“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.”
The state labor department figures released Friday show the initial claims decreased to 2,312 from the previous week's total of 2,543. For the comparable week a year earlier, there were 2,627.
In a statement, Michael Ranatza, executive director of the association, said Landrieu's "senior status" and her continued support for the sheriffs throughout her career were deciding factors.
The position puts him at odds with GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal, but could bolster support from the business community as the senator raises money for the 2015 governor's race.
On the cusp of a new school year, with the fallout from The IND’s special report, “What’s the Matter at Fatima,” still settling, the administration at Our Lady of Fatima is reaching out to the school “family” to offer reassurances about the academic and spiritual health of the institution.
The Hayride — Louisiana’s one-stop shop for far-right perspectives — has come to the defense of state Rep. Lenar Whitney following her embarrassing, early-exit interview last week with Cook Political Report analyst David Wasserman.
Bright colors, ecletic prints
The Catholic Diocese of Lafayette says a 1992 investigation cleared the Rev. Gilbert Dutel of pedophilia allegations, yet when asked to produce those records, church officials came up empty-handed.
The former president and longtime board member of the Council on the Development of French in Louisiana has taken a Texas lawmaker to task over his use of the slur “coonass” during a legislative hearing.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Hundreds of new laws take effect Friday, with the start of August. A look at some of the changes on the books:
Marques Colston let out a laugh and shrugged his shoulders when the subject of his NFL longevity arose.
The state is accepting public comments on a plan that would invest $1 million in a new Homeowner Rehabilitation Program for low- to moderate-income residents whose homes were damaged after Hurricane Isaac.
A Senate Bill passed Thursday now awaits the president’s signature authorizing long-awaited reforms of the Veterans Affairs Administration, including new clinics for Lafayette and Lake Charles.
The DIY birthday done right
Bump and baby friendly wares
A comprehensive listing of special menu features, pairings and events for the week of Aug. 4-9
Behind the scenes a growing number of parents are saying, ‘We want our school back!’
Is sending a 16-year-old boy to prison with men for up to 99 years really the way to address juvenile crime?
How Lafayette’s family businesses have survived despite the odds
Lafayette is ready to embark on a master plan for growth, but will old habits impede our progress?
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
The IND's Nick Pittman weighs in on new records from Taylor Verret, Plush Claw, Steven Joubert and Lee Benoit.
The Cajundome rocked in July when the first ever Girls and Guys Rock Louisiana Awards Show hit the place.
Allen & Gooch reunites with Whitney Bank to sponsor the sixth annual event honoring Acadiana’s top companies.
Juicing’s health benefits lead to a proliferation of sellers in the Lafayette market.
‘The Tribe’ reflects on Fred Daspits incalculable contributions to Lafayette’s cultural life.
The recently concluded World Cup is awash in analogies.
Style that shines
Go inside the kitchen with chef Michelle Youngberg
It’s an exciting time in life as you prepare to meet your new bundle of joy — get ready to plan out the next nine months so when your baby arrives, you can stress less and love more.