinical Magazine: What is the best way to drink Lucid absinthe?
Ted Breaux: Most people know something about the French way with sugar cube and dripping ice water, but what many don?t realize is that absinthe was commonly used in dozens upon dozens of vintage, pre-prohibition cocktails. Basically, adding a dash of absinthe to many cocktails, such as whiskey drinks, fizzes, collins, flips, and such gives them a pleasant kick. It also has many traditional culinary uses, such as in the famous Oysters Rockefeller, absinthe sorbet, and many others. This knowledge is among the things I resurrect when I conduct my traveling preprohibition absinthe cocktail sessions.
*This interview is also featured in Issue 1 of Sinical Magazine. If you liked this interview please make sure to join our Fan page on Facebook!. We appreciate your readership and support!