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The Absolute Beginning Of Absinthe In The US

Aug 17, 2007
Absinthe is a drink that has caused much controversy of the years for being a "wild" and "sinful" drink. These stereotypes fit in well with those that have followed New Orleans, which is where this potent drink first hit American soil.

According to some authorities, absinthe as a drink originated in Algeria, and French soldiers serving in the Franco-Algerian war (1830-47) introduced the green spirits to Paris upon their return from the North African country where the drink found strong favor along the boulevards. In time the spectacle of bearded men and demi-mondes dripping their absinthes became one of the sights of Paris. Naturally, so fashionable a Parisian drink was not long in finding its way to the Little Paris of North America - New Orleans.

The drink, which was spelled absinthe in New Orleans liquor advertisements in 1837, when it was apparently first imported from France and Switzerland, was liquor distilled from a large number of various herbs, roots, seeds, leaves, and barks steeped in anise. It also included Artemisia absinthium, an herb known as "Wormwood" abroad, but called Herbe Sainte by the French-speaking population of Louisiana. In recent years wormwood has been condemned as harmful and habit-forming, and laws have been enacted forbidding its use in liquors in the United States and other countries. In addition to banning wormwood from manufactured liquor, the use of the word "absinthe" on bottles of modern concoctions, which do not contain wormwood, is also banned.

Of all the ancient buildings in New Orleans' famed Vieux Carre, none has been more glorified in story and picture than a square, plastered-brick building at the corner of Bourbon and Bienville streets, known as "The Old Absinthe House."

Hoary legend has long set forth that the building was erected in 1752, 1774, 1786, 1792, but as a matter of fact it was actually built in 1806 for the importing and commission firm of Juncadella & Font, Catalonians from Barcelona, Spain. In 1820, after Francisco Juncadella died and Pedro Font returned to his native land, the place continued as a commission house for the barter of foodstuffs, tobacco, shoes, clothing, as well as liquids in bulk from Spain, and was conducted by relatives of the builders. Later it became an epicure, or grocery shop; for several years it was a cordonnerie, or boot and shoe store, and not until 1846 did the ground floor corner room become a coffeehouse, as saloons were then called.

This initial liquid refreshment establishment was run by Jacinto Aleix, a nephew of Senora Juncadella, and was known as "Aleix's Coffee-House." In 1869,Cayetano Ferrer, a Catalan from Barcelona, who had been a bar-keeper at the French Opera House, transferred his talents to the old Juncadella casa and became principal drink-mixer for the Aleix brothers. In 1874, Cayetano himself leased the place, calling it the "Absinthe Room" because of the potent dripped absinthe he served in the Parisian manner. His drink became so popular that it won fame not only for Cayetano, but for the balance of his family - papa, mamma, Uncle Leon, and three sons, Felix, Paul, and Jacinto, who helped to attend the wants of all and sundry who crowded the place. What the customers came for chiefly was the emerald liquor into which, tiny drop by tiny drop, fell water from the brass faucets of the pair of fountains that decorated the long cypress bar.

Though absinthe was the liquor of that time period, it's very hard to come by in modern times, but people are still fascinated with this powerful substance.
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