Which were the best quality absinthes ?
What did they cost ?
As one would expect absinthe was produced in many different grades and was sold at widely varying prices, to cater for all parts of the market - from the elegant boulevardier down to the ordinary working man and below him even, the desperate alcoholic scraping his last few sous together to feed his addiction. At the top of the quality pyramid stood Pernod Fils and Cusenier's Oxygénée, which commanded a wholesale price of around 2 francs per litre (this equated to a retail price of 5 francs).. Below them, the other grande marques : Berger, Edouard Pernod, Premier Fils, Junod, Terminus, at around 1.60. Then lesser but still very reputable brands like Parrot, Bazinet and Vichet at 1.30, and reliable house brands at about a franc per litre bottle. Below this, an unregulated mass of crudely produced and often adulterated rotgut, some selling for as little as 60 centimes per litre.
At an expensive and fashionable cabaret like the Moulin Rouge, a glass of Pernod Fils cost between 50 and 65 centimes (still, relatively speaking, cheap: about half the price of a whisky, and little more than draught beer). At an ordinary bistrot or cafe, the house brand little as 5c.
All high quality absinthes were distilled, naturally coloured, and in the case of the very best brands like Pernod Fils, made from a base of grape alcohol. Cheap brands were made from herbal essences, usually artificially coloured, and used cheaper grain or beet alcohols. High quality absinthes were usually aged in large oak vats for at least 6 months, and sometimes as long as several years. Because of the cost of tying up capital in stocks, some manufacturers experimented with various accelerated ageing techniques, including devices that forced oxygen into the absinthe under high pressure.
There was no legislated industry-wide standard terminology, but generally the top designation was "Absinthe Suisse", which denoted a quality level, not a geographic origin. Then came "Absinthe Superieure", followed by "Absinthe Fine" or "Demi-Fine" and lastly "Absinthe Ordinaire". An Absinthe Suisse had an alcohol content of between 65% and 72%, an Absinthe Fine was around 55% while an Absinthe Ordinaire would be only 45% alcohol.