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Forum du Musée Virtuel de l'Absinthe _ Les historiques _ Premier Absinthe

Écrit par : Artemis Jan 21 2014, 11:37 PM

An old newspaper article about Premier Absinthe was posted here:

This article is interesting for several reasons, among them:
It's from the perspective of someone who had (or at least could have had) a personal memory of the glory days of absinthe, but far enough removed in time from those days that he thought (correctly, as far as his lifetime was concerned) that absinthe was gone for good.
It's about a maker other than Pernod.
It touches upon the conversion of absinthe to anise liquor.

I translated it into English; here it is:

Maybe it's not suspected that doctors invented the aperitif. They got the word, learnedly, from the Latin verb aperire, which means "open". They classified under this generic name a number of medicines that had the property of opening the circulatory passages, dilating engorged channels and easing in that way, said Thomas Diaforus, the passage and flow of humors. They created major and minor aperitifs. Maidenhair fern, couch grass, thistle, bugrane, and strawberry comprise the minors. Modern therapeutics do justice to this primitive pharmacopeia, which had in addition to the merit of being inoffensive, being ineffective, but the distillery took over the idea and carried it in triumph.

An epoch still very recent and however very distant, which quickly came to an end in the roar of cannons, had for a major aperitif a rather delectable drink that neither contemporaries nor posterity will likely ever see again. It is absinthe. It's called the green fairy. It had the faults of the fairies. Without overstating, it became evil, although endowed originally with numerous and incontestable virtues. In decoction or in extract, this herb has a powerful aromatic smell, and a penetrating bitter taste; it is "stomachic, tonic, anti-acid anti-putrid, febrifuge, vermifuge, and stimulant". We aren't making that up. Ability talks. The ancients used it. They made a heady "herb wine", offered to victorious generals, combining for them pleasure with utility, quenching their thirst while reminding them that every victory is accompanied by bitterness. We are all in the position today to know something about that.

Good wormwood liquor was a delightful thing and its preparation upholds a consummate art and a very old tradition. The great producers could be counted on a few fingers. Next to Pernod, which is always mentioned first, Romans -Romans sur-Isère- in Drôme. In those days this house was already more than 80 years old. And its history, the picture of which, like many of our old-time industries, is a true epic poem of work ethic, hardy initiative, and creative intelligence, has entered industry folklore.

After working as an apprentice sheep skinner at Romans and quickly becoming depressed by the stinky job, young François Premier, apprentice confectioner in Grenoble, shortly after his wedding, returned to found, at Romans, place Fontaine Couverte, in 1829, a small liquorist-confectionary. Confectioners of this era were also liquorists. Along with sugared almonds and pralines they fabricated liquors and a large variety of fruit eau-de-vies, the taste for fine food being then very fashionable. After a few years, business was so good expansion was necessary. He moved to Saint Nicholas street. His son, through the mischief of an old Republican, was at his birth in 1836, named Louis Philippe, the name of the reigning king, causing him many hassles with state registrars. His son became his collaborator and after college, imprinted upon the business an extraordinary impetus. In 30 years turnover increased tenfold.

By 1880, the taste for fruit eau de vies had subsided. Absinthe considered as alcohol had just appeared. On the other hand, the general implementation of the use of glucose in the distillery as opposed to liquors of quality was rather unpleasantly concurrent with mediocrity and low prices. Louis Premier decided to develop above all his production of absinthe. In 1886, in the suburbs of Romans, at Germancon, he installed a vast absinthe distillery. A bit later, new workshops and new cellars were added. At the beginning of this century, scientific and technical publications of real authority, such as Les Grandes Usines by the engineer Louis Turgan, the Distilleries of the World, presented the Premier establishments as models of their type, stressing especially the particular care that they brought to the treatment of their herbs, exclusively from the Dauphiné Alps region and more especially from the region of Vercors, known for producing the most sweet-scented wormwoods.

When he died, in 1908, Mr. Louis-Philippe Premier, member of the municipal assembly of his home town, knight of the Legion of Honor, member of the chamber of commerce, judge of the tribunal of trade, adviser on foreign trade, juror for all of the international exhibitions, had left the Exhibition of Barcelona of 1888, having reaped the highest rewards dedicated to the perfection of his art; his son and his son-in-law pursued his work with the happy energy that sound example had bequeathed to them. They built new stores and expanded their cellars when war burst onto the scene. A few days later came the decree, punished some months later by the law of 1915, which prohibited absinthe.

It was necessary to close their workshops, already emptied of the majority of their personnel by the draft, and to pour into the river the contents of their immense vats.

It could have been a disaster. It's generally ignored that the law of 1915 was a brutal and abusive (female) robber. It had, in effect, envisioned the principle of equitable indemnification in favor of the whole industry, to be attained by measures which it instituted. But this good intention remained purely a dead letter. No industry boss, no employee, no worker has ever laid hands on any indemnification for the abrupt abrogation of his business or the unforeseen loss of his job. Fait du prince (arbitrary act of government)!

However, in October, 1922, the decree appeared allowing and regulating the manufacture of anise (liquor). During the first days of the following year, Romans saw the awakening of the old plant on Saint Nicolas street. They took great risks. They ventured blindly into unknown territory. A new battle was at hand. The house of Premier won, the same way in the domain of anise (liquor) that it had before with absinthe; its name became a mark of rank in the marketplace earned through manufacture. From an economic point of view, we can't admire enough a wonderful renaissance of this type, evidence not much open to challenge of the latent vitality that animates our commercial milieu and national industry. Today, the Société Anonyme des Anciens Établissements Premier Fils has taken the destiny of the old house in hand, and they are both great-grandsons of the founder, Louis Premier and Marcel Henry, who had the pleasure of organizing the festivals of his centenary, in October, 1929.

The great Premier artisan, Mr Louis-Philippe, is remembered as a fervent apostle of the green brew. He always considered absinthe to be salutary and beneficent, when consumed wisely. He liked to explain that it was energizing and thirst-quenching in small doses; it brought to our possessions in Africa an element of victory for the hearts and legs, protecting our soldiers from the torrid sun. An artist, he liked to extol its incomparable opaline tint when mixed with water.

Anise (liquor) dosed with water offers the same tempting color. It is also energizing and is an efficient medicine for dyspepsia and some other embarrassing inconveniences of the stomach. It has finally the advantage of suiting all temperaments, harmful to nobody, tolerable even to the nervous and the bad-tempered, who found in absinthe a terrible aggravating factor for their condition. This favorable feature allows, truly, the conclusion that it evidently comes at a very opportune time, our time of collective tension and individual seething, when we can't sufficiently outlaw all the superfluous causes for the expansion of the vast contemporary neurosis, the consequence of the progress and the evil of the century.


The creator of a grand brand brand - Mr. Louis-Philippe Premier

Anise (liquor) vats and filters

In the Premier factory at Romans - at left, a corner of the distillery with alcohol vats; at right, the filling and labeling room

Écrit par : Marc Jan 22 2014, 07:03 AM

Very good work Artemis amen.gif

Écrit par : rob fritz Jan 22 2014, 09:25 AM

Thanks, that was awesome !

Écrit par : Artemis Jan 23 2014, 01:49 AM

Thank you both, it was fun.

Écrit par : Boggy Jan 23 2014, 09:45 AM

Nice, Arty!

At the beginning of this century, scientific and technical publications of real authority, such as Les Grandes Usines by the engineer Louis Turgan, the Distilleries of the World, presented the Premier establishments as models of their type, stressing especially the particular care that they brought to the treatment of their herbs, exclusively from the Dauphiné Alps region and more especially from the region of Vercors, known for producing the most sweet-scented wormwoods

Where exactly can we find a excerpt on Premier Fils in Les Grandes Usines? There are some spirits/champagne producers mentioned, but no Premier Fils, are there other editions of the book?

Écrit par : Artemis Jan 23 2014, 05:11 PM

I don't remember Premier being mentioned either. I do remember extensive information about Cusenier in the Grand Usines. But I was under the impression that the book was a sort of periodical, with multiple volumes, sort of like the yearbooks of some of the old encyclopedias.

Écrit par : Boggy Jan 23 2014, 06:44 PM

Yes, both Cusenier and Pernod Fils are covered. The list of the volumes is here: another version is here: sadly, no Premier Fils in either of them. Maybe some volume is missing?

Écrit par : Artemis Jan 23 2014, 08:58 PM

Okay, apparently I was wrong about it being periodical, but there are many volumes, I was right about that. If I remember correctly, the parts about absinthe were sent to me by someone in Germany or France, before there was a French absinthe forum, and he was secretive about it for some reason. I have never seen the whole book. But I think I now have the answer.
I didn't remember "la distillerie dans le monde" being part of the name of the "grandes usines", nor being the name of a section or volume of it. And again I remember correctly - it's not! It's a separate book altogether. The writer of the old newspaper article didn't make that clear, and this did give me pause when I was translating it, but not enough to spend any time researching it.
But voila: La Distillerie dans le Monde Entier, by Paul Taquet, published in 1901. Apparently the writer was confused about the grandes usines and attributed to that something he had read in the other book. It happens.
Sometimes Google Books makes the text of such old books available, but not in the case of the Taquet book. I think I saw one for sale, but for 500 Euros. If you buy it, I know you'll share with old friends glare.gif .

Écrit par : Boggy Jan 24 2014, 10:57 AM

So, I was right about Premier Fils being NOT included in Les Grandes Usines. Thanks for clarification. Off to dig Taquet's book from oblivion...

Écrit par : Artemis Jan 24 2014, 07:42 PM

Check my thread about it at Fee Verte. Someone mentioned a book about Premier; Delahaye is one of the authors I think. I'd be surprised if Taquet were not the primary resource. But like you, I like to go to the source. It seems to be a beautiful old book, very nice cover. I've located it in several libraries, but none close to me.

Écrit par : jaysthename Jan 25 2014, 05:10 AM

What a heart-breaking twist the Premier Absinthe story held in store at the end.

Thanks for the translation, Artemis.

Écrit par : Artemis Jan 27 2014, 12:20 AM

You're welcome, but it wasn't really the end. Yesterday I noticed that I had neglected to translate the last two paragraphs of the article. They have now been added to the whole.

Écrit par : jaysthename Jan 27 2014, 07:37 PM

Absinthe apostle - what a glorious name that is!

I suppose it's a reflection of the time period in which this article was written that the author posits anise/pastis as superior to absinthe, in that it suits "all temperaments". I'd be curious to know just how many folks genuinely preferred absinthe substitutes during that era.

Écrit par : Artemis Jan 27 2014, 08:43 PM

Without a side by side comparison, it would be hard for anybody to be objective about it, but pastis was popular and remains so. Keep in mind that it's much lower in alcohol than absinthe (the best absinthe, anyway) and that makes it easier to stomach. Articles and advertising that promoted pastis tended to play up the harmful aspects of absinthe that they were willing to admit, so to some extent it's just promotional copy. But star anise and licorice - no thanks, not for me.

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