Q&A Feature

as they were copying our product, something had to be done and fast…

You worked with Marie-Claude Delahaye – French cellular biology expert and Absinthe historian – How difficult was it working together when you can’t speak French?...

So in 1999, I decided to establish what real absinthe should be and whether I could bring it back and distil it again commercially in France, while under the existing ban. Switzerland was Absinthe’s original birth place, but France was Absinthe’s home of the Belle Époque period - Moulin Rouge, Paris and cocktails, expanded through her former colonial empire. My primary problem was going to be anyone who had distilled real absinthe pre-bans (1910/12 USA and Switzerland 1914/15 France) was long gone. My solution for returning absinthe was the French Absinthe Museum, and this is the place ‘under lock and key’ that I started to get a gauge on traditional absinthe with Marie-Claude Delahaye (Absinthe historian, Expert and owner curator of the French Absinthe Museum Auvers~sur~Oise). You’re correct in that my first barrier is that I speak no French, fortunately my fiancée at the time and wife today - Jane, can speak and write French. This is the point I moved from selling other people’s products under contract to setting up my own brand development company La Fée LLP. Working with Marie-Claude Delahaye and the French Absinthe Museum Auvers- sur-Oise, being the source of La Fée recipe, ensuring our global clients are getting real Absinthe (traditional French Verte (Green) Brand with our all seeing Eye Logo. In May 2000, we finally got permission from the French authorities to distil Absinthe again in France with La Fée. The key was that we could distil it as long as we exported. It turned out that the French ban was crafted to help protect the Absinthe producers to some degree, with no local primary market to supply and bans in all key markets, production naturally stopped. So with La Fée we became the first to investigate and challenge these technicalities and re-instate the commercial distillation for absinthe for France with Marie-Claude’s help and a local Parisienne Distillery with links to historical Absinthe.

Brands like Pernod were then able to return, the Swiss ban was overturned some 5 years later and we also assisted the French

8 MARCH 2017

Federation of Spirits joined by other French distillers to repeal the French Ban off the statute book. Absinthe (with the e) is firmly back and now enables cocktail bars to recreate classics, invent and improve new and old cocktails.

How did you approach any negative pre-conceived opinions regarding Absinthe?...

Carefully, it’s an amazing spirit and essential to any professional bar making cocktails, so the last thing we needed was a cavalier attituded to such a deep and fascinating historical spirit. It helped early on having a ‘get out of jail free card’, being the document I created based on the EU directive and was signed off by Hertfordshire Trading standards, that was wheeled out a few times in the early days when local UK councils filed complaints. Our activities were even subject of a BBC Watchdog investigation and the subject was even raised in the Houses of Parliament. Having said all that, we were covered nicely on News Night by Jeremy Paxman. As we expanded into the EU, we were able to overcome other bans, one being the Italian Ban of 1932 (interestingly enough by referendum) - with the help of our local importer Velier it was established that because they did not reference the ban under the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, it was deemed void. To this day when we distil La Fée Parisienne Absinthe Supérieure in the Rhone Alpes, a sample is sent to both Marie-Claude in Paris or at the museum and to myself for prior approval before bottling.

Are there any other drinks you’d like to see a revival of?...

Unlikely, I think returning a category such as Absinthe to France is more than enough, which we now export around the world enabling classic serve or more often than not a crucial element of a fine cocktail. Having said that, if you find something even half as interesting - never say never!

Depending on origin, traditional absinthe typically has an alcohol content of around 68% abv for French absinthe and 53% abv Swiss ~ consume in cocktails or diluted in the classic serve with sugar

Above: Marie-Claude Delahaye & George Rowley on their way to the Launch of La Fée, 2000.

Depending on origin, absinthe typically has an alcohol content of around 68% abv for French absinthe and 53% abv Swiss.

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