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Word of Mouth - Let absinthe take the blame

Word of Mouth // Education // Feb. 14, 2017

The absinthe heyday came to a rather unfortunate end...

A French labourer living in Commugny, Jean Lanfray, murdered his pregnant wife and two children in a drunken rage on August 28, 1905.

The court was told that on the day of the murders, Lanfray’s lunch consisted of seven glasses of wine, six glasses of cognac, one coffee laced with brandy, two crème de menthes, and two glasses of absinthe and a sandwich. He returned home drunk with his father, and drank another coffee with brandy. He then got into an argument with his wife, and asked his wife to polish his shoes for him. When she refused, Lanfray took his rifle and shot her, and his four-year-old daughter, Rose, and his two-year-old daughter, Blanche. He then shot himself in the jaw.

Bizarrely, the murders were blamed solely on absinthe.

A leading Swiss psychologist, testified that Lanfray had suffered "a classic case of absinthe madness”.

His evidence echoed the growing number of critics who said the drink makes you crazy and criminal, provokes epilepsy and tuberculosis, and had killed thousands of French people. It makes a ferocious beast of man, a martyr of woman and a degenerate of the infant. It disorganises and ruins the family and menaces the future of the country.

82,000 Swiss had signed a petition to ban the drink. In 1908 the Swiss voted in a constitutional referendum to ban the drink in all of Switzerland. 

The rest of Europe followed, except for United Kingdom, Sweden and Spain.

Today absinthe is enjoying a slight revival. Johnny Depp, Eminem and Marilyn Manson are fans of the green fairy.

The Swiss ban was lifted in 2015 and here are about 45 different manufacturers of absinthe in Switzerland, most of them tiny boutique producers, based near the village of Couvet where the green fairy was born.  The area has become popular for absinthe enthusiasts with museums, festivals, distillery visits and even an absinthe walking trail that takes you from the Val-de-Travers in Switzerland to Pontarlier in France – which once upon a time  produced 30 thousand litres of absinthe per day. 

This is Garry's 3rd and final part of a 3 part series looking at the local history behind the famous green drink. Find the first two episodes and more on the Word of Mouth page

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