Pernod Fils (pronounced: Perno-Fee) was the most popular brand of absinthe during the period before prohibition of absinthe throughout most of Europe (1915). Like most absinthe, the herbs wormwood, fennel, hyssop, anise, and star anise, among others, were first macerated, and then placed in a larger still where they were then distilled, to produce a transparent liquor. It was then distilled again with more green-colored herbs, such as wormwood and petite wormwood, to produce a more green colored liquor. This was mostly to enhance it’s visual appeal, but also to add to it’s alcohol content. The final product was roughly 68% alcohol. The predominant flavor in Pernod Fils, like most absinthe, was anise, which has a pronounced liquorice taste.
The absinthe brand’s roots can be traced all of the way back to 1792, which makes it the oldest of all of the brands of liqueurs we call absinthe today. The recipe was written by a Dr. Pierre Ordinaire in Switzerland at the time. The recipe then came into the hands of Henri Louis Pernod through the ways of a business deal around 1797.
Pernod opened his first distillery to exploit his recipe in 1797, and later built another one in Pontarlier, France in 1805. This then set the tone that caused Pontarlier to forever be one of Europe’s most famous absinthe towns. Soon after the plant’s opening in Pontarlier, a string of knock-off absinthe brands appeared, including Pernot, Armand Guy, Oxygenee, and Terminus, among others. In 1901, a fire broke out at the factory, destroying the original distillery. A new, bigger distillery was built in its place. In its prime, the absinthe distillery was producing as much as 30,000 liters of absinthe per day.
With the new temperance movement growing around the world, many prominent French politicians and scientists turned their interest to France’s new, most popular alcoholic beverage: absinthe.
By the late 1800s, France’s rate of absinthe consumption had topped 130,000 hectoliters of absinthe per year. Scientists conducted studies involving absinthe using rodents and brands that contained high levels of the herb wormwood, which of course contains the psychoactive compound thujone. They found it to be a mild convulsant at high levels, and pushed for the popular drink’s ban across Europe. By 1915, absinthe was completely illegal throughout much of Europe, including France. All of the absinthe distilleries in Pontarlier and all over France had to then close their doors. This meant the demise of Pernod Fils in France.
However, Pernod, unlike many other absinthe companies, did not quite bite the dust. They opened new distilleries in Spain, where absinthe had never been formally banned. However, the drink never quite caught on as much as it did in Northern Europe, and by the late 1950s Pernod closed their spanish factories. They also, along with many other former absinthe producers in France, produced what is known as pastis, which is an absinthe-like liquor, sans the wormwood which was said to be poisonous. They did this with moderate success, leaving us with the modern French Pernod-Ricard company. However, the pastis drink never fully caught on to the same success that absinthe once enjoyed. It was drank the same way as absinthe, using a tall, goblet-style glass, a pitcher of ice water or a fountain, a sugar cube, and a slotted spoon, on which the sugar cube is placed and disintegrated into the water (modern usage simply dilutes the pastis with cold water). Most French found their distaste with the drink to be that it was simply too sweet, lacking the bitterness element that the wormwood herbs once placed in it. The sugar used to serve the drink only added to this sweetness.
Today, with the legalization of thujone and wormwood in alcoholic beverages in the European Union, Pernod-Ricard has attempted to recreate what they thought would be the new Pernod-Fils absinthe. However, taste trials with the drink reveal it to be more akin to it’s cousin, the pastis, than the actual pre-1915 French absinthe. However, with absinthe appearing in a range of movies including From Hell and Moulin Rouge, gaining some commercial stardom, the new Pernod absinthe has had some moderate success throughout France and other countries in the E.U. Other modern brands have also appeared with varying success rates, notably the French Un Emile Pernot and Francois Guy, both of which are based on pre-1915 brands. Absinthe was made illegal in United States around the same time it was in Europe and has yet to be again legalized. However, this has not prevented some hardcore connoisseurs and experimenters from slipping the modern Pernod Fils beverage and other brands through customs and into the privacy of enjoying it in their own homes.
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