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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 September, 2003, 06:23 GMT 07:23 UK
Switzerland 'to lift absinthe ban'
Vincent van Gogh self-portrait
Van Gogh is said to have cut off his ear under the influence of absinthe
Switzerland is to lift a century-old ban on the herbal alcoholic drink absinthe, according to local media reports.

The Council of States, the upper house of parliament, approved on Wednesday plans to legalise the fiery green liqueur made from wormwood - to help ensure quality standards and protect distillers from competition.

Absinthe has been legal in much of Western Europe for more than 20 years, but the high-proof form of the drink has remained outlawed for domestic use in Switzerland.

Around 15,000 litres of the drink are thought to be currently distilled illegally every year in the western Val de Travers, which claims to be its birthplace.

Absinthe, first produced in the 18th century by Henri-Louis Pernod, acquired a reputation as a creative lubricant in 19th-century Paris.

But it was banned in Switzerland in 1908, after a factory worker killed his wife and two children in a frenzy thought to have been brought on by the drink.


Absinthe is made by steeping wormwood, along with other herbs, in pure alcohol.

Up to 70% alcohol
First distillery opened in 1797
Production of 10 million gallons a year by 1915
1981 EC ruling made absinthe legal across Europe
The resultant green liquid contains an intoxicating compound called thujone - a substance often and perhaps misleadingly likened to the drug cannabis.

It is generally diluted with water to produce a cloudy liquid similar to the aniseed drink Pernod, which is free of thujone.

Known as the "Green Fairy", absinthe has hallucinatory properties that made it popular with writers and artists in the French capital, such as Emile Zola, Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso.

By World War I it had been banned in most of Western Europe, but production went on in Czechoslovakia and Spain throughout the 20th century.

In making Wednesday's decision, legislators said the risk was no greater than from other alcoholic drinks, and that thujone levels could now be regulated more effectively.

Drink me. . .at your own risk
02 Dec 98  |  UK News

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