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Cheers! 2 to 2 (How absinthe got a bad reputation and banned for a century)

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Tammy Coxen with the 2 to 2 drink featuring absinthe.
Credit Tammy Coxen
Tammy chose Long Road's absinthe because the Grand Rapids distillery was nominated in multiple categories of the USA TODAY 10 Best Readers' Choice Travel Awards Contests.

There are few distilled spirits that have become so infamous that they were banned in countries across the globe. Absinthe is chief among them. In fact, absinthe was banned in the U.S. from 1912 to 2007.

Tammy Coxen ofTammy’s Tastings decided to show us an absinthe cocktail and explain the bogus reasons behind the worldwide ban of the spirit after some good news for a Michigan distiller.

“I decided on this cocktail today because Long Road (Distillers) was just nominated as best distillery in a variety of categories in the USA Today 10 Best Readers' Choice Travel Award,” Tammy said.

Among the nominations was one for Best Craft Specialty Spirits Distillery.

“This is their fourth time in the Best Craft Specialty Spirits category and there’s nothing that’s more craft specialty than absinthe,” Tammy added. She then asked, “What do you know about the history of absinthe, Lester?”

About the only story I heard was the rumor that absinthe caused Vincent Van Gogh to use a lot of yellows and greens in his painting, but I always assumed it was a myth. Tammy said part of that story blamed absinthe for Van Gogh cutting off his own ear.

“Absinthe was very, very alcoholic and that's really what was going on. But it got this reputation as being the green fairy and this hallucinogenic product. None of that was true. Not then. Not now,” Tammy said.

The drink she was mixing up for us uses a whole ounce of absinthe. Usually in a mixed drink absinthe is used very sparingly because of its strong black licorice flavor. The drink is named 2 to 2 because of the habits of a man who was key in the century long ban on absinthe. It was said that Jean Lanfray would drink from 2:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. each day.

“Let's be clear, Jean Lanfray was not a nice guy. The reason they banned absinthe is because he killed his whole family. And they blamed that on the absinthe. On the day (of the murders) he had two glasses of absinthe, he also had two bottles of wine, several brandies, stopped for a sandwich, had a cup of coffee, had some more beer,” Tammy explained.

“The absinthe was the least of his troubles that day. But the French wine lobby was a little upset that absinthe had kind of gotten into their market share (the vintners in France were just recovering from a phylloxera epidemic that had wiped out much of the vinyards). And so they kind of went on a misinformation campaign and got it banned all around the world,” she added.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
This orange peel did not cooperate. Tammy said she was glad no one saw this attempt. It was just too much fun not to share it with you.

The drink 2 to 2 is absinthe heavy, but is balanced by Aperol and lemon juice. Tammy is not a great fan of absinthe because of the black licorice taste from anise, but because Long Road Distillers uses star of anise and fennel, she appreciates it more and in this cocktail, she enjoys the combination of ingredients. It is garnished with everybody's favorite, a flamed orange peel, which was a struggle this time. You've got to get the right kind of orange. I think it's about getting a smaller orange. Tammy says it's about the texture of the orange. The magazine Punch has this to say about it.

2 to 2 

1 1/2 oz Aperol
1 oz absinthe
1 oz lemon juice
1/4 oz simple syrup
1 dash orange bitters
Garnish: flamed orange twist
Combine all ingredients in shaker with ice. Shake very well, strain into coupe or martini glass. Garnish.

(Stephen Cole, Violet Hour, Chicago, IL)

Just for the record, while the drink’s name is 2 to 2, no one should be drinking like that any day, let alone every day. Enjoy the drink. Drink responsibly.

Tammy Coxen and Lester Graham are the authors of Cheers to Michigan: A Celebration of Cocktail Culture and Craft Distillers from the University of Michigan Press. The book is based on the Cheers! episodes heard on Michigan Radio.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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