How to Make Absinthe: A Step-by-Step Guide for Home Distillers

When learning how to make absinthe, you will find that it can be done using several methods, although it is crucial to source high-quality ingredients for optimal results. When getting started, you can explore various recipes, some of which also incorporate star anise, coriander seeds, hyssop, artemisia pontica, and angelica roots, among others. In this article, we will provide you with a detailed guide on how to make absinthe with step-by-step instructions.

Absinthe, often called the “Green Fairy,” is a distilled liquor with a distinctive anise flavor and a storied history. The spirit originated in the late 18th century and gained popularity in artistic circles during the 19th century for its alleged hallucinogenic properties, which have since been debunked.

Traditionally, absinthe is made by distilling a fermented mixture of various herbs, with the primary ingredients being wormwood (artemisia absinthium), green anise, and fennel.

History of Absinthe

Absinthe originated in Switzerland and is derived from the herb Artemisia absinthium, also known as wormwood. Swiss apothecaries initially developed the modern absinthe recipe during the late 18th century.

The commercial production of absinthe began in 1797 when Henry-Louis Pernod used a recipe purchased by his father-in-law, Major Dubied. At the time, absinthe was considered a medicinal drink, with French doctor Pierre Ordinaire claiming it to have numerous health benefits. However, its reputation would later be questioned due to claims of dangerous side effects and potential harm to one’s health.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, absinthe gained popularity in artistic and literary circles. Famous artists and writers such as Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, and Ernest Hemingway became known for their adoration of the Green Fairy. The spirit became a symbol of creativity and inspiration, often portrayed in paintings and novels of the period. Absinthe’s lore and mystique contributed to the thriving culture of fin de siècle Paris.

Unfortunately, absinthe’s popularity and its alleged psychotropic effects would ultimately lead to its downfall. Many countries, including Belgium, Brazil, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, enforced a ban on absinthe sales and production during the early 1900s.

The United States followed suit in 1912, and France, the epicenter of absinthe culture, imposed a ban in 1915. The bans were largely based on concerns that absinthe consumption led to convulsions, hallucinations, mental deterioration, and other mental and physical health issues.

In the 1990s, absinthe revival began, driven by the adoption of modern European Union food and beverage laws that removed long-standing barriers to production and sale. This resurgence has allowed the Green Fairy to grace the glasses of enthusiasts again, offering a chance to experience the storied history and allure of this complex and enigmatic spirit.

Ingredients and Botanicals

Absinthe is made from distilling alcohol with a unique blend of botanicals. The primary botanicals used in absinthe production are grande wormwood, green anise, and Florence fennel, also called the “holy trinity.” These ingredients contribute to the spirit’s distinct green hue, herbal flavors, and thujone content.

Grande wormwood, or artemisia absinthium, is the most crucial herb in absinthe, giving the liquor its characteristic bitter taste. Green anise adds a licorice flavor. On the other hand, Florence fennel has a slightly sweet taste similar to anise, and together, they create a well-balanced, complex flavor profile.

In addition to the holy trinity, other commonly used botanicals include star anise, hyssop, angelica root, coriander, lemon balm, calamus, spearmint, marjoram, and petite wormwood. These herbs impart additional depth and nuance to the absinthe’s taste and aroma.

The botanical ratios vary depending on the recipe, but the following measurements can serve as a base for producing half a liter of 95 proof absinthe:

35 grams of wormwood (artemisia absinthium)
35 grams of anise seeds
8 grams of angelica root
8 grams of star anise
4 grams of marjoram
4 grams of fennel seeds
4 grams of coriander
4 cardamom pods
Half a seed of nutmeg

These botanicals are typically soaked in high-proof, clear alcohol for several days, allowing the flavors to infuse. After the initial infusion, the mixture is distilled to create a strong, concentrated liquor. The absinthe may undergo a secondary maceration with additional herbs for extra color and flavor at this stage.

It is worth noting that if you come across a bright green bottle of absinthe, it likely contains artificial coloring. The natural color of absinthe should be a pale, translucent green.

When consumed, absinthe is traditionally diluted with ice water and sweetened with sugar to balance out its potent herbal and bitter flavors.

How to Make Absinthe

Making absinthe at home can be simple and rewarding. Following these steps and using the right ingredients will ensure a delicious, homemade absinthe.

Begin with selecting high-quality alcohol to use as the base for your absinthe. A clear, high-proof alcohol like vodka is ideal to ensure a smooth taste and proper maceration. Prepare a glass bottle with a tight-fitting cork to store the liqueur during the process.

Next, gather the essential ingredients for the absinthe recipe. These will include dried artemisia absinthium (wormwood), anise seeds, fennel seeds, melissa (lemon balm), and hyssop. To enhance the flavor, consider adding optional ingredients like angelica root, coriander, or liquorice.

Create the maceration by adding the herbs to the glass bottle containing the base alcohol. Seal the bottle tightly with the cork, and store it in a cool, dark place. Allow the ingredients to steep for two weeks, giving the mixture a gentle shake every few days to encourage proper extraction and even distribution of flavors.

Once the maceration is complete, it’s time to distill the mixture. Set up a still, ensuring that it’s clean and functioning properly. Slowly pour the steeped mixture into the still and begin the distillation process. The temperature should be kept between 70-80°C (158-176°F) to preserve the flavors without damaging the delicate herbs.

During distillation, collect the first few drops of liquid that emerge, also known as the “heads.” This portion of the distillate contains impurities and should be discarded. Continue collecting the rest of the liquid, known as the “hearts,” which will become the final absinthe product. The process is finished once the alcohol content reaches approximately 60-65%.

After distillation, some prefer to add more herbs to the freshly distilled liquid for additional maceration. This is known as the “coloring” step and can contribute additional flavors and a greenish hue. Dilute the absinthe with ice water before serving to create the famous “louche” effect and enjoy the fruits of your labor: a homemade, delightful taste of absinthe.

Risks and Controversies

Absinthe has a long history shrouded in mystery, misconceptions, and controversy. Often associated with hallucinations, psychosis, and even death, absinthe has earned a reputation as a potentially dangerous and mind-altering drink.

The infamy of absinthe partly stems from the widely believed yet disputed hallucinogenic properties of one of its key ingredients – wormwood (Artemisia absinthium).

In the 19th century, French psychiatrist Valentin Magnan conducted studies on wormwood and concluded that it could cause absinthism, a syndrome characterized by hallucinations, seizures, and psychosis. However, modern research has questioned the validity of Magnan’s findings and suggests that the hallucinogenic reputation of absinthe is largely a myth.

One of the main reasons absinthe achieved notoriety is due to its association with iconic figures like Vincent van Gogh, who was known for his struggles with mental health. Many speculated that the artist’s consumption of the green elixir influenced his erratic behavior and creativity. However, it’s important to differentiate between the effects of absinthe and those of excessive alcohol consumption in general.

While absinthe contains trace amounts of thujone, a chemical compound found in wormwood, its levels are strictly regulated in modern production and are insufficient to cause hallucinations. Excessive consumption of absinthe, like any alcoholic beverage, can lead to alcohol poisoning and related consequences.

In conclusion, absinthe’s risks and controversies are primarily rooted in its historical reputation and unfounded claims about its hallucinogenic properties. While it is always important to consume alcohol responsibly and in moderation, contemporary research has largely debunked the dangers attributed to absinthe.  However, drink with caution and at your own risk.

Absinthe Consumption Tools and Practices

Absinthe is traditionally consumed using specialized tools and practices to ensure the best flavor and experience. One of the essential tools for proper absinthe consumption is a unique spoon, often featuring slots or holes. These spoons are designed to hold a sugar cube and help dilute the potent concentrate.

One typically requires an absinthe glass, an absinthe spoon, sugar cubes, and ice-cold water to prepare a glass of absinthe. Optionally, club soda can be used in place of water to add a touch of effervescence.

Follow these steps:

1) Pour a measure of absinthe into an appropriate glass, usually between 1 to 1.5 ounces (30 to 45 ml).

2) Place the absinthe spoon on top of the glass, and place a sugar cube on the spoon.

3) Slowly pour or drip ice-cold water over the sugar cube, dissolving it into the absinthe. The recommended ratio is three parts water to one part absinthe. So, for a 30 ml measure of absinthe, approximately 90 ml of water would typically be used.

4) Observe the “louche” effect – as the water and sugar dilute the alcohol, the absinthe will take on a cloudy appearance.

Some individuals prefer using an absinthe fountain, a device that allows for dripping water through multiple spouts in a controlled manner. Another option for a distinct pour is a Brouille glass, which includes an ice and sugar container at the top, allowing ice and sugar to melt and drip simultaneously into the glass.

IMPORTANT: It is crucial to dilute absinthe as its high alcohol content greatly increases the risk of adverse effects, such as alcohol poisoning and death, when consumed undiluted. While absinthe’s reputation for inducing hallucinations may be more folklore than fact, consuming it responsibly and using proper tools and practices ensures an enjoyable and authentic experience for those who appreciate this historic and enigmatic spirit.

How to Make Absinthe FAQs

What is the traditional process for distilling absinthe?

The traditional process for distilling absinthe involves macerating herbs and botanicals, including wormwood, anise, and fennel, in a high-proof alcohol base. This mixture is then distilled to extract the essential oils and flavors from the herbs. After distillation, the liquid often goes through a secondary maceration with additional herbs to achieve the final taste and the distinct green color.

Which herbs are essential for authentic absinthe production?

Authentic absinthe production requires a combination of herbs and botanicals, with the three most essential being wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), anise, and fennel. Other herbs that may be included are sweet flag, angelica, dittany, and marjoram.

How long does the distillation process take for absinthe?

The distillation process for absinthe can vary, but it generally takes around a day to complete, including both the primary and secondary maceration steps. The actual distillation process is just a portion of the overall production and can take a few hours to complete.

Is there a legal restriction on homemade absinthe?

Legal restrictions on homemade absinthe vary by country. In some locations, it is legal to make absinthe for personal consumption, while others may have restrictions on the production or sale of absinthe. It is essential to check local regulations before attempting to make absinthe at home.

What is the oldest known absinthe recipe?

The oldest known absinthe recipe dates back to 1797, created by Henri-Louis Pernod, founder of Pernod Fils. His recipe involved macerating and distilling a combination of wormwood, anise, fennel, and other herbs to create the distinct flavor of absinthe.

How do you properly pour and serve absinthe?

After learning how to make absinthe, it is important to learn how to pour and serve it properly; it is traditional to use an absinthe fountain or a carafe of ice water. A slotted absinthe spoon with a sugar cube is placed atop the glass, and ice water is slowly dripped over the sugar cube, diluting the absinthe and releasing its flavors. The ideal ratio is typically 3 to 5 parts water to 1 part absinthe, depending on personal taste.

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