The making of absinthe

The Making of Absinthe

Absinthe recipes abound in bartender’s literature. Whether you are looking to make a palate-pleasing French absinthe or an astringent version of Spanish absinthe, here are some basic rules — as well as variations on the general theme.

Your first step is to procure what’s known as a “neutral spirit.” This can be vodka, grain alcohol, or wine. (Traditionally, wine has been used in the most respected commercial formulations.) Make sure your base isn’t too concentrated or flavorful. Your next step is to “macerate” the spirit with a prepared batch of herbs. In general, for every three quarters of a liter of spirit, add a third a cup of herbs. In the Spanish formulation, herbs include: wormwood, anise seeds, angelica root, and coriander. For the Winston La F?e Verte formulation, use wormwood, anise, angelica root, peppermint leaf and hyssop. Other spices to add could include thyme, cardamom, lemon balm, mint, nutmeg, and sage. Please note, however, that if you use a lot of sage, star anise, wormwood or nutmeg, you may toxify or partially toxify the absinthe. One of the reasons why absinthe is banned or regulated in so many countries is that certain preparations contain a chemical called thujone, which can damage receptors in the central nervous system. A small amount of thujone won’t likely cause a toxic reaction, but if you are making a home formulation, avoid using wormwood stems or macerating your spirit for more than a few months.

Keep the absinthe in a cool location at a constant temperature away from sunlight. Once this process is finished, distill the beverage. This will leave you with a liquid that’s not suited for drinking – it will likely be brown in color and highly astringent. Next, you will need to “finish” the batch to produce appropriate coloration and taste. You can finish with an array of herbs (and even wormwood). Common herbs used in finish include hyssop, melissa, peppermint leaf, and mint.

An alternative way to go is to create multiple distillates with separate flavors to mix later to taste. For instance, you can create a pure “anise” absinthe as well as a pure “peppermint” absinthe and then mix them after the process is finished to create a flavor, color, and bitterness level to your taste.

After macerating the finish, filter the absinthe again and prepare for either bottling or consumption. You can play with both the coloration and taste even at this stage. Add corn syrup or Splenda to sweeten the brew. Alternatively, dilute the beverage with water or add vodka or another base spirit to punch up its alcohol content.

Be aware that if you use too many herbs or too strong a maceration in your preparation, your drink will likely end up tasting bitter or overwhelming. You might also overwhelm the wispy natural green color of the concoction if you steep too long. Conversely, if you add too much base spirit, you can overwhelm the flavoring. If you water the absinthe down too much, you will get an effect known as “louching” — your beverage will cloud.

Once you finish your formulation, you can bottle the absinthe in mason jars, bottles or other glass casings. Be sure to keep your absinthe corked, stored in a cool dark place, and rotated regularly to ensure evenness of flavor and body.

Not all absinthes must be made via distillation. You can find herbal kits (on the internet and elsewhere), which can help you make absinthe, bypassing the distillation stage. You can also create what is known as clear absinthe (also known as Suisse la Bleue), in which there is no finish applied. Although the Suisse la Bleue will be clear (or near clear), you can still taste the flavor traces left over by the initial maceration.

Make sure to prepare all of your ingredients on clean surfaces. Vary up your blend of preparatory herbs to explore different finished products. In fact, you can vary your recipe practically every step! Experiment with the fineness of your herbal preparation, the dimensions of your storage containers, the temperatures at which you store the beverage, the duration of maceration (both initial and finished), the type and strength of the base spirit, your method of filtration and distillation, and the length of time you age your finished product. Above all, make sure that you enjoy the process — experiment often, but experiment safely.

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