“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.”
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
She’s the daughter of the legendary Johnny Cash, but she’s been a gifted artist in her own right for three decades, and she’s coming to Lafayette.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Prepare yourselves for sun
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday, March 06, 2014:
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
Due to the chaos of Mardi Gras and the weather, the entry deadline for this year's INDesign Awards has been extended by one week.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
Queen Evangline and King Gabriel ruled Tuesday night
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
IND Style does Gabriel
Newsy bits for the fam
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.
Jim Bernhard, who engineered the sale of The Shaw Group for $3 billion, recently has told several people involved in Democratic politics that he intends to run for governor in 2015.
Saluting the red, white and blue — let freedom ring
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Feel the spectrum
Unless you work for an energy company, specific decisions related to the economics, risk, etc. are not conveyed to the public. They are a closely guarded secret.
A New Orleans levee board wants to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for decades of damage to our state’s coastline, but the Legislature may be poised to put the kibosh on the suit.
Lafayette native screenwriter returns
New standards curb elective induction