“There was this guy from New Orleans,” I began, “but I can’t remember his name.”
“His name is Ted Breaux,” a woman called out from the darkness at the end of the bar.
“Oh, yeah,” I replied, and began to launch into a lecture.
“You want to meet him?” the woman asked.
Turns out the rock star of the spirits world was sitting right next to me.
This is the story he told:
“I’m originally from New Orleans, but my family was transferred to Lafayette when I was a kid, I graduated from Lafayette High in 1984, and got my master’s from UL in microbiology.
The whole absinthe thing started for me in 1993 when I found myself in New Orleans. It’s amazing that the absinthe culture had been so indelibly marked in New Orleans. When I went to the Old Absinthe House, [on Bourbon Street] and saw the green and white marble fountains on the bar, that’s really when I transitioned from reading something in a book to really being able to put my hands on it and know that it happened.
I was very curious about the allegations that absinthe contains something deleterious or poisonous, because that’s what I was doing, I was identifying contamination. I’m an environmental chemist, which means I’m a little bit of an organic and an analytical and physical chemist; I do a little bit of everything. I wanted to know what compound was in absinthe that caused these allegedly deleterious effects.
Basically, I knew the only way I was going to be able to study absinthe was to have it, and there wasn’t any around anywhere, so I knew that I was going to have to learn how to distill it. I started running experiments back then. The missing link, the rosetta stone, was in 1996-97 when I happened to run across not one, but two bottles of vintage absinthe that were sealed and unopened. Notable brands. That’s what really opened the door to be able to connect the beginning with the end. To fill in the missing link.
The absinthes I was tasting were [bottled] between 1900 and 1915, pre ban. They were wonderful. I knew the spirit had 100 years of age on it, which, in the case of absinthe, is beneficial. It was a delightful, stimulating, refreshing, herbal anise drink, with beautiful caramelized honeyed flavors.
In 2000, I was the first person to ever take samples of vintage absinthe and to subject them to modern scientific analysis. I was looking for something in these vintage absinthes that was poisonous or deleterious or hallucinogenic, and I found nothing. That revelation told me that basically all these rumors about absinthe were grossly exaggerated or untrue altogether.
Then I began to realize that the smear campaign made against absinthe over a century ago was fueled by the wine industry. So it was economically motivated and politically motivated as well. The temperance league in Europe found themselves allied with the wine industry. In France, wine back then wasn’t viewed as alcohol; it was viewed as food. It was thought to be completely healthy, as was anything from grapes. They were unlikely bedfellows in the smear campaign against absinthe.
The European Union standardized all the food and beverage laws in 1988, which effectively superseded all the old laws, making absinthe legal again but problem is there’s no legal definition. You can put anything in a bottle and call it absinthe, unfortunately. That’s what more than 90 percent of European producers did, they knew that they could put any flavored vodka in a bottle, put some green dye in it, jack up the price and sell it to unwitting tourists who had no point of reference.
I had been afforded the rare opportunity to sample vintage absinthe by that point in time, and I knew these products going around in Europe were absolutely terrible. They had no connection to absinthe whatever. I started to amass all this scientific analysis, and I realized I had enough information to effectively reverse engineer these very brands I was studying. I set out to make the wrong right and that’s what took me to France.
It took me a while to find a distillery that had 100-year-old equipment, with absinthe stills in it. The distillery is a museum. [The historic Combier distillery in Saumur, France, uses apparatus designed by Gustav Eiffel in the mid-1800s.]”
Once Breaux mastered the distillation problem, he began to find a market for his artisinal absinthe. He could sell his spirit all over the world, except in his own country. Absinthe was legally banned in the U.S.
“Others have tried [to get through the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco] with inferior products and were turned down. I was approached by a group of entrepreneur types with an appreciation of absinthe, and they asked if I wanted to work with them to see if we could get the laws changed.
The way that you submit a beverage for approval in the U.S. is you submit a sample. They send it to their labs and test it. It’s a pass-fail sort of thing. At that point, they don’t even have to know what it is. So we sent a sample, and they didn’t find anything wrong with it, so it passed.
The next step is to send in the label. When they saw the label had absinthe on it, they were, ‘Oh, no, no, no, you can’t do that.’ Our response was, ‘What would you like us to call it? The product is genuine, and you’ve already approved it.’ We had them. It took a while; we had to convince them that we were a respectable bunch and we weren’t marketing absinthe as some sort of drug, which it isn’t. I’d already been on the History Channel and CBS morning news. They [AFT] took that into account. They realized most of the myths and allegations about absinthe really were that, and they could not be substantiated through modern science. Eventually, they approved us, in March 2007, which effectively overturned a 95-year-old ban.
When I walked into Pamplona last night, I was really surprised. I saw two absinthe fountains on the bar, and that’s something I see in mixology bars in New York or San Francisco. And yeah, they had a surprising variety of absinthes on the menu. I found the manager and bartender were knowledgeable and helpful and very enthusiastic.
Absinthe is a very cultured item. It’s a niche item. It’s very cool to have it. It’s really great when you can promote something new that’s really quite old. There’s been a renaissance in pre Prohibition cocktails, which almost everyone recognizes as the pinnacle of cocktail culture. And absinthe is a part of that. It’s something that people find fascinating.
Whether we drink beer or wine or tequila, technically, legally they’re all alcohol, but anybody who’s had all three knows they take you to different places. One thing about genuine absinthe: Those who imbibe it universally agree that after a couple of drinks, that they feel somewhat mentally stimulated. They can feel the effects of alcohol on the body, but the mind stays sharp at least for a while. It seems to be uniquely attributable to absinthe. Clarity or lucidity. That’s why we chose the name Lucid.”
Lafayette native artist Rick Begneaud shines at AcA
Business organizations opposed the proposal, saying it would lead to job losses and higher prices for goods and services.
An attempt to repeal a six-year-old law that permits public school science teachers to use material outside a classroom's adopted textbook has been rejected by the Senate Education Committee.
New York Times poll shows Obama, Jindal have identical approval and disapproval ratings in the state.
See which events are taking place during INNOV8 Lafayette this Friday, April 25.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Lisa Boudreaux come and get your goodies.
OK, so they’re bentgrass, the type used on golf course greens. But grass is grass.
Jefferson Street restaurant and pub debuts during Festival with limited menu.
The Senate Finance Committee approved the bill Wednesday, despite opponents who argued it would shut down the storefront lenders.
A measure to allow the state to implement its own, less stringent plan for limiting carbon dioxide emissions unanimously passed the Senate.
FDA to regulate e-cigarettes, Jodie Foster gets married, Vermont to require labels on genetically-modified food, and more news for today, April 24, 2014.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
A push to expand Louisiana's Medicaid program as allowed under the federal health care has been overwhelmingly rejected by the Senate health committee.
See which events are taking place during INNOV8 Lafayette this Thursday.
It’s on, y’all. Fest fIND, our annual Festival International de Louisiana reader contest, is now accepting photo submissions.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Louisiana welfare recipients would be prohibited in state law from spending the federal assistance at lingerie shops, tattoo parlors, nail salons and jewelry stores, under a bill that received the support Wednesday of a House committee.
Senators will consider whether to prohibit private businesses in Louisiana from paying unequal wages to employees of different genders for the same job.
Rep. Joel Robideaux has delayed bill hearings and said unless a compromise can be reached, he won't bring up the legislation this session.
Once again, Lafayette Parish School Board President Hunter Beasley is focused on an issue that has nothing to do with the educational well-being of our public school children.
Fashion and music make great bedfellows
Producers, manufacturers, restaurants and chefs host roundtable and tasting
After exhausting his appeals all the way to the state Supreme Court, the owner of the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete has no legal remedy left save one: do an end run around the high court via a bill that would grandfather his “right” to keep a 550-pound tiger enclosed in a pin at his roadside business.
Louisiana poet Darrell Bourque has won the 2014 Louisiana Writer Award, given annually to recognize outstanding contributions to Louisiana's literary and intellectual life.
Drivers would have to secure dogs riding in truck beds while on interstate highways, if the Senate agrees to a bill backed by the House.
The easy one-piece way to style
Comfy feet for long days
Newsy bits for the whole fam
Don't forget: our annual Festival International contest begins Thursday! Win. Cool. Stuff.