Saturday, April 23, 2016

Louis Jung: Green 'Gators and “The Green Fairy”

That is Louis Emmanuel (L.E.) Jung above, apparently arising out of a Louisiana swamp amidst green alligators.  Although he manufactured whiskey, Jung made his mark in his native New Orleans with other alcoholic drinks, famously concocting and merchandising the notorious “green fairy” — absinthe.  

Jung was born in The Big Easy about 1867, the son of Alexander and Louise (sometimes given as Eliza) Jung, both immigrants from the Caribbean island of Martinique  His father was a bookkeeper.  The 1883 census found Louis at the age of 23 still living at home.  His occupation was given as “traveling clerk.”  My hunch is that he was working in sales for a New Orleans liquor outfit.

He first surfaced in New Orleans directories as co-owner of a liquor house founded by a local named Emile Baumann who in 1883 had inherited from a brother a stock of “wet” goods.  Baumann took Jung as a partner in 1884, when the young man was just 27.   From a passport application we have a description of Louis at that age.  He was five feet, five inches tall, had a high forehead, prominent nose, black hair and beard, hazel eyes, and a dark complexion.

By that time Jung had a family. In April 1881, he had married Marie M. Sabourin, a New Orleans native.  At the time of their nuptials he was 25 and she was 21.  They had two children, Jeanne born about 1883 and Lillian in 1887.  Ultimately, as he made his wealth, Jung would house them in a New Orleans mansion, shown here.

Baumann and Jung ran their operation under the name “Sazerac House,” with locations at both 29 Camp Street and 116 Common.  The enterprise included both a saloon and wholesale liquor store.  The partners had a falling out about 1887 and Baumann left to run a Canal Street saloon.  Jung continued to operate the business under his own name and that same year made a successful move to patent the formula for “Peychaud Bitters,” a highly alcoholic tonic that had been invented years earlier by the then deceased A. A. Peychaud, a Haitian Creole apothecary who had settled in New Orleans.

Peychaud’s Bitters already had achieved an international reputation by the time Jung acquired the rights.  An ad trumpeted the tonic’s awards at the Grand Exhibition of Altona-Germany in 1869, and at the New Orleans Cotten Centennial Exposition in 1884.  Jung advertised that his major seller in Southern markets was Peychaud Bitters.  “There is hardly a bar in the South that it does not ornament”, he boasted. “In fact, such is the universal demand for this product, that it may truthfully be said that the saloons ‘cannot do without it.’”   Later Jung could add medals at the 1905 Louis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon, for Peychaud Bitters, Peychaud cocktails and Columbo Bitters.  He was packing Peychaud’s in amber bottles with elaborate embossing on the front, covered with paper labels.

Jung eventually sold off the saloon to concentrate on the manufacture and sale of bitters, cordials and liqueurs, calling his firm “L. Emanuel Jung & Co.”  This change was marked by a move to New Orlean’s Tchoupitoulas Street, first to No. 37, and then, outgrowing that property, to 319-321.   Along the way the New Orleans entrepreneur decided to make himself the “poster boy” for his alcoholic concoctions, posing in 1904 with a diorama of ‘gators, shown above.  Note that the beard of his youth has disappeared.

Jung also discovered the attraction of another major alcoholic product — absinthe.  This heavily alcoholic beverage had originated in Algeria and was introduced into Europe by French soldiers.  A distillation of sixteen herbs, roots, seeds and leaves, including wormwood, it was widely believed for years to be poisonous to the brain.  Known as the “green fairy” for its mental effects and color (although absinthe also could be white), it became the alcoholics’ drink of choice in France.  Jung advertised it prominently along with his other liqueurs and bitters.  He sold it in quarts at $12.00 for a dozen bottles.

When the United States, following the lead of other countries, banned absinthe as poisonous in 1912, Jung did not miss a beat.  He concocted and trademarked the first American substitute, one that contained most of the ingredients but left out wormwood.  He called it “Greenopal” and marketed it as a liqueur.  His company also provided a white absinthe substitute, calling it “Milky Way,” with the logo shown here.  The ads declared: From this product was omitted only the prohibited wormwood, and the formula slightly changed to replace the wormwood.  Milky Way cannot be distinguished in taste, even by the greatest Absinthe connoisseur, from genuine Absinthe.”  Jung trademarked the logo.

By 1915, Frederick A. Wulff had joined Jung’s organization, now located at 237 Genois Street.  The company continued to prosper with products such as “Liqueur de Mandarine,” an orange-flavored liquor; “Cacao Chouva a la Vanille,” and “Liqueur de Fecamp,” a knock-off of the famous Benedictine liqueur — made at Fecamp Abbey in Normandy.  That last brand brought Jung a lawsuit from the French monks and their allies in 1917 and a court injunction against imitating Benedictine’s labels.

With the coming of National Prohibition,  Jung saw all his alcoholic concoctions  banned from manufacture and sale.  With Wulff’s help, he made the switch to a line of non-alcoholic beverages including “Ojen Cocktail,” “Kummel Cordial” and “Sloe Gin.”  Meanwhile, Jung was aging.  A 1923 photo shows him with his wife, Marie, and a granddaughter.   He now was gray, bald, and had resumed wearing a beard.  Jung also did not have long to live, dying about 1925 at circa 68 years old.

As indicated by a 1926 New Orleans business directory, the company then became “L.E. Jung & Wulff Company (Successor to L.E. Jung).”  It advertised itself as Trustees of Southern Tradition Since 1883.”  Wulff and others guided the firm through the remaining “dry” years and after Repeal resumed making their alcoholic bitters, cordials and liqueurs, including absinthe substitutes.  In the post-Prohibition era the firm issued a booklet on “Mixology,” with recipes for making mixed drinks.  About 1943, the L.E. Jung & Wulff  permanently closed its doors.  The demise may have been triggered by the difficultly in obtaining overseas during World War Two the botanical and other ingredients needed for their beverages, or alternatively as a result of competition from much larger cocktail manufacturers like Heublein [see my post on Heublein, May 2014].

Whatever the reason for the ending, Louis Emanuel Jung and his successors had guided the business through a collapsed partnership, a ban on absinthe, a suit by French monks, and into and through National Prohibition — an unusually long 60 year run.  The longevity was a tribute to an enterprising New Orleans distiller and liquor dealer who demonstrated to the world that he was unafraid to pet a Louisiana alligator — even if it was dead and stuffed.
Note:  For anyone interested in more material on absinthe, I have a post on my BOTTLEBOOZEANDBACKSTORIES blog from March 2013 called ‘Absinthe and Art.” 

Note 2:  In October 2017 I received a letter from Catherine S.  Richert of Akron, Ohio, who is a great-granddaughter of Jung.  She was able to correct me on several errors about the family but corroborated the major part of the story.  I very much appreciate her help as in one case the census data was garbled as to Jung's children.  Thanks Catherine for helping complete a story on a most interesting whiskey (and other liquors) man.


  1. I have a bottle from him from my grandfathers passing and was wondering where it was from. Now I have a bottle filled with history

  2. Unknown: Thanks for the comment. Enjoy the bottle and think about the character who issued it.