Military absinthe

At the end of the 18th century in Switzerland, in the Val-de-Travers area, wormwood blended with other plants such as hyssop, lemon balm, anise and fennel was used to produce a macerated or distilled drink. As a result of high export taxes, Swiss distillers decided to transfer their businesses to nearby Pontarlier in France, the capital of the Haut-Doubs département, 837 metres above sea level. Things were not easy at first and it was only from 1830 that absinthe consumption really took off, thanks to the unintentional support of French colonial troops who used absinthe as a water purifier on their travels overseas. Returning victorious to France, they not only continued their drinking habits, consuming absinthe in the grand boulevard cafés of Paris and the bars in garrison towns, but they were also viewed as heroes that the French public was only too happy to imitate.


Extracts from military correspondence


Vannes 18 June 1899

Dear Sir,

I would be grateful if you could immediately dispatch to Mr Brocard, canteen manager of the 28th Artillery Regiment in Vannes, a 60-litre barrel of Terminus absinthe at 1.33, with a value of 93 Fr, payable within 30 days with discount.

As the colonel has banned absinthe in the barracks, please send as previously with nothing on the barrel that might indicate its contents.

With kindest regards.

Following a change of residence, please write to me at the following address: place de la Poissonnerie, n°17.






Postcard from René L……..

to Auguste R…. in the 42nd Line Infantry Regiment, 9th Company, Bougenel barracks in Belfort


Pontarlier 29 June 1909

My dear friend

Thank you for the postcard that you sent me. I'm happy to tell you that Pontarlier is more agreeable than Héricourt. There is much more entertainment; and no wonder because here you can drink La Bleue [colourless absinthe] at a most reasonable price. We are leaving again on Sunday morning which is a damned shame as it's the Pontarlier Festival. I look forward to seeing you again soon.