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E. Dentu, Editor

3 - 5 Valois Square (Palais-Royal)




The House of Pernod and Sons is so intimately associated with the origins and progress of the absinthe industry that it is impossible to separate or distinguish the history of the one from the other.

The origins of absinthe are thus the obligatory preamble to the history of the House of Pernod & Sons which we propose to recount in these pages. In spite of the name Swiss absinthe by which it often goes, the famous liqueur is of French origin. At the end of the last century a French doctor, Dr. Ordinaire, exiled in Switzerland, chose Couvet for the theater of his medical activity. We cannot resist the urge to reproduce the portrait drawn of him by a Swiss writer. He was, apparently, an eccentric, of great height, riding through the Val de Travers on a small Corsican horse known in region as the Rocket. His unusual appearance did not fail to surprise the village populations; it gave rise to many jokes and persistent astonishment among the children. Ordinaire did not appear to be concerned with this; the gravity of his character was not affected. He was a doctor not without

talents for his time, and he did a good job of bringing the medical art to the Val de Travers. He joined the practice of medicine to that of pharmacology; the majority of doctors of the countryside did no differently. Mr. Ordinaire did not scorn the panaceas, he employed one in particular, the elixir of wormwood, composed of aromatic plants of which only he knew the secret. Many people, having made use of it, declared themselves radically cured and the doctor could not pretend to be other than pleased and to prescribe its use.

Dr. Ordinaire would have been well astonished if anyone had predicted the high destinies to which his elixir would be called. At his death the mysterious recipe passed into the hands of the young Henriod ladies of Couvet. Cultivating the necessary herbs themselves in their garden, they distilled them in the family home. The production of the elixir at the time amounted only to a few pots which were sold with some difficulty by hawking.

Little by little, however, thanks to its fragrance and pleasant taste, the elixir came to the attention of not only the sick, but to that of more and more fans, so that the recipe had already acquired monetary value when when Mr. Henri-Louis Pernod acquired it to exploit it commercially.

This happened in 1797. It was at that time the first absinthe factory was built. The establishment was created under extremely modest conditions, even for Couvet; the building where the industry was born still exists; it measures eight meters long by four meters broad by four meters high. Subsequently enlarged, the factory was not long in becoming too small and, in 1805, Mr. Pernod not being able to satisfy demand by the French customers which had taken to his product with a marked favor, fixed upon Pontarlier as the place to avoid the high taxes levied by the tax department upon Swiss Absinthe. We have before our eyes the contract dated the 25th day of the fifth month of the 13th year (French Republican calendar) by which Sir Benoit-Hilaire Courbe leases to Pernod & Sons for the price of 180 francs per year, a location designated as a house on Grand Street in Pontarlier, for the establishment of a green water factory. This tiny distillery could hardly foresee the splendid establishment which rises today at the edge of Doubs: two small apparatuses producing 16 liters per day each.

When Mr. Louis Pernod, currently still one of the heads of the house, and his brother, Fritz, unfortunately since deceased (March 17, 1880), took over the direction of the business in the absence of their father, whom they had lost early, the house was already on a good road, because the daily production had reached the figure of 450 liters.

Since the date to which we refer, that is, since 1855, production has increased enormously.

To what can we attribute this astonishing prosperity, this continuous development which only a small number of industries can boast? Quite simply, to the firm intent of the heads of the house of Pernod to always provide a superior product, never yielding to the temptation to realize greater profits by buying cheap raw materials of lower quality. This temptation was offered to them in a particularly seductive form when the French vineyards of the South, devastated by powdery mildew and later by phylloxera, could no longer provide, except at exorbitant prices, the spirits distilled from wine which form the basis of absinthe liqueur. It then seemed quite natural to replace the proof spirit of wine with alcohols from beets, grains, and potatoes; this is what was done by many distillers who, noticing the public favour given to the product of the House of Pernod, had installed absinthe factories almost everywhere. By a happy inspiration, Mssrs. Pernod decided to remain faithful to proof-spirit of wine; this resolution made the fortune of their house; the higher quality of their product, attested to by the preference accorded to it by consumers, is due primarily to the exclusive use of alcohol made by distillation of wine; it's not only that this alcohol gives to Pernod absinthe the fine flavor which distinguishes it, but that it makes for an inoffensive drink from a health standpoint, since it saves consumers from the morbid effects of bad alcohols. We will have occasion to explain ourselves at greater length in this regard.

Alongside this essential element of the success of the Pernod brand, are others which also have their importance. We want to talk about the manufacturing processes that Mr. Pernod never ceased to improve, sparing no effort to create model equipment capable of providing the best results; we want to also speak about the proverbial honesty that always governed the trade of the Pernod House, providing it with as many many friends as customers and vendors.

These traditions were religiously respected and followed by Mr. Veil-Picardy to whom Mr. Pernod yielded his business, in which he remained as a silent partner in return for a significant share.

It is not futile to add that the former head of the house continued to follow with a quite natural solicitude the operations which he had directed for so many years; in particular, it was always he himself who dealt with the purchase of raw materials and not a wagon of proof spirit nor a bale of herbs or seeds entered the stores unless Mr. Pernod had approved the sample.

Furthermore, Mr. Viel-Picardy has made a point of retaining as the heads of technical and commercial services, the collaborators who assisted Mr. Pernod for years, and who, informed by long experience, continue to be inspired by his example and precepts.


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Translated by Artemis

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