Absinthe’s heyday was in the mid-to-late 1800s.
Pablo Picasso painted absinthe drinkers
“Absinthe was the queen of the Parisian boulevards,” says Marie-Claude Delahaye, director and founder of the Museum of Absinthe in Auvers-sur-Oise.
Artists would hang out in the Parisian cafes to escape the chill of their studios, and a whole social scene developed around the drink, which was nicknamed la fee verte, meaning the green fairy.
Absinthe conveniently filled a gap left by the wine industry, which had been decimated in previous years by the vine disease phylloxera – but it also had its own attractions.
“It was cheap, it was an industrial alcohol, and it was very easy to buy,” says Jad Adams, author of Hideous Absinthe: History of the Devil in a Bottle.
“It was the drink of the poor, and if you were a poor artist, like Vincent Van Gogh, you were going to take the cheapest kind of alcohol you could.”
By the late 19th Century, France – like other countries in the Europe – was in the grip of a serious alcoholism problem, and this prompted a backlash, the repercussions of which have lasted to this day.
“For the French, it’s clear,” says Marie-Claude Delahaye.
“When you ask anyone, ‘what is absinthe?’ they reply ‘it makes you mad’.