Underground absinthe

When I look back on my memories, all the raids that took place spring to mind: in 1960, inspectors from the Swiss Alcohol Board suddenly descended on the Val-de-Travers like a storm cloud. In gabardine raincoats, hats pulled down over their eyes, driving huge black Mercedes like in the American movies, they went to the distillers - who they knew well by the way, because they provided them with alcohol - and took away barrels, demijohns, stills, address books, invoices and so on. They carried out searches everywhere. Some distillers were well prepared: when the inspectors turned up, they immediately handed over the still. And they were happy to do so as they had another one, hidden elsewhere. One villa attracted particular attention: it was a sumptuous building with a beautiful swimming pool and the façade had a large fresco depicting the coat of arms of the village, Fleurier, and in front of them a young girl, a Green Fairy, advertising the owner's business as it were. An initial search revealed nothing. The chief inspector swore to bring down the distiller and put an end to his arrogant wealth. In the end they discovered a secret door in the cellar camouflaged behind rows of wine bottles which led to a clandestine distillery and a 200-litre still.

 

They interviewed everyone: neighbours, children, pharmacists, the policeman of the valley - who of course knew nothing!

Trials, hefty fines, destruction of the equipment seized... The hundreds and hundreds of litres of absinthe confiscated were poured into a quarry near the court - or at least some of it was, according to the photo in the press, but I really hope they didn't throw all of it away!! Those were the dark years of the resistance and people in the valley still have bitter memories of it.

 

Photo captions:

1 - The law stated that confiscated stills should be melted down… In fact some ended up in the museum of the Swiss Alcohol Board in Delémont!

2 - The confiscated absinthe was first tasted then poured into the quarry at Môtiers… But did they really get rid of all of it?

Photos Daniel Schelling, coll. MRVT

 

Source : Pierre-André Delachaux. Lettres à un amateur d'absinthe. 2002