Clandestine absinthe or La clandestine absinthe is one of the finest absinthes available. Due to the overwhelming attention given to green absinthe this fine absinthe is known only to the real connoisseurs. Clandestine absinthe is different from traditional green absinthe in more ways than one.
Absinthe was first invented in Switzerland by a French doctor Dr. Pierre Ordinaire at the end of the eighteenth century. It was initially used to treat stomach ailments and as an anthelmintic. However, by the beginning of the nineteenth century absinthe had gained recognition as a fine alcoholic beverage. Commercial production of absinthe was started in France in the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Val-de-Travers a district in Switzerland is considered to be the historical birthplace of absinthe. The climate of Val-de-Travers is considered especially conducive for the several herbs that are used in absinthe. Val-de-Travers is also known for its watch making industry. Val-de-Travers is the coldest place in Switzerland and temperatures here go as low as -35°C to -39°C. Mountain herbs essential for making fine absinthes grow well in this place, also nicknamed as the “Swiss Siberia”. Another area where the climate and the soil are considered very conducive for herbs is near the French town, Pontarlier. These two places are as important to absinthe herbs as places such as Cognac and Champagne are for grapes used in wines.
Absinthe was perhaps the most popular drink in nineteenth century Europe. Many a great masters from the world of art and literature were avid absinthe drinkers. Absinthe is made from several herbs, the main herb being wormwood or Artemisia absinthium. Wormwood contains a chemical ‘thujone’ which is a mild neurotoxin. It was widely believed during the late nineteenth century that thujone was responsible for causing hallucinations and insanity. The temperance movement added fuel to fire and by the beginning of the twentieth century absinthe was banned by most European countries; however, Spain was the only country that did not ban absinthe.
As countries in Western Europe began placing restriction on the production and consumption of absinthe most distillers shut shop or began producing other spirits. Some moved their stocks to Spain while others went underground and continued to distill absinthe. Some enterprising absinthe distillers began producing clear absinthe to fool the customs authorities. This absinthe was called by several nicknames such as “bleues”, “blanches”, and “clandestine”. This is how clandestine absinthe was born.
Clandestine absinthe is clear and turns milky white when water is added. Unlike green absinthe, clandestine absinthe is generally served without sugar. During the period when absinthe was banned in most of Europe; distillers in Switzerland continued to distill absinthe clandestinely in small underground distilleries and sell it across Europe. Each batch of absinthe was handcrafted using the finest herbs and each bottle hand filled.
As the ban on absinthe started lifting throughout Europe at the turn of this century many underground distillers came over ground and began applying for licenses to legally manufacture absinthe. A gentleman called Claude-Alain Bugnon, who was earlier distilling absinthe in his kitchen and laundry, became the first person to be granted a license to legally manufacture absinthe.
Claude-Alain’s ranges of Swiss and French absinthes are considered one of the finest. La Clandestine, a brand of Claude-Alain’s occupies the top spot in the list of great absinthes.
Absinthe is still banned in the United States; however, US citizens can buy absinthe online from non-US producers directly.