A decade after it became legal again, American drinkers are underwhelmed by absinthe, reports The Wall Street Journal:
It was long rumored to cause hallucinations: Oscar Wilde said he once saw flowers spring up around him at a cafe while drinking it. Some say it even influenced Vincent van Gogh’s decision to slice his ear off. Absinthe’s detractors (including the wine industry) vilified the spirit, and a grisly family murder in Switzerland that was blamed on absinthe sealed its fate. A top U.S. official called the herbal liquor “one of the worst enemies of man.”
The resulting ban, which began in 1912, removed absinthe from U.S. shelves, but it wasn’t necessarily bad for its romantically wicked image. By the time scientists cleared it of wrongdoing, allowing it to be reinstated in 2007, adventurous drinkers were eager for a taste.
Ten years later, they have reached a verdict: meh.
“It was a tough swallow,” said Sean Connors, a 43-year-old attorney who tried absinthe in the Czech Republic, one of the few places it was still found, before the U.S. ban was lifted. He said he ordered the drink hoping he would hallucinate. He didn’t. “I was just left with a licorice-tasting liquor,” he said. “My mom might like it.”
Statistics bear out this lack of enthusiasm.
Last year, U.S. absinthe sales were 42% lower than in 2008—the first full year the spirit was reauthorized—according to research firm IWSR. Absinthe experts say they don’t believe the IWSR numbers fully reflect a market mostly composed of small local players, but they acknowledge overall sales are indeed likely to be lower than a decade ago.
So what went wrong? Apparently, absinthe is falling short of high expectations fueled by really bad movies.
Jeremy King, a 30-year-old firefighter from Lakewood, Ohio, said he first wanted to try absinthe after watching “EuroTrip,” a 2004 comedy featuring a group of American teenagers crisscrossing Europe. Shortly after downing shots of absinthe in a Bratislava nightclub, some characters see a green fairy—as the spirit is often called—flying around them.
“It wasn’t the same,” Mr. King said, after he bought a bottle and tried it at home. All absinthe did was “get you really drunk,” he said.
And let’s not even get started on that Degas painting.