Swiss absinthe makers get protected status

Swiss absinthe was given protected status in Switzerland on Thursday, effectively tying the hands of foreign manufacturers who are no longer allowed to sell the spirit in Switzerland under the same name.

Swiss absinthe makers get protected status
Photo: Jack Newton

The decision by the Federal Office of Agriculture (OFAG) protects absinthe produced in its supposed birthplace of Val-de-Travers in the west of the confederation.

The status, similar to the French Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC) system, protects the names "absinthe", "Fee Verte" ("Green Fairy") and "La Bleue" ("The Blue One") used by distillers who make the drink made famous by artists in the late 19th century.

A raft of foreign manufacturers opposed the Swiss measure which was two years in the making, including from Britain, France, Austria, Germany and the United States.

Those opposed to the decision have 30 days to lodge their appeal at Switzerland's highest court, the Federal Tribunal.

OFAG said its decision to give Swiss absinthe from Val-de-Travers protected status was justified because it was this region "that made the drink's name".

There was no question of allowing the spirit from another country region or even another Swiss region to be sold since "it is not proven that there is a tradition" of absinthe production in these regions, it added.

The Swiss absinthe makers' organisation said it was delighted at the decision but its ultimate aim was to see the drink elevated to the same hallowed status as French champagne or cognac.

In total, 80 percent of Swiss-produced absinthe comes from Val-de-Travers and 65,000 litres were produced nationally in 2011.

Credited with hallucinogenic qualities and containing wormwood and other herbs, the drink was banned in Switzerland in 1910 after a man who drank it killed his wife and two children.

The ban was lifted in 2005.

In France, a near-100 year ban was put in place for the same reason and lifted in 2010.

For the French, absinthe's historic home is Pontarlier near the Swiss border. Some 15 producers make approximately 700,000 litres of the spirit per year, according to estimates.

The green spirit is most often drunk after placing a traditional perforated spoon containing a sugar cube on top of the glass, through which iced water is then slowly poured into the neat absinthe to produce the characteristic clouding effect.

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Switzerland scraps blood alcohol limits for rubber boat captains

In good news for weekend sailors, Switzerland is to get rid of blood-alcohol limits for users of vessels including small, non-motorized rubber boats and kiteboards.

Switzerland scraps blood alcohol limits for rubber boat captains
Boating on the Aare River is a popular summer activity in the Swiss capital of Bern. Photo:

The changes have been made because it is “too difficult” to test the blood alcohol limit of people operating these types of vessels and because these non-motorized craft pose only a minimal risk, the government said in a statement.

However, before you get completely intoxicated when taking your rubber boat onto the nearest Swiss river, the government also sounds a note of warning. Under the new rules, all operators of such small craft will still have to be fit to drive.

This fitness to drive could be assessed during random controls.

Read also: Watch – US tourist's harrowing hang glider flight in Switzerland

The rule changes, which were first touted last year, apply to boats with motors up to 2.5 metres in length and to non-motorized rubber boats up to four metres in length. Also exempt from alcohol limits are windsurfers and kiteboarders, along with canoeists and kayakers.

The operators of all other pleasure craft will be liable to the same blood alcohol limit of 0.05 percent. This is also the limit on Swiss roads.

The changes come into force in 2020.

Read also: Switzerland introduces tougher safety rules for high-risk sports