This is the umpteenth draft of the sixth lesson in my Distiller’s Workbook. I started it as a book project with the idea of generating interest in distillation by showing a simplified form of it based on the re-distillation of tax paid commercial products.
Over time, the recipes have been elevated from merely low involvement cocktail-centric creations into being a workbook of exercises for new distillers to learn big concepts in distillation on small scale equipment with affordable batch sizes. Hopefully new distillers will be able to learn most all the what-if scenarios of operating a still so they can instead deepen their involvement with the sourcing & processing of raw materials, fermentation, and then the maturing of spirit.
A big focus of the workbook is to expose new distillers to the giant body of research concerning the subject via referencing it. I started by collecting every book on the distillation I could find and that still left a lot of questions. I eventually started collecting forgotten and seldom seen journal articles. These were newly digitized or trapped behind pay walls and I have read hundreds in the last few years. Most professional distillers do not even know this massive body of work exists so I hope to weave it into the content and introduce it to people.
Truly Stimulating Absinthe
This loose rendering of an Absinthe was inspired by the Basque country liqueur called Patxarian where a commercial bottling of anise aromatized spirit is infused with sloe berries, coffee beans, and vanilla, and then lightly sweetened. The deliciousness of Patxarian proves that anise and berry aromas are very complementary so in this Absinthe recipe the alcohol and aroma of a commercial anise aromatized spirit is boosted by that of a fruit eau-de-vie and some novel botanicals. The exercise is an exploration of the spatial perception of aroma as well as the categorization of aromas which will allow the finding of patterns and the expansion of creativity.
The recipe is unique for an Absinthe in that it does not feature wormwood (but it easily could if you have wormwood available). Research has shown that the volatile parts of wormwood (thujone most specifically) are not as stimulating as many people would like to believe and therefore wormwood may be less significant in defining Absinthe than some may think. An easier to find ingredient, of comparative (they feel as though they inhabit the same olfactory division) if not more interesting aroma, is yerba mate which is also famous for its stimulating powers. Yerba mate alone, which lurks in many kitchen pantries, makes a splendid replacement for wormwood-based traditional botanical blends.
Turkish & Greek Raki or Lebanese Araks come from cultures that take anise very seriously, making them very fitting for conversion to an Absinthe. The brandies that make up these anise spirits are also often constructed from grape varietals in the Muscat family which contribute distinct minerality (olfactory-umami) further adding to complexity. Some of these spirits have sugar added which is not a problem because re-distillation will separate the non-volatile sugar.
When picking a fruit eau-de-vie there are many options with each offering different tonality. The optimal choice is Prunelle Sauvage sloe berry eau-de-vie from the French producer Trimbach but sometimes it can be hard to find. If a sloe berry eau-de-vie is not available, a framboise or any of the various plum based brandies can be used with great results.
Just like yerba mate occupies the same aroma category as wormwood so too do the fruit eau-de-vies. A way to further divide the fruit eau-de-vies is to render them in an imaginary, color based, chromatic, spatial scale and arrange them to the left or the right of each other. Some fruits will feel relatively brighter or darker and this often converges with the fruit’s actual color, but your own recollections contribute subjectivity.
If two fruits on the spatial scale were blended together they may feel so close they create an inseparable overtone and this is a common creative linkage strategy to produce extraordinary tonal values. If the aromas are distant on the spatial scale, such as sloe berry and anise, they will produce what feels like an interval which can have a pleasurable, expansive sense of space. We often find ourselves describing flavor experiences with spatial terminology like depth when we encounter such creative linkage. Another famous anise aromatized spirit that may use fruit and anise creative linkage is Peychaud’s bitters.
Olfactory-bitter aromas can also be rendered in an imaginary chromatic scale. For example wormwood, yarrow, and yerba mate in this order are arranged from lightest to darkest. Other bitter aromas could no doubt be added and through various sensory explorations they could be properly fit into the scale as well.
750 ml anise aromatized spirit (optimally a Raki or Arak with a distinct grape base)
100 ml fruit eau-de-vie (optimally a Prunelle Sauvage)
4 g coriander seeds
25 g Yerba Mate
250 ml water
Mix and re-distill slowly on high reflux until the thermometer on the still reads 93.33°C. Going past 93.33°C may result in a cloudy, permanently louched distillate). The extra water is added to reduce the chances of solids scorching on the bottom of the boiler.
If the boiler is heated so much so as to create a rapid boil, loose Yerba Mate has a tendency to fly around the still and even puke into the column which is not desirable. To prevent puking, either place the Yerba Mate in a bag to contain it or turn down the burner to the minimum required to create a gentle boil.
Using your hydrometer re-cut the distillate to your desired proof (we recommend 120-135).
If upon cutting with distilled water the absinthe begins to louche, try putting the absinthe in a canning jar and heat in a hot water bath to re-dissolve what louched. If the louche returns re-distill and end the spirit run at an earlier point.
Absinthe & Water
2 oz. Absinthe
x oz. water (8 oz. on good days and 4 oz. on bad days)
Half Sinner, Half Saint
1.5 oz. sweet vermouth
1.5 oz. dry vermouth
.5 oz. Absinthe floated
expressed oil of lemon peel
1.5 oz. dry vermouth
1 oz. benedictine
.5 oz. Absinthe