I've been watching Absinthe for a number of years now, and despite what many people perceive as a booming market I am afraid for its future.
Yes , it is now legal in Europe and the United States, Yes, there are all kinds of it being imported now and the variety and quality has never been better.
I'd give it about 2-5 years before it utterly collapses- tops. It will be relegated to a couple cheap brands that only the young and stupid will buy.
People think it will make them high. Nobody understands it ( O.K. very few of the general public understand it). It is too much a niche drink. Bartenders hate it. Explanations below:
Too many people think there is some hallucinogenic properties to it (like the worm in mezcal stories- equally untrue) that will cause them to consume too much of it in college (or younger) , wake up in a alley and/or have a experience that will prevent them from drinking it again for at least 20 years or so.
Very few people (in the general public) understand it, it's history,variety, nuances or even what quality absinthe should taste like. There is very little education and outreach among brands to consumers or retailers. Most retailers are content with 2-4 brands max and couldn't tell you the difference between any of them. It's just a product. No one seems to promote it much as a diverse category like a scotch or bourbon, where people are encouraged to explore the differences and and variety of tastes each product brings. The consumers don't ask and just grab whatever bottle is on the shelf. They rarely come back for another one. Unless there is some education, activism, and appreciation for it as a catagory it will wither and die due to sheer indifference and ignorance.
No one serves absinthe cocktails or even remembers them. For absinthe to survive and thrive, it needs cocktails.The industry needs to publish all the extant cocktail recipes from the era when there were such things and develop new ones damn soon. If there is not a menu of cocktails and hopefully some new popular ones soon its use and consumption will go nowhere.
Bartenders hate it because of all the serving headaches inherent with the current absinthe popular culture and the serving options.
Fire, too many people believe you should set it on fire. This is a malignant and stupid rumor that was started by someone (who will remain nameless) who wanted to create a new ritual and hook for Czech Absinthe. Fire in a bar, people looking to get wasted and high, the rum fire lawsuits, Oh yes, great formula for success and acceptance. Serving French style- fragile, easily knocked over, or stolen fountain, slow mixing , just what a bartender wants. Add expensive, fragile glassware, expensive serving spoons ( both easily stealable to) and yes, we have a problem. That and the length of time to prepare each frappe is going to cause a riot on Saturday night.
Many early pieces of absinthe glassware and spoons were heavy, cheap and mass produced. It was meant to be durable and not worth stealing- or if it was - a minimal loss.
The industry needs to start producing heavy duty restaurant grade glassware and spoons to match. Libbey and Oneida spring to mind as possible sources. Bars and restaurants don't use sterling silver and crystal (for the most part) for service, absinthe needs to have serving equipment that is not a headache. Also Absinthe cocktails would help eliminate this problem - no special glasses and spoons.
I think that unless these issues are addressed will relegate absinthe to the level of mezcal - a drink that while it can be wonderful and has a small handful of afficicandos is misunderstood by most of the public and retailers and is a highly niche market except for college students.