October 12, 2007 / 7:50 PM / 10 years ago

The green fairy dances back into New York bars

NEW YORK, Oct 12 (Reuters Life!) - When something is banned for nearly 100 years for being too wicked, it’s reintroduction is bound to stir up some curiosity, as is the case in New York with the return of the highly alcoholic beverage absinthe.

The United States followed most of Europe and banned the anise-flavored spirit in the early 20th century after it was portrayed as a highly addictive, psychotropic drink and linked to a Swiss man’s murder of his family and suicide.

Absinthe, which is believed to cause hallucinations such as the green fairy, contains the chemical thujone which naturally occurs in the herb wormwood.

Originated in Val-de-Travers, Switzerland, it was firstly used as a kind of medicine but became popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, particularly among bohemian Parisian artists and writers until being banned as a “social menace.”

But with Switzerland lifting a ban on absinthe in 2005 the drink is coming back into vogue, with the United States approving two absinthes for sale this year.

This spring the French-made absinthe Lucid arrived in bars in New York and New Jersey and on Friday the Swiss distillery Kubler, which dates back to 1863, launched its Kubler Swiss Absinthe Superieure in New York.

Peter Karl, who along with Yves Kubler, the great grandson of the original distiller, produces about 200,000 liter bottles of the green colored drink a year said the distillery had never stopped making the drink, even during the ban.

”Even when it was illegal we made it,“ he whispered like a bootlegger to Reuters. ”This is the original formula. Nothing has changed. It is the same now as it was then.

“You know it’s even better now than it was 10 years ago because now we can grow the herbs out in the open. We don’t have to go to the local pharmacist and order 100 kilos of grand absinthe (wormwood).”

It took Karl, Kubler, and their Washington-based lawyer, Robert Lehrman, more than four years to convince the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and the U.S. Customs Service to allow the liquor to be imported.

“If you and I were to have a bottle of vodka,” said Karl, “we would just be drunk. But if you and I have a bottle of absinthe, we would have also side effects and not be just drunk.”

American psychologist Patricia Farrell, who writes a blog for WebMD, said absinthe was believed to have contributed to artist Vincent Van Gogh’s madness and cautioned about its new cache.

“When something becomes ‘fashionable’ and the ‘elite’ start drinking it, you know that underage revelers are going to want it because of that association and the sense of ‘danger’ that comes with it,” she said in a statement.

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