In a ruling made public on Tuesday, the court backed appeals from 11 absinthe makers in Switzerland, France and Germany who opposed a protected designation given to the anise-flavoured spirit from the Neuchâtel valley.
The Swiss federal department of agriculture in March 2010 granted the IGP (Indication géographiques protegées) designation to absinthe made in the Val-de-Travers.
The designation was also extended to the labels “Fée verte” and “La Bleue”.
The federal court, based in Saint Gallen, ruled that “Absinthe” is a generic product, regardless of where it is made, and not a product coming exclusively from Val-de-Travers, the ATS news agency said.
The court said the other names were also generic.
In its decision it ruled that in Switzerland only a relatively small number of people associate the three labels with the Val-de-Travers, ATS said.
Absinthe is also made in Switzerland in the canton of Valais by the Morand distillery, based in Martigny, which was among the businesses appealing the IGP designation.
The court ruling comes as a blow to the association of absinthe producers in Val-de-Travers who maintain that the spirit originated in the valley in the late 18th century.
The association must now decide if it wants to appeal the decision to Switzerland’s supreme court.
Laurent Favre, association president, said he would not comment until he had more precise details of the decision, the Neuchâtel news site Arcinfo.ch reported.
With an alcohol rate ranging from 45 to 74 percent, absinthe rose to fame in the late 19th and early 20th century in France, where artists and writers were known to drink the spirit.
Its traditional green colour gave rise to its nickname the “fée verte” (green fairy) although it can also be colourless, a variety that became known as “la Bleue”.
Switzerland in 1910 banned absinthe, as did other countries, such as the US and France, around the same period, over concerns (unsubstantiated) that it made people violent.
The Swiss ban was only fully repealed nine years ago.
Bans have also been lifted elsewhere although some countries restrict the amount of thujone, an active ingredient, that is permitted in absinthe products.
Absinthe is now produced in several countries, including the Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal and France, as well as Switzerland.