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Pernod Fils reedited : comeback on a prank

2 April 2010 3 Comments

Chromo Pernod FilsObviously, yesterday’s article was an April Fool’s joke. Since it generated some massive buzz in English speaking communities, the analysis on this pranks, already published in French will be exceptionally also provided in English.

Comeback and analysis on the topic

A massive buzz

The original article was published at 9:30 am, French time, and immediately broadcasted on Twitter and Facebook.

The French boards relay the information early in the morning, then Alan Moss, via The Real Absinthe Blog and Twitter, spreads it in English, with a complete and well written post, therefore becoming an excellent accomplice, without any word exchanged between us. We have split feelings about this : we want to thank him, and at the same time, we’re a bit panicked by the mess it generated.

Facebook is as noisy as usual, and soon we start receiving various messages, on Facebook and directly via e-mail.

It is late afternoon (by French standards) that the information is relayed to English speaking boards, by a well know canadian.

Reactions are quite mixed, but in the end, many would like to believe it, or want to believe it, but cannot, because of the date. The French call fool very early, English speakers will be less skeptical, but will qualify the prank as elaborate and cruel.

Selected reactions :

Bastard! But bravo for the best and most elaborate April Fools joke ever. I still hate you for it though. :p

on Twitter (via a Direct Message, so its author won’t be disclosed unless he asks to)

If this is an April Fool’s joke, it’s a cruel one.

Gwydion Stone, on Wormwood Society’s boards

This is like the news of a first born baby! I am so excited with this!

Dave on the Real Absinthe  Blog

Clues of a prank

The author had left clues about the fact it was indeed a prank. But, due to some language specificities, some could not be understood by English speaker.

First of all, in French, April’s Fool is called “Poisson d’Avril”, or April’s fish (it’s linked to a tradition of sticking a paper fish in the back of the fool). Therefore, all alledged Pernod Ricard employes had fish names : Alexandra Sandre (Zander) and Eric Brochet (Pike).

Besides, about Eric Brochet, the link on the photo gave a major clue : there is not Eric Brochet, the man is really Jacky Saint Ouen, a wandering distiller.

That last clue was the most obvious and therefore usually quoted.

Lastly, and the one which should have been the most obvious for anyone in Europe : Pernod Ricard is a firm very skilled in communication, and they have dedicated teams, they would most probably never let such big news being published on a freshly started amateur webzine.

Elements of truth

So that the story seemed plausible, it was based on true facts, even anecdotic.

First of all, only Pernod-Ricard can bring back Pernod Fils on the market, at least under that name, since they own the trademark.

Besides, Pernod-Ricard truly has at least on of the famed Egrot alembics, which would currently be exposed of their headquarters. One can easily imagine that they also have, among other things, vintage colorators and a whole stock of archives.

The author is actually capable of building a Business Plan… To an extent, since some accounting minute things seem to fail him.

Lastly, he is indeed a seasoned absinthe, who tasted several vintage absinthes (that being said, even if he does have a vintage pre-ban Pernod Fils bottle, he does not have it at home and even currently refuses to open it)

How the story caught

Pernod Fils : an absinthe of legend

In  the early 20th century, Pernod Fils is the most produced and most consumed absinthe in France. The production goes to 30 000 Liters a day !

True quality product, it was elaborated with the finest ingredients, including the famed Pontarlier wormwood, and a fabulous wine alcohol.

Today, it’s the reference absinthe, the holy grail of every absinthe, and vintage bottles start at several thousand dollars for late productions, called “Tarragona” in reference to the Spanish town where the production moved after the ban, and several thousand dollars for pre-ban bottles.

P.F. 1901, created by Ted A. Breaux, faithful attempt to reproduce this absinthe, is sometimes quoted as one of the best, if not the best, on the current market, and used to be sold until recently for over a hundred euro per Litter !

Pernod 68 : a ill-reputed absinthe

In 2002, Pernod Ricard launch a new absinthe, Pernod 68, starting from scratch : they didn’t reuse neither recipe nor processes which were the foundation of the success of their previous products.

There are three ways to produce an absinthe : distillation, maceration, oils mixing. To an educated absintheur, these three methods are here sorted from the best to the worst.

With Pernod 68, Pernod-Ricard chose to go with oil mixing, probably more cost-efficient, et used the experience of their anise products range team, providing a result with too much anise, and below par. Other defects ? The use of star anise, as in pastis and not gree anise, and an artificial coloration.

I will let you judge by the following articles and reviews

A story based on feedback from the field

Considering the above statements, it is quite obvious that the announce of the venerable product from Pernod Ricard is, all things considered, the dream of many an absintheur, and that was the bait.

But the absintheurs who dwell on large online communities, main targets of this prank, are very peculiar people, and many of them know everything there is to know on any of their favorite brands.

Therefore, the story was elaborated similarly to the story of all these brands.

First of all, you have to show a passionate person, a true one. Except in the Val de Travers and some distillers, many absinthe creators and distillers are initially not spirits professionals, but instead passionate people, coming from different professions : press, architecture, bio-chemistry, you name it.

It is these passionate people who push, pull, perform research everywhere, aiming for the recreation of the true experience of the belle époque. It usually goes with a tremendous workload in researching in archives and in vintage artifacts : Frenchman, one of the main providers of modern absinthe glasses, used to be a notorious glassware catalogs collector (his collection has been acquired by a Parisian museum), Ted A. Breaux worked directly on the chemical anlysis of vintage absinthe to reproduce them (and still works a lot on bio-chemical studies on absinthe and thujone), and we know by reliable sources that some absinthe creators have stocks of Traité des Liqueurs sorted on many years to watch the evolution of recipes in time.

That is why this prank could not be believable without mentioning this work in archives and this dive in history.

Besides, it is very rare that a first shot at creating a new brand is successful, and announcing an immediate victory would have raised many an eyebrow. Integrating a learning curve by trial and error seemed necessary, and it is with Ted A. Breaux story’s (among others) in mind that the author built his.

As a reminder, master distiller Breaux says himself that he originally tried to recreate vintage absinthes only using the recipes, and was found far from an above par result by far.

Many factors enter into account if you want to create a good absinthe : quality of the distillation, shape of the alembic, quality of products (most important !), recipe, and process ! Change any of these factors, and everything changes, which is why we included an allusion to a vintage notebook a of a former master distiller.

What to think ?

The reactions this story generated are quite marking, and we humbling think that there is, indeed, a market for a reborn Pernod Fils.

If Pernod Ricard was to try the adventure though, they would have any margin for error, it would be either a consecration, or a definite deal-breaker, moreso if they scar the legend.

Some worried about that if, indeed, Pernod Ricard was to propose a quality absinthe for a 30€/L price tag, it would kill the market. We think that, first of all 30€/L is a very low price, at least for the first batches, more so because of the taxes on high proof alcohols. That and the fact that the initial clients, the pioneers (as are called the fist buyers in a product lifecycle) would be willing to pay a higher price for a quality product.

That being said, even if a good absinthe existed with a 30€ price tag, we do not believe it would deteriorate the market. Let’s take a quite ironic example to illustrate that.

Today, in the “anisés” section of a supermarket in France, one will mainly find Pernod-Ricard products, for a 15€/bottle price tag. However, there is a real market for more savory products, like the excellent Bardouin pastis, which is, and here is the irony, produced by Distilleries de Provence, as Absente is.

Conclusion

The author is a bit shameful of the amount of noise produced bu his article, thanks you all for your reactions, and if, like him, shared for a bit this collective dream of the resurrection of a legend, he will sleep happily tonight.

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3 Comments »

  • Les tweets qui mentionnent Pernod Fils reedited : comeback on a prank | Gazette de l'Absinthe -- Topsy.com said:

    [...] Ce billet était mentionné sur Twitter par Main Verte. Main Verte a dit: For our English readers : yesterday's story was a prank, sorry. Here is a full analysis, in English http://www.gazetteabsinthe.fr/?p=82 [...]

  • Alan said:

    Sorry if I helped generate too much of a mess. I agree that there were one or two people who got VERY excited by this story, and were quite disappointed to think I /we had “tricked” them.

    I updated the story on my blog today, including a reference to PernodAbsinthe’s tweet which probably refers to all this:

    http://twitter.com/PernodAbsinthe/status/11439409785

    “Pernod aint foolin around this April Fool’s Day.”

    Good to see they have a sense of humour!

  • Main Verte (author) said:

    Alan,

    I was “bitching” about it, but quite frankly, I liked the excitement.

    So thanks :)

    I’m glad to settle a bit though, because writing this article both in French and English took me an enormous time (glad I don’t have to much workload today).

    I hope Pernod was looking kindly on this prank if they ever saw it, quite frankly I still fear the dreaded Cease and Desist letter :)
    Well, anyway, as far as I know (but I’ll have to double check) satire and parody are protected in France.

    Maybe I’ll contact them myself following these events, to reach an agreement on good terms.

    Thanks for the RT btw, you have a far better reach than me :)