This is a piece I wrote a long time ago, shortly after starting The Wormwood Society. For those not familiar with the early history of the absinthe revival (c. 2001), this is a humorous, but disturbingly accurate, analog to 19th century anti-absinthe propaganda, and the subsequent phenomena of “faux-absinthe” that arose in the early 2000s. Enjoy.
Imagine a world where wine was illegal; it had been banned for centuries. No one knew where to get it or how to make it. Wine has become the stuff of legend.
Alcoholic beverages made from grapes were considered poisonous; they made you mad. Habitual over-indulgence in wine caused tremors, memory-loss, vomiting, and liver failure. Habitual over-indulgence in other alcoholic drinks does too, but wine was different somehow. Look at all the historical references to it. It obviously had a very different effect than other drinks did. It was somehow more romantic than vodka. It must be the grapes. Or the tannin in the grape skins, more likely.
We know a little bit about wine – it was definitely made from grapes. You had to use grapes – that’s what made it wine; and grapes have tannin in them. That’s what makes it bitter. Ever taste pure tannin? Wow, is it bitter! Wine had lots of alcohol in it – that’s the active ingredient besides tannin; some were grape-colored and some were clear. There were different styles – French, Italian, Greek, Australian. Real vintage wine was very, very bitter because it had all that tannin in it.
All the poetry and intrigue inspired by wine for a thousand years tantalized the imagination in the post-ban era. Imagine the antique flyers, magazine ads, newspaper and medical journal articles, warning about wine and grape poisoning! There was even a special word for victims of wine addiction: winos.
Then someone discovered that, unbeknownst to the rest of the world, there are clandestine winemakers hidden in the villages of Europe, where people have been drinking wine all along and not going mad or hallucinating! There are actually countries where wine was never outlawed because almost no one ever drank it or made it there anyway.
Then some clever marketers in those countries decided that they were going to make wine and sell it in those legal markets. They’ve never made wine before—they know very little about wine, and nothing about how it was made—but they know it has grapes and alcohol in it, and lots of bitter tannin. Simple enough! Add some grape flavoring and tannin to pure alcohol, water it down a little, and voilà! Wine! They know it’s purple because grapes are purple, so they artificially color it that way: bright purple.
BUY NOW!! EXTRA STRONG!! HIGH-TANNIN WINE!! 100mg/kg TANNIN!
They can make up stories about how their father used to make it before the ban on wine. Because their “wine” is hugely inferior, they can also make up special “traditional” rituals for how to serve it: it is slowly poured down the arm from the wrist to the elbow, which is suspended just over the special wine-glass, into which the thin stream of wine gently drizzles. That will make it more interesting and the young 20-somethings will be so caught up in the forbidden mystique and hoping to contract grape-poisoning, that they’ll never question its validity – or even know where to look to confirm it. So long as it has grapes and lots of tannin, they’ll pay.
Recipes for steeping grapes in vodka and adding tannin will proliferate for years on the Internet.
Now, fast forward to when some antique books on wine making have been discovered and there are more and more real winemakers around, trying to educate the masses what wine was really all about, and that they had discovered the truth: that wine was no more dangerous than any other alcoholic beverage and the effects of tannin had been blown all out of proportion and were in fact meaningless in terms of the “effects” of wine.
Imagine how the fools will exclaim:
“Hey, I don’t care about flavor. I drink wine for the effects! You guys are just wine snobs.”
“MD 20/20 is the best, strongest wine around!”
“I hear Thunderbird is made just like the wine that Shakespeare got drunk on.”
“This one has real grape skins right in the bottle! The maker says it has the most tannin in it.”
“Their web site says their wine is made in the traditional way, with 500mg of tannin, for more grape effect!”
“Hey, I found some tannin on the top shelf of the pantry when I moved into my apartment, can someone give me a good wine recipe?”
For more fun, copy the above story into your favorite word processing app. Exchange all instances of:
Wine for absinthe
Grape and grapes for wormwood
Tannin for thujone
Wino for absinthiste
Purple for green
You now have an accurate portrayal of the absinthe revival (with some grammatical errors owing to plurals, tenses, etc.)