Swiss bid to monopolise 'green fairy' absinthe riles French

French distillers are to fight a Swiss bid to monopolise the use of the term "absinthe" for the drink favoured by 19th century romantics and banned in both countries for decades.

Marie Benech, head of the French spirits producers' federation (FFS) said that the grouping would make a formal challenge to the Swiss move on Friday, ahead of the June 30 deadline set by Bern.

Swiss makers of absinthe in the Val de Travers region, where the drink originated, have asked the Swiss agricultural authorities to declare the name exclusive to their area.

This would bar any other drink calling itself absinthe, or any familiar nickname such as "the green fairy", from Switzerland and eventually from distribution in Europe.

Daniel-Henri Dubied began distilling absinthe at Couvet in Switzerland from a local folk recipe at the end of the 18th century, and his son-in-law Henri-Louis Pernod, founder of the international drinks giant, followed suit in France not long afterwards.

Absinthe reached the height of its popularity in France in the late 19th and early 20th century, acquiring a reputation both for its hallucinogenic properties - and for sending people either blind or mad.

It was nevertheless beloved of artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas and Pablo Picasso, as well as the writer Ernest Hemingway.

Fears of its effects led to it being banned in France and Switzerland at the beginning of the 20th century. The bans were later lifted but in France the term "absinthe" to designate the drink is still forbidden.

Instead the "green fairy" can only be called a "spirit based on absinthe plants" on the label.

French producers such as Pernod can export it as absinthe, however, and it sells well in markets such as Britain and the United States. It is also distilled in other countries, notably Spain and the Czech Republic.

Benech, who called the Swiss move "provocative", said her federation also wanted to open talks with French authorities to be allowed to label the drink "absinthe" in France once more.

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