The absinthe dodge

In the mind of most Americans with a passing familiarity with absinthe, it is almost exclusively identified with the 19th century France. Some folks who have done a little research would spread the map out a little further and be able to link it with Switzerland (absinthe’s birthplace), as well as the surrounding countries in western Europe where it was also consumed, but they are often genuinely surprised to find out that absinthe was actually consumed here in the good ole’ U.S. of A (even if it wasn’t exactly flying off the saloon shelves).

While you’d think that absinthe might have been popular in the “little Paris” of New Orleans (and you’d be correct), one of my favorite tidbits of absinthe history comes from the Pacific Northwest. I know, right? It’s hard to imagine the land of towering evergreens and the rough and tumble loggers who cut them down for a living as being particularly partial to a fancy-pants French aperitif, what with its flowery scent and sugared serving method, and yet there were apparently at least a few open-minded fellows (or perhaps simply some carpetbagger dandies from the Northeast who got lost on their way back from the Deep South after Reconstruction). No doubt there’d be a few Europeans who would be equally surprised to discover that absinthe was sampled by residents of a little town called Yakima. Now, I don’t know what Yakama means, but the town was named after the Yakama Indians, from whom the land was taken by men who could not properly spell.

Suffice it to say that the battles came to an end soon enough, and an agriculturally-based township began to grow in the 1850s. It must have been a fairly successful one, because by 1890 they had some genuine, bona-fide absinthe stocked on the bar shelf (no mention is made of if it was American-made absinthe, which, believe it or not, did actually exist back in that proverbial day). As you can see by the text of the article, though, it seems that the residents didn’t have much more of an accurate idea of what to do with absinthe than they did of how to spell proper nouns. Imagine how scrambled their brains would have been if they’d actually drank some of the stuff!

inset from the Yakima Herald, July 24th, 1890

Yakima Herald, July 24th, 1890

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1 Comment

  1. March 5, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Ha! Cool! Happy Absinthe Day!


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