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Creativity of the Muse?

This story has done the rounds in some media sources but worthwhile reproducing here.

The Green Muse has often been cited as a source of creativity – but is there anything to it?

A tantalizing clue has emerged, not with the constituents of absinthe itself but certainly in terms of the virtues of alcohol as a source of creativity.

Psychologists at the University of Illinois set 40 young men a series of brain teasers known as RAT tests (Remote Associates Test).   When compared to the sober group, the men solved their problems quicker and were more likely to have unprompted insight to solutions.

Our boozy advocating boffins say that it is likely the alcohol relaxes individuals and as a result their brain is able to take in the grand scheme more effectively.

The Journal of Consciousness and Cognition is the original source of the research, the published paper available here, “Uncorking the Muse: Alcohol Intoxication facilitates creative problem solving” but requiring subscription.

Posted by Jonathan on Apr 29th 2012 | Filed in Culture,History,Huh?,News | Comments (0)

The Green Fairy And The Loose Leprechaun

Another snippet of Australian absinthe history for you all, this time from the Adelaide Advertiser, published on the 11 November 1909. It also demonstrates that the phenomenon of drunken Irish backpackers exhibiting their ‘wee folk’ is a problem over 100 years old, to be sure.

The Advertiser (Adelaide) 11 November 1909


A shocking case, which counsel described as the outcome of the demoralising effects of drinking absinthe, was heard at the Adelaide Police Court on Wednesday. Neal McNamara, an respectably-dressed youth, was placed in the dock to answer a charge of indecent exposure at North Adelaide. The offence was alleged to have been committed on October 22 near a public school, and at an hour when children were proceeding along the road towards that institution. Six little girls, ranging in age from 12 to 15 years, appeared in court to support the charge. Inspector Burchell, who prosecuted, said the gravity of the offense was increased by the fact that the practices complained of had been going on for some time. He could call four witnesses to substantiate the charge, while the statement of the arresting constable was equally conclusive. The accused, who pleaded guilty, was defended by Mr. F. V. Smith.

Constable Quirke, who made the arrest, stated that, when he accosted the accused and told him the charge he said, “For God’s sake, don’t arrest me. I am a respectable Irish lad. I have a couple of sovereigns in my pocket and you can have them if you let me go.” He took the accused to the police-station. On the way there McNamara made a determined attempt to escape, but his efforts were frustrated.

Mr. Smith said the accused’s lapse was due entirely to the effects of drinking absinthe, of which habit he had become an unfortunate victim. The defendant enjoyed the confidence of a reputable city firm, by whom he was employed, and they were willing to take him back if released. In view of this he asked the bench to extend to his client the benefit of the First Offenders Act.

The court declined to do this, Mr. J. Gordon, S.M. remarking that the offence was a disgusting one that had been wilfully persisted in. The accused would be sentenced to three months imprisonment. A second information against McNamara was withdrawn.

Posted by Jonathan on Nov 14th 2009 | Filed in Culture,History,Huh? | Comments (0)

Australia’s First Absinthe?

Australia’s first Absinthe?

And while we have much respect to Michael and Alla Ward & the fine people at Tamborine Mountain Distillery – it isn’t the one manufactured by them.

Although curiously it is an absinthe produced in Queensland. In 1878 to be exact.

In an article in The Brisbane Courier, Thursday 22 August 1878, a competition report of the Queensland Intercolonial Exhibition is provided. It was a busy day, with between eight and nine thousand attendees, with over 400 pounds taken at the gate. Many new an interesting wonders are being exhibited – the inner workings of torpedos, the unbeatable strength of the diamond drill that could power through the hardest stone, explosive demonstrations of ordinance mines the local park, cattle, sheep, fine arts, Hibernian bands, and that new fang-dangled invention called electricity, which to the crowds astonishment could power lighting!

Perhaps most importantly for antipodean absintheurs…

Spirits of wine and colonial rum were shown by the Milton Distillery Co. and there was a sample of rum from Hewitt & Co of Mackay; the only other exhibits in this class were absinthe from Bertheau of Bundaberg and white spirit from Quinlan, Gray and Co.

Who was Bertheau?

Here we need to refer to the 1878 Edition of Pugh’s Queensland Alamanac, Law Calender, Directory, Coast Guide and Gazetteer.

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Posted by Jonathan on Oct 19th 2008 | Filed in Culture,History,Huh?,News,People | Comments (0)

The (sort of) 1922 Australian Ban on Absinthe.

It is true to say that absinthe has never been nationally banned in Australia under federal law. That is not to say however that absinthe has never been banned in Australia in any capacity.

A recent review of government gazette notices published in 1922 in the Northern Territory has revealed that a specific prohibition to the possession of absinthe was in fact enacted. Curiously however, the prohibition was legislated under South Australian law in context to its application in the Northern Territory only.

While this might appear confusing, it is important to understand that up until 1911, the Northern Territory was part of the jurisdiction of South Australia, when it then came under Commonwealth control.  However, all South Australian laws remained in continued effect until specifically amended by the Commonwealth, such as in the following gazette notice presented to us.

Northern Territory Times and Gazette, Saturday 21 January, 1922 (page 5).


No: l6 of 1921.  AN ORDINANCE.

To amend “The Food and Drugs Act, 1908 of the State of South Australia in its application to the Northern Territory, and for other purposes.”

BE it ordained by the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, with the advice of the Federal (Executive Council, in pursuance of the powers conferred by the Northern Territory Acceptance Act 1910-1919 and the Northern Territory (Administration) Act 1910 as follows :

Short Title.

1.         This Ordinance may be cited as the Food and Drugs Ordinance, 1921.

Dilution of Spirits Amendment of Act 968 of 1908, sec. 22, S.A. (No. 1252, s. 3)

2.         Section twenty-two of the Food and Drugs Act 1908 of the State of South Australia, in its application to the Northern Territory, is amended by omitting paragraph (5) of the proviso thereto and inserting in it’s stead the following paragraph:

(5) “Where spirit’s are not adulterated otherwise than by being diluted’ with water, and such dilution being estimated by Sykes’ hydrometer has not reduced the spirits more than thirty-five degrees under proof for brandy, whisky, rum, schnapps, unsweetened gin, or other unsweetened spirits, or forty five degrees under proof for sweetened gin or other sweetened spirits.”

Dealing in Absinthe Prohibited.

3 (1.) Any person who sells, or in any manner disposes of, delivers, or supplies, to any other person, or deals or trafficks in, or has in his possession, order, or disposition, any of the liquor known as absinthe shall be liable to a penalty for the first offence of not more than Twenty pounds, and for a second or any subsequent offence, of not more than Fifty pounds.

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Posted by Jonathan on Sep 28th 2008 | Filed in History,Huh?,News,Regulations | Comments (0)

Hands Off The Absunth, Bro!

New Zealand Police Whip Up Moral Prohibitionist Panic In Absinthe Crack-down.

L’absinthe… quelle horreur

It was only  matter of time before someone in authority somewhere started to target absinthe specifically , invoking moral righteousness, demonising the drink and choosing to ignore individual responsibility for irresponsible consumption.

Teenagers in New Zealand have recently engaged in less-than-responsible drinking activities and were consequently hospitalised for their efforts. Following this, a certain Sergeant John Harris of New Zealand’s Finest is now openly gunning for a nationwide ban on absinthe, with two provincial alcohol licencing trusts – unusual commercial entities in NZ that have pseudo-regulatory authority and a commercial monopoly on alcohol distribution in their respective jurisdictions – have now banned absinthe.  Immediately, out came the stories in New Zealand media about Van Gough cutting off his ear and a propensity for absinthe-fuelled hallucinations. Some media commentators have had the sense to indicate that the product should be consumed diluted, and even stating that there appears little evidence in New Zealand of teenagers routinely ending up comatose because of absinthe intoxication.

Fortunately, any truly functional ban of absinthe in New Zealand would require a formal proposal and public consultation process as an amendment to the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. This is both a blessing and a potential curse. While there are due regulatory mechanisms which allow an individual or group the opportunity to argue inherent health risks of a substance, this is in the face of an apparent failure of control regarding the responsible service and consumption of alcohol. Asa  result, it does run the risk of a provincial New Zealand-based issue metastasizing into a much larger trans-national one.

But… lest I seem to only be taking pot shots at the misinformed media and overzealous constabulary, let me add a pointed comment. Certain manufacturers and distributors of absinthe (or, shall we say ‘absinth’) are actively contributing to the problem by:

– manufacturing and promoting products that are not dilutable in water or able to be drunk in traditional methods;

– actively promoting the product be drunk in straight shots, like Jagermeister or Schnapps;

– encouraging the increasingly dangerous practice of lighting ‘absinth’ prior to consumption;

– mixing ‘absinth’ in energy drinks (either at the bar or pre-sold in a can), an inherently dangerous practice whereby the consumer begins to lose judgement as to their own state of intoxication. Recent research out of the US identifies this mixing as having a much higher risk of serious health and social consequences (O’Brien et al, (2008) ‘Caffeinated cocktails: energy drink consumption, high-risk drinking, and alcohol-related consequences among college students’, Aced Emerg Med, 15(5), 453-60).

– making false and misleading representations about ‘hallucinogenic’ potential of ‘absinth’ and peddling discredited myths such as the similarities between thujone and THC.

Most of these products are the Czech-style ‘absinth’ products and, as such, are not what we would classify as absinthe, despite the name, and are really just a glorified wormwood-flavoured schnapps, or at best are wormwood bitters masquerading as something else entirely.

Absinthe-snobs? You bet we are.

Many an industry can become its own worst enemy unless peers within that industry start to publicly speak out when a disjunction is identified.  Binge drinking is a hot political issue in Australia and New Zealand, and the way companies promote their products can be akin to slitting their own commercial throats in the long term, and penalise responsible drinkers into the future.  Much of the gighly-reputable Australian wine industry, for instance, are shaking their heads at the decisions of some retail chains to stock and promotie clean skin wines for around $2-3AUS a bottle – growing a local market for ‘two buck chuck’.

If we do find find ourselves at the pointy end of increasingly restrictive regulation and volumetric taxation in Australia and New Zealand, it will be through no small contribution of these ‘absinth cowboys’ in the market who would like to ride on the mystique, cultural heritage and reputation of a product wholly dissimilar from the one they themselves tout, promote the worst type of myths as verifiable, experiential fact and provide poor quality, artificially-coloured moonshine with no regard to tradition or the responsible consumption of alcohol.

Bar owners, bartenders and cocktail mixologists fulfil an important role.  Such individuals should encourage responsible, traditional drinking practices, and even foster the appreciation of the product a customer is imbibing, much as you would with a single malt, an artisinal gin or terroir-characterised wine.  This may mean that they need to put pressure back on the trade, or the venue, to provide higher-quality products and the associated material culture, such as glassware, fountain and spoons.  In an ideal world, those at the fornt-line would have the temerity to put the pressure back on the wholesale trade and say that the cheap, green swill currently flooding the marketplace under the name ‘absinth’ and variations thereupon is not good enough, and is ertainly not absinthe as it is historically recognised.

But gentle reader, you too have an important role to play as an ambassador for the product.  We like to think that much of our readership is savvy to the heritage, traditions and benchmarks of absinthe. If you are in a bar and see only ‘absinth’ up the back, glowing silently on the shelf, question the bar staff on their knowledge, query why they do not have an authentic absinthe product on their shelves, exploit opportunities to inform them on what you understand absinthe should be, and what you would expect if you were to purchase it. If you find a place that does serve absinthe properly, take the time to strike up a conversation with your fellow patrons if they question why you aren’t ‘lighting up’. Absinthe drinkers today are, on the whole, relatively responsible drinkers, so the better public face we present, the better it is for the absinthe industry as a whole, both commeercial and social.

A Libertine life is not bereft of certain responsibilities, responsibilities which distinguish us as educated and informed free-thinkers, rather than just another socially-ignorant anarchist. Its time to get vocal.

Posted by Jonathan on Sep 7th 2008 | Filed in Culture,Huh?,News,Regulations | Comments (0)

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