La Galerie d’Absinthe Opens in SoFAB

I’ve written a couple of posts through the years about absinthe, that old French spirit that remains shrouded in mystery and misinformation despite it being on the open market in the U.S. since 2007, after being legally unavailable here since 1916.  (For a pretty thorough telling of how absinthe came to be banned and resurrected, take a look at this article (pdf).)

For a time, there was the Maison d’Absinthe and the Absinthe Museum of America which opened on Royal Street in 2008. I heard rumors last fall that it was closing (sad) and then, not too long afterward, that Ray and B.J. Bordelon’s collection of vintage absinthe ware, bottles and ephemera would find a new home at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum at the Riverwalk (yeah!). Both rumors proved true; business turmoil on part of one of the owners resulted in losing the Royal Street lease, and Liz Williams, SoFAB’s director, offered the collectors space in the Riverwalk museum. It’s a perfect fit, as SoFAB is also home to the Museum of the American Cocktail; La Galerie d’Absinthe is a perfect complement, with an expanded focus on absinthe’s role in the culture of both Paris and New Orleans.


Saturday March 26 was the grand opening. B.J., Ray and T.A. Breaux were there and slinging Lucid samples to visitors, many of whom had seemed to just have wandered into the Food and Beverage Museum without a clue that the Green Fairy was about, until they saw the girl dressed as a green fairy who was serving pastries.


Ray has done some tireless research and uncovered some of the earliest documented mentions of absinthe in New Orleans. He has reproduced a newspaper ad from the New Orleans Bee in 1835. It was common for suppliers to take out ads listing the goods they’d just received from the latest ships arriving at the port, and the ad touts the arrival of cases of absinthe from France. Other ads on display include some from the 1870s taken out by Cayetano Ferrer, owner of the shop that became first the “Absinthe Room” and then re-named the Old Absinthe House.

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The exhibit goes on to display vintage absinthe bottles from France, as well as a display of antique absinthe ware.

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A most pleasant display is the re-creation of a Parisian sidewalk cafe setting.


There’s more at the Gallerie d’Absinthe, displays of ornate absinthe spoons, and a sampling of contemporary absinthe bottles and packages.

One thing I’ve learned, and anyone interested in absinthe needs to learn, too, is that there are no set standards for what can and cannot be put into a bottle and labeled absinthe. For example, for a product to be called Bourbon, it must, by law, be made of 51% corn and aged in new oak barrels for at least two years. There are more regulations, but those two help set a baseline for what someone can expect if they buy a bottle labeled “Bourbon.”

Unfortunately, anyone can add wormwood oil and food coloring to grain alcohol and label it absinthe. Traditional methods involve the maceration of whole herbs (anise, fennel and grand wormwood at a minimum) in alcohol (traditionally grape alcohol) which is then distilled; essential plant oils in the distillate flavor the product and create the “louche,” or cloudiness, when water is added. The product is then naturally colored green by chlorophyll extracted from an additional soaking of fresh herbs. Adding wormwood oil to alcohol and calling it “absinthe” is no different, Breaux explains, than adding vodka to Welch’s grape juice and calling it “wine.”

There’s a video display at the museum of Breaux’s segment on the History Channel’s Modern Marvels which follows Breaux as he makes a batch of his super-premium absinthe Jade Nouvelle-Orléans. I highly recommend watching it for an appreciation of how the hand-crafted product is made. The layers of aroma and complexity of flavor in traditionally made absinthe brands make them well worth the price.


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2 Responses to La Galerie d’Absinthe Opens in SoFAB

  1. Nola on March 28, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    Can you buy glasses and other accoutrement? Tastings? What’s the cost?? This is all very exciting news. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Pete on March 28, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    There are some items for sale in the Southern Food and Beverage Museum gift shop. As for events and tastings, I’d stay tuned to SoFAB on Facebook or sign up for their newsletter.

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