Switzerland was the birthplace of absinthe at the end of the 18th century, and, over the years, the Val-de-Travers region was famous for producing some of the best absinthes. Some French absinthes even used the designation "suisse" to denote the highest quality absinthe.
The area of the Val-de-Travers and around the nearby French town of Pontarlier is reputed to have the best conditions for growing wormwood and some of the other plants used to distill absinthe: the combination of topography, soil and climate are ideal, in much the same way as the areas around Cognac and Champagne in France are ideal for the grapes used in those drinks.
The popularity of absinthe in late nineteenth century France and other countries took substantial sales from the French wine companies whose business had already been badly affected by the phylloxera outbreak. Absinthe was so popular that the temperance movement and wine makers characterized absinthe as dangerous and addictive. In fact, the most famous brands of absinthe were produced to exacting quality control standards and were certainly not dangerous!
After the 1910 ban of absinthe in Switzerland (that subsequently spread to many other countries), the distillation of absinthe moved underground. Distillers produced clear absinthes, allegedly in part to fool the Customs officers that they were really vodka: these absinthes turned a milky white when water was added, and the clear blue Swiss skies were apparently reflected in the absinthe. This led to the nicknames of "blanches" or "bleues" to describe fine Swiss absinthes, while the term "Clandestine" absinthe was also used.
One of the more famous distillers, Claude-Alain Bugnon, began distillation at home in 2000, fighting for space in the laundry and kitchen with his wife! As legalisation of absinthe spread throughout Europe, he became one of the first Swiss distillers to be granted a licence to distill legally on March 1st 2005. Every batch remains hand-crafted, and every bottle is still hand-filled. His most famous absinthe label depicts a lady in blue whispering "Charlotte," the name of his friend's aunt. Charlotte was, apparently, the inventor of the absinthe's 1935 recipe.
Claude-Alain's La Clandestine absinthe is one of a carefully selected range of fine Swiss absinthes (and an even smaller range of French absinthes) now available through his new internet boutique
His Recette Marianne, launched primarily for the French market, has twice won the Golden Spoon at the Pontarlier Absinthiades which are, according to some, absinthe's Oscars.
Personally Claude-Alain prefers to drink his absinthe without adding sugar, but he also offers a range of spoons as well as fountains.
La Clandestine has long been a favourite of many absinthe lovers, so the opportunity to buy direct from his distillery will be an attractive option for many. And those looking for their first real absinthe will be delighted to sample a fine drink from the birthplace of absinthe with a heritage and history that is unique in today's absinthe world.