HUTCHEON: The city of Saumur beside the soothing waters of the Loire is best known for the big house on the hill, otherwise know as le Chateau. 00:10

A thousand years old, Le Chateau is a symbol of continuity and pride to the locals. 00:20

Combier distillery

But I’ve come here to find another famous relic -- 00:28

Inside distillery

The quaint Combier Distillery has operated continuously since 1834. 00:35

Ted in distillery

It’s where you’ll find New Orleans native Ted Breaux. Last year’s devastating hurricane destroyed his house, but this is fast becoming his new abode. 00:46

The distillery’s ironwork, known as a Pasarelle, was designed by Gustav Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame. 01:07

All the equipment here belongs in a museum, but Ted Breaux believes it’s impossible to make authentic absinth with modern equipment. 01:13

Apart from alcohol, the holy trinity of ingredients -- as Ted calls them - are fennel, green anise and the controversial herb wormwood. 01:29

Ted shows wormwood

Ted: This particular variety is grown in the foothills of the alps, near the border between France and Switzerland and you can see it’s in its flowering stage. 01:40

HUTCHEON: Can I smell it, is it going to do anything to me if I smell it? 01:50

No, no, go right ahead and have a whiff there. It’s very aromatic. 01:54

Ted in distillery

Music 02:00

HUTCHEON: The herbs go into the giant copper alembic together with the alcohol – this makes what’s known as a maceration. 02:07

Close on maceration

Jane: Very aniseedy, very bitter, very medicinal. 02:17

Ted: Yes, yes, not something you would sit down and drink. This is not absinth, not yet absinth.

Music Ted: This is not absinth. It’s not yet absinth. 02:27

Ted When I get these stills going, and we apply the heat, and the distillate comes over and you taste the distillate, then we’ll see the difference. 02:37

Pan along still Music 02:44

HUTCHEON: Before too long, the clear distillate begins to emerge. Then in a giant vat, the absinth is given a natural herbal colouring 02:51

Jane with Ted taking absinth

HUTCHEON: And you’ve added a bit of water to this? 03:04

Ted: I’ve taken the neat liquor which is a clear green, and added a little bit of water, and when you add a bit of water to it, it becomes cloudy. And the French word for that is called louche and it becomes an opalescent jade colour . 03:09

HUTCHEON: As I sample the freshly distilled product, now diluted, Ted Breaux is adamant, Absinth was never an evil drink.

HUTCHEON: Wow, that’s very nice. 03:27

HUTCHEON: But for most of the twentieth century people believed it induced madness. 03:39

Ted: I was curious what it is in Absinth that could possibly be deleterious, what could cause anyone to go crazy, what could support all these myths and I found nothing, nothing. 03:45

Opera House/Bars Music 03:54

HUTCHEON: In its heyday, absinth was so popular the French referred to cocktail time as ‘l’heure verte’, the green hour. 04:05

Exterior of Vert d’Absinthe Music 04:14

Inside Vert d’Absinthe. Jane tastes absinth

HUTCHEON: I’m spending my green hour in Paris’s only Absinth boutique run by the debonair Luc Santiago. 04:23

Monsieur Santiago demonstrates how to carefully dilute the 140 proof drink, sweetening it with a sugar cube perched on of a delicate absinth spoon. The sweetness he says, not only fights the bitterness, it brings out new flavours. 04:43

Luc: 100 years ago everybody drank absinth. It’s the same today, they like it. No matter if they are old or young or if they have money or no. 05:07

Absinth poster

HUTCHEON: It still has that je ne sais quois?Luc: Yeah, exactly. 05:25

Extreme CU on absinthe Music 05:28

HUTCHEON: It’s somewhat hypnotic, watching the process of preparing absinth – 05:35

Jane tastes absinth

or perhaps it’s the wormwood taking effect.Luc: There is the fruity taste of the fennel, the herbs and the plant at the end of the glass it’s the bitterness. 05:40

HUTCHEON: I’ve got about two minutes of standing time remaining, but Monsieur Santiago isn’t short of customers. 05:54
Customers in boutique Woman: I’m not worried about Absinth, but I’m not going to drink a big glass of it. This is for cooking -- simply for cooking. 06:04

Man: In America, at least we have no access to it, so there’s a sense of rebelling against the government a bit, so that’s always nice!

HUTCHEON: So you plan to bring it into the country?Man: Of course. Absolutely! 06:11

Ted with Franck

HUTCHEON: Back at the Distillery, Ted Breaux and Combier’s president Franck Choisne, put the stamp on what they hope will be liquid gold 06:35

Ted: It’s profitable, but for me, it’s art. I can’t paint, but if I were to equate it, making absinth is my painting. The big alembic is my easel. 06:46

Bottle of absinth

HUTCHEON: Production is just 5,000 bottles a year, but for Ted Breaux it’s not about quantity – it’s about keeping the Green Fairy magical. 07:04

Close on absinth Music 07:20

Credits: Reporter: Jane HutcheonCamera: Michael CoxResearch: Justine KerrEditor: Garth Thomas

© 2019 Journeyman Pictures
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