Domasov, Bela pod Pradedem
The pioneer of the absinthe market in the USA and UK finally produces distilled absinthe. Drawing upon 13 years of experience in every aspect of the absinthe field, Kyle Bairnsfather — who was the first person to sell absinthe online in 1998, to cultural and business elites in the USA and UK — finally sat down to solve the many problems and unanswered questions regarding the distillation of the drink Absinthe, which literally means “Wormwood”.
“You have to start at the beginning, which for absinthe is 2,000 years ago when the founders of modern medicine started to use the wormwood plant, mixed with alcohol (wine) and sweetened with honey (an anti-biotic) as a means to treat the sick. This idea that the Swiss were the first to produce a wormwood based alcoholic drink is a myth. The word “Absinthe” means nothing more that “Wormwood”. It was a drink that was made from wormwood. It was a medicine to treat people, a medicinal elixir. Since it was really bitter, aromatic and sweet herbs had to be added to the mix to make it more palatable for the public. The result is what is today called “Absinthe” – a mixture of wormwood, anise, fennel, coriander and other aromatics. But as the name implies, the beverage is about one thing: wormwood.
We have been growing wormwood for 13 years in our mountain valley. It thrives here alongside our local mugwart that grows wild everywhere. It is my observation that the essential oils in wormwood, including thujone, serve as an anti-freeze solution in the water-based plant. It is unusual that plants based on water produce oil which flows inside the plant. Wormwood is the first plant that rises in the spring and is able to survive numerous frosts. The frost formed over the night melts in the morning sun and the water drops flow down the wormwood leaf along the stem and into the ground. For this reason wormwood is able to grow in poor soil without rain as it gathers essential water from melting frost. Thanks to high essential oil content, the wormwood plant can survive frosts that would kill ordinary plants. For me it is also a reason that it is native to high level areas, and why other plants contain this molecule. The harvesting by hand of wormwood and its slow drying is essential in preserving the flavour (essential oils) of the plant and results in a superior product than absinthe made from tractor harvested and machine processed plants.
My original reasoning is that the process of distillation is very harmful to the herbal properties of wormwood. Tea and coffee are not distilled but simply macerated and then filtered. To distill the herbal material would destroy much of the natural qualities. There is a long history of beliefs and rituals that were used that we know today are not true. The belief that “Absinthe” has to be distilled is one of them. The only difference between our non-distilled absinthe and distilled absinthe is that the macerate of the non-distilled is filtered based on molecular size, whereas the distilled is filtered based on evaporation point.
But to be fair and open minded, I decided that I should look into this production method as well. There are many variables in the distillation of absinthe. Direct fire or steam heating of the macerate, distillation of the macerate with the herbs present or removed, temperature for heating the macerate to start the evaporation of the alcohol present, what alcohol percentage to use for the macerate, what temperature to force the condensation of the alcohol and water vapour, how long to macerate the herbs. What amount of herbs to use and the quality of the herbs that are used.
Over a period of several months I worked on a theory of ideal absinthe production, including handpicked, herbicide-free wormwood plants that were slowly dried as you would tobacco. I worked out a distillation set-up based on a multi-disciplinary approach to the field of distillation, and finally produced our first absinthe which was of a very robust wormwood aroma and a non-dominant secondary softness of anise and fennel.
I have noted that distillation fails to allow much of the herbal qualities to pass over into the distillate, but it allows for a higher concentration of those that do. So as a production process, just like everything else in the world, it has its pluses and its minuses. It is just a matter of figuring out how to maximize the pluses for the specific production method so the resulting product can be the best possible. And I think we have done this.
I will now be working on around five different varieties which will then evolve into the flavour profile that is most popular. The first will be a blanche and then we will work on a verte.