Swiss absinthe makers froth over CSI slur

Swiss absinthe makers froth over CSI slur
Jack Newton (File)

Swiss distillers of absinthe are mortified by an American television crime drama show that depicts the high-octane spirit as a killer drink.

A recent episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, a CBS series, features a character who is incited to murder after quaffing the legendary eau de vie.

The show, which airs on the Swiss television channel TSR1, infuriated producers of absinthe in the Neuchâtel region of Val-de-Travers.

“To pretend that absinthe can kill someone is not very intelligent,” Yves Kübler, vice-president of the absinthe producers’ association told Le Matin newspaper.

The strong liquor, with roots in Neuchâtel that go back to the late 1700s, was banned for much of the last century because of medical concerns about its addictive qualities and its contents, which include wormwood aniseed mixed with grain alcohol.

But now it is enjoying a trendy revival, with various brands offering versions with alcohol levels ranging from 45 to 74 per cent.

In the CSI episode, the murderer drinks some of the liquor, nicknamed the “green fairy” because of the colour it turns when water is added, before committing his crime.

A scientific team analysing particles on the victim concludes that plants used to make absinthe can cause hallucinations.

But Pierre Bonhote, the cantonal chemist for Neuchâtel, said the episode was in “bad taste”.

Bonhote told Le Matin that it was only during the prohibition period in the early part of the 20th century that absinthe contained a substance – thujone – in large enough quantities to induce hallucinations.

Now that component is limited to 35 milligrams per litre, “absinthe is no more dangerous than pastis,” he said, referring to the French liquor.

Distillers are worried that the television show is giving absinthe a bad name – not to the Swiss who are familiar with the drink – but to potential American customers.

The US only legalized absinthe in 2007. But Kübler, the fifth generation of a family that began distilling the liquor commercially in 1863, exported 300,000 bottles to American clients over the past five years.

A clientele, in a manner of speaking, to kill for.