Switzerland goes crazy about Absinthe

Belgian artist Henri Privat-Livemont’s 1896 “art nouveau” poster advertising Absinthe from the 1890s, the height of Absinthe’s popularity before the drink was banned in the US and much of Europe in 1915. This is one of the most common pop culture images associated with Absinthe in America.

How far would you go to protect your intellectual property? What about your great ancestors property or even if you share hometowns with a mouthwatering icon like the “Philly” cheese steak? We Americans love our regional genres of food. Especially in the culinary arenas of major cities like New York City, St. Louis, and Chicago the chefs and residents help cultivate a long history of unique expressions of their love of food, pizza in this example.

In the US, you can get “New York” style pizza in just about every city in the nation thanks to chains that have capitalized on the brand name and association with the metropolitan destination.

But in European Union countries, there is a price to pay for enjoying the gourmet foods from other nations. Countries can own the trademark to food originating in their borders and if you want the original recipes, World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva, Switzerland has the definitive documents.

The Swiss Federal Department of Agriculture in Bern is the nationalized authority on patents, which is moving to close any loopholes in the international trademarks that protect Swiss cultural milestones from being exploited at home or abroad.

These are called Geographic Identifiers (GI) and in August of this year, Switzerland announced they were claiming the region of Val-de-Travers district had sole claim to the production of the slightly psychedelic spirit known as Absinthe because it originated there.

If the addition of the Val-de-Travers GI to all forms of Absinthe passes the EU Commission, generic Absinthes produced in any other country than Switzerland, which have flooded the market and got spirits purists in an uproar, would be illegal to produce, distribute and sell to consumers in restaurants and bars all over the EU.

Even though Absinthe was first distilled in the 18th century by a Frenchman, the famously neutral nation has planted its metaphoric red-cross martini umbrella in this battle for intoxicating beverage.

Becky Paskin, an English blogger for The Spirits Business, reported at the time of the application for Swiss ownership that the French Federation of Spirits and even the European Spirits Organization are wading into the fight to appeal the designation of Absinthe as a Swiss only export. Though ambitious, I don’t think the Swiss will succeed at denying other European nations their desire to indulge in a sweetly psychotic night cap. Too many times in history, the populace has made their right to drink whatever mood altering concoction available.

As someone who has never tried Absinthe, since it is still illegal in most parts of America and I like following the law, I can only say I don’t know what I’m missing out on. As most college students, getting through a weekend without tucking back some Memphis-style barbeque or drinking some refreshing Budweiser beer, of St. Louis origination, with friends.

So as Americans, how would we feel if Seattle blockaded knock-off Starbucks or you had to travel to or special order from Lynchburg, Tenn. a bottle of Jack  Daniels for your bachelor party? I am all for possession and protection of intellectual property, and the more popular the product gets the better for my business. But Switzerland may not want to cut off the loyal fans of Absinthe and hoard the intrigue of the Green Fairie (La fée verte), when I think people should toast with whatever they want to drink and let the good spirits flow.

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  1. Pingback: An ancient tradition of watchmaking continues to build the legend of “Swiss-made” in a new generation of brand wars. | EuroKulture

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