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Breathing new life into artisan spirits

By Sarah Groves, also posted in News on

[caption id="attachment_9736" align="alignleft" width="170" caption="Edgar Degas 'L'Absinthe'. 1876."]Edgar Degas 'L'Absinthe'. 1876. Currently on display at the Musée d'Orsay, Paris[/caption] During a gathering in the Adnams tasting room, Distiller John McCarthy announced that he'd made ‘something exciting’ for the tasting team to try. We're all used to this by now, as John is constantly experimenting with both new and historic spirit recipes. His first venture into liqueurs was Adnams Limoncello, swiftly followed by Winter Spiced, Sloe Gin* and Morello Cherry Liqueur. Since we first built the distillery in 2010, John has been reading every book he can find on artisan spirits. The ‘something exciting’ was his version of Absinthe. John explains his fascination with this ancient spirit, "I found Absinthe's shady history really interesting, it's shrouded in mystery and I love the fact that it was drunk by artists and writers - it became almost an 'underground movement' in the creative world." Originating as a ‘tonic’ in Switzerland, Absinthe was first popularised during the French revolution (sometime after 1789) steadily growing in celebrity and notoriety. Through various misdeeds and misfortunes (much like the sorry tale of gin in London), it was eventually banned from sale in France in 1915. The ban has since been lifted, but only relatively recently. [caption id="attachment_9740" align="alignleft" width="170" caption="Star anise"]Image of star anise from Wikimedia Commons -  Illicium verum[/caption] Over the last year, John has visited many of the best cocktail bars around the country whilst showcasing Adnams’ award-winning gins and vodkas. He recognised the huge passion and desire amongst both the bar staff, and their curious customers, for truly hand-made, classic artisan spirits, such as Absinthe. The world of spirits is steeped in history, with the very earliest developed as tonics and as cures for common ailments. Herbs were used widely in folklore medicines and spirits acted as a solvent for their powerful, curative oils. Over time, some of these recipes have been lost, but a few remain to become regional specialities. Basing his research on traditional recipes, John set about creating the Adnams version of Absinthe - a spirit, whilst never forgotten, had been marginalised to a niche group of specialist spirit drinkers. John presented two versions of Absinthe - one green and one red - both spirits were incredibly well received by the tasting panel. It was the intensity and purity of the anise aromas and flavours that impressed the team. [caption id="attachment_9737" align="alignright" width="170" caption="Edouard Manet, 'The Absnthe Drinker', 1858-59"]Edouard Manet, 'The Absnthe Drinker', 1858-59[/caption] What is Absinthe? Absinthe isn't Absinthe without wormwood, or Artemisia absinthium -  it's a bitter-tasting herb related to turmeric. It is wormwood that took much of the blame for getting the spirit banned in the early 1900s, but its bitterness, although not obvious in the final spirit, is crucial in achieving balance. Distillers are free to add other herbs, too, and John used an authentic mix of green anise, fennel, star anise, coriander and caraway in his Absinthe trials. Coming soon: Adnams Vert Absinthe Green absinthe gets its colour from the addition of Hyssop and Melissa (lemon balm). Adnams Rouge Absinthe Ruby-red in colour from the addition of hibiscus flowers. The Authentic Serve Absinthe is bottled at a high strength and it is traditionally diluted by the addition of four parts water to one part Absinthe. in bottle, the natural herbal oils remain in suspension, but when mixed with water the oils drop out causing a milky effect called 'louche'. No sugar is added to Absinthe in its production, so it can be sweetened to taste. Now collector items, ornate holed Absinthe spoons were created which allowed sugar to be dissolved by water when it was poured over the glass. Adnams Absinthe will be ready at the end of April, but in the meantime, what are your thoughts on artisan spirits? Have you traveled anywhere and discovered an amazing spirit? Share your experiences with us by using the comments box below.   *Our Sloe Gin has sold out, but we will be making more in time for Winter.  


Sarah Groves