Absinthe questions

All about absinthe

Moderator: Site Moderator

Samael
Novice
Posts: 19
Joined: Mon Jul 20, 2020 10:54 am

Absinthe questions

Post by Samael » Fri Aug 21, 2020 1:07 am

Starting another one because I just realized I drunkenly accidentally posted the last in the wrong section. :tired:

Can anybody with experience making absinthe tell me what might be the most likely cause of a rancid smell/taste in absinthe?
The first batch smelled like absinthe at first, but later the pungent/rancid note came over. I figured it was due to burnt wormwood, but on the second batch it was there from the start, and I used enough water that the herbs never settled this time and did not burn.

I can try distilling each herb individually to find the culprit, but that is a lot of time and work, so I'm hoping somebody might be able to offer advice first.

Also, if anybody can recommend a good current source for herbs, I'd appreciate it. All the recommendations I've found on here have long since gone kaput. My current inventory is from Mountain Rose Herbs, but I don't have any criterion to determine the quality of what they sent me.

Any help is greatly appreciated.

tombombadil
Swill Maker
Posts: 240
Joined: Wed Dec 18, 2019 2:55 pm

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by tombombadil » Fri Aug 21, 2020 8:02 pm

What's your whole process? What herbs are you using? How are you making your cuts?

Im not an expert, only done two batches of absinthe but nether tasted rancid...

User avatar
NZChris
Master Distiller
Posts: 8382
Joined: Tue Apr 23, 2013 2:42 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by NZChris » Fri Aug 21, 2020 11:46 pm

I've done a few Absinthe runs and never had a rancid note. Smell your botanicals.

My sources of botanicals are my local river banks, a gourmet store for anise seeds and garden centers for plants that I can grow myself. A bottle of my Absinthe contains a year's worth of propagation, weeding, harvesting etc..

sweeps
Swill Maker
Posts: 245
Joined: Sun Jun 03, 2012 9:50 am

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by sweeps » Sun Aug 23, 2020 9:18 am

I've been making absinthe for almost a decade and never had anything I would describe as rancid. If I were forced to make a guess, I would suggest that perhaps your anise or fennel was not fresh, or was low quality.

I've bought a bunch of stuff from Mountain Rose over the years. They are a great company to deal with, but for top notch absinthe you need a better quality of wormwood than the stuff they sell. The same is true of the wormwood from the other similar companies (Frontier, Pennherb, etc.) and good luck getting Roman wormwood from anywhere!

Harvesting it yourself is the best way to go, or failing that, a specialist supplier. That can be expensive though.

User avatar
kiwi Bruce
Distiller
Posts: 2295
Joined: Mon Apr 23, 2012 12:38 pm
Location: Transplanted Kiwi living in the States

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by kiwi Bruce » Mon Aug 24, 2020 6:31 am

Post your ingredient list and let us see if there is anything that could go bad.

Here is an image of an old Berger label from the mid to late 1800's. It's very telling...in Englist the small print says
"Distilled very slowly in a Bain Marie"
This is key to not over heating and burning the herbs...
C F Berger Bottle Label.jpg
Getting hung up all day on smiles

Samael
Novice
Posts: 19
Joined: Mon Jul 20, 2020 10:54 am

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by Samael » Mon Aug 24, 2020 9:33 am

Thanks for the thoughts guys.
After doing a thorough smell test, I'm thinking the fennel may be the culprit. Due to poor labeling and some confusion I wound up with Var Dulce, not azoricum. And I've seen many people recommend against using sweet fennel (nobody seems to carry florence!).
After dilution and coloring, though, it was still pretty good, despite that off note (I even had a bottle of Jade once that had a bad note to it).

For ingredients, I'm just using the holy trinity for the blanche for now.
And yeah, I wish I could go double boiler, but I've not seen any small ones for sale (Portuguese alembic's smallest is like 30 liters, I think), and my pot still is too damn wide to improvise one myself.

And yeah, Sweeps, since absintheherbs.com seems to be inactive, I actually bought a pontica sapling, but it died on the person raising it for me. I was lucky to find a reputable Canadian seller, herbies herbs, and while it seems to be the real thing, I don't really have any criterion for quality comparison. Seems good enough for coloring, at least.

For my next batch I'll do the holy trinity in individual runs to verify. If anybody knows a good source for florence, I'd appreciate it.

User avatar
NZChris
Master Distiller
Posts: 8382
Joined: Tue Apr 23, 2013 2:42 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by NZChris » Mon Aug 24, 2020 12:31 pm

In NZ, it grows wild on roadsides and river banks. It's easy to find when it's in flower.

User avatar
kiwi Bruce
Distiller
Posts: 2295
Joined: Mon Apr 23, 2012 12:38 pm
Location: Transplanted Kiwi living in the States

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by kiwi Bruce » Mon Aug 24, 2020 4:31 pm

I remember that. It grew all over Churchill Park in Glendowie Auckland where I grew up, we would come home reeking of it and tick our Mum right off, fun times as a kid!
Getting hung up all day on smiles

JezmondB
Novice
Posts: 2
Joined: Sat Jul 04, 2020 8:51 am
Location: Up North, but south

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by JezmondB » Tue Aug 25, 2020 12:08 pm

Samael, I'd be very interested to hear your results using what you obtained from Herbies Herbs as I've looked at purchasing from them as well. If you are in ON, I am working on growing some pontica from cuttings, not very successful so far but if it works out and I get a good plant established, I can share down the road.

Samael
Novice
Posts: 19
Joined: Mon Jul 20, 2020 10:54 am

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by Samael » Thu Aug 27, 2020 9:50 pm

While I'm no herb expert and have never had previous access to pontica (save that poor baby sapling), what they sent me is consistent and fragrant, and made for a good final product.
Thanks for the offer; I'll keep you in mind when my batch is depleted.

And to offer an update on the bain marie topic, I came across a post by Devotus (who I had somehow missed previously, despite having stalked pretty much everything Katofong and Skow69 have ever typed), and he recommends,
"If you use a hotplate then a diffuser plate (I use a thick old frypan) really does the trick."
Will have to try this.

And guys, I hear the price of living has already gone up considerably in NZ because of the influx of wealthy immigrants, so you don't want to encourage a wave of absinthe distillers to move in and wander about picking the land clean.

User avatar
NZChris
Master Distiller
Posts: 8382
Joined: Tue Apr 23, 2013 2:42 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by NZChris » Fri Aug 28, 2020 12:35 am

Samael wrote:
Thu Aug 27, 2020 9:50 pm
And guys, I hear the price of living has already gone up considerably in NZ because of the influx of wealthy immigrants, so you don't want to encourage a wave of absinthe distillers to move in and wander about picking the land clean.
You heard wrong. We shut the border and told them to bugger off.

User avatar
kiwi Bruce
Distiller
Posts: 2295
Joined: Mon Apr 23, 2012 12:38 pm
Location: Transplanted Kiwi living in the States

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by kiwi Bruce » Mon Aug 31, 2020 2:00 pm

They were told to go fu@k themselves...and the horses they tried to ride in on!
Getting hung up all day on smiles

Samael
Novice
Posts: 19
Joined: Mon Jul 20, 2020 10:54 am

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by Samael » Wed Sep 30, 2020 5:49 pm

Sweeps, you seem to be the honorary forum Herb Specialist, so this is mainly for you--but anybody knowledgeable is free to answer.

Genepi.
What other names does this go by, what does it bring to a flavor profile, and are there any affordable substitutes?

Absintheherbs.com seems to carry it (site seems to have updated, so I assume it's operational), but it is far from cheap. I found seeds for sale elsewhere under the shared title "black wormwood/mugwort." Are these really the same things? Or just the kind of poor labeling that led to me acquiring inferior fennel?
Wikipedia just lists it as "artemisia," and searches mostly bring up the spirit by the same name with little mention of the plant.

Any reliable info would be greatly appreciated.

User avatar
NZChris
Master Distiller
Posts: 8382
Joined: Tue Apr 23, 2013 2:42 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by NZChris » Wed Sep 30, 2020 6:41 pm

To know what you could substitute, you have to know the whole botanical bill and process. I don't know the method you want to use, so I can't help. Very fine Absinthe can be made without using Genepi.

sweeps
Swill Maker
Posts: 245
Joined: Sun Jun 03, 2012 9:50 am

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by sweeps » Wed Sep 30, 2020 6:54 pm

Genepi, or genepi refers either to the drink, or several different herbs. Each of those herbs have had multiple "official" names, so things can get very confusing.

Black genepi is Artemisia genepi, also known as A. spicata. That is probably the most common.

White genepi is A. umbelliformis, also known as A. laxa, or A. mutellina.

Also used are A. caucasica, A. rupestris and A. glacialis, but they seem less common. To be honest, I find them all pretty much interchangeable.

Achillea erba-rotta moschata is also sometimes used in genipy, as well as the similar Italian drink Iva.

I'm not sure there really is a good substitute for any of these. Maybe Roman wormwood (A. pontica), or possibly southernwood (A. abrotanum), but they are not really the same kind of thing. It probably depends on what else is in the herb bill.

"Black wormwood/mugwort" could refer to A. genipi, but the "mugwort" bit is troubling. Mugwort is A. vulgaris, which is not what you want. Do they specify a Latin name?

For what it's worth, I've never dealt with absintheherbs.com, but I've only heard good things about them.

All that being said, it's possible to make great absinthe without anything except a good base alcohol, wormwood, anise and fennel, plus your finishing herbs (preferably including Roman wormwood, hyssop and balm).

Samael
Novice
Posts: 19
Joined: Mon Jul 20, 2020 10:54 am

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by Samael » Fri Oct 02, 2020 5:39 am

I wasn't asking specifically for absinthe, though I've seen that some do include it, and I eventually intend to experiment with even atypical herbs. Duplais calls for it in a few different liqueurs, so I was curious overall, as nobody ever seems to specify, and even absintheherbs.com just says "Genepi" without any further specification.
That said, it sells there for $30 an ounce!

And I'm only now starting to branch out from the base herbs and experiment with new ones, one at a time. My first is calamus, as I know it's employed in one of my favorites. Once I can clearly identify it and guestimate the quantity used by taste I'll move on to angelica. Ultimately, I'd like to be able to reverse engineer an absinthe by taste.
I've been doing this with food for years, and people consistently tell me my cooking is better than what sells for a small fortune at gourmet restaurants, so I'm hoping to eventually reach that same level of refinement with absinthe.
"A thousand days of practice and ten thousand days of refinement, and let every day be overcoming your absinthe of yesterday."

Thanks, Sweeps, for the Latin. (You're like a walking herbarium!) That should make research a lot easier.

User avatar
NZChris
Master Distiller
Posts: 8382
Joined: Tue Apr 23, 2013 2:42 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by NZChris » Fri Oct 02, 2020 9:54 pm

I start with what I want to make and then work back through the stills and ingredients, etc. I need to get together to make it. Sometimes, it's too hard or too expensive for me. If I can't afford the time and expense of getting a helicopter to take me and the necessary supplies into a mountain wilderness and pick me up weeks later after the harvesting is done, I either have to buy the ingredients from someone who has the balls to do that, or drop the idea.

If you can source hard to procure ingredients, I suggest you don't complain about the price.

Bryan1
Swill Maker
Posts: 206
Joined: Mon Jan 21, 2019 1:55 am
Location: South Oz in the hills

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by Bryan1 » Fri Oct 02, 2020 10:12 pm

Ok for all you guy's that make this terrible drop with spring coming on we have a massive true wormwood which is the type of wormwood used in the recipe. The original plant was bought from a nursery that only deals in true species. Off memory when I started distilling I did mention about this recipe so the plant was bought and put in to grow.

We also have Roman Africian and Southern wormwood that all need a good cut back so if any member based in OZ wants some I can dry and crush and for the cost of postage I'll be happy to do.

As far as posting overseas I don't know how we would go but it may be worth a shot if you guys want it.

Wormwood is the mental destroying part of this recipe so I decided not to try and make it.

Cheers Bryan

User avatar
Corsaire
Site Donor
Site Donor
Posts: 986
Joined: Tue Jun 20, 2017 1:20 pm
Location: Belgium

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by Corsaire » Sun Oct 04, 2020 11:54 am

Erm I've drunk my fair share of wormwood. So have many others.
Not just absinthe, but vermouth as well. Probably lots of other bitter liqueurs have the stuff in it. Some people even like wormwood tea, I'm not one of them.
I've heard no stories of people going insane after drinking martinis. So I'm sure it's safe to drink absinthe.

I do think you could make people happy with your roman wormwood though, that's usually the hardest to find.

Samael
Novice
Posts: 19
Joined: Mon Jul 20, 2020 10:54 am

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by Samael » Mon Oct 05, 2020 6:27 am

Again, this question does not pertain strictly to absinthe, but in general.

Has anybody tried the process of "mellowing" described by Duplais?

Seems it's essentially the same process used for coloring absinthe, but with just the entire finished product in the water bath, and evidently has the effect of rapid aging a spirit.

And if anybody has, is there any kind of scientific or even rough estimation for temporal equivalence? If this works with absinthe, for example, would the final product taste like something a month or a year old?
Seems to me the only way to test it would be to make a large batch, bottled separately, and compare the mellowed product against the standardly aged periodically over a long span of time, but if somebody has input from experience that will save me the trouble.

(I've experienced firsthand just how much a difference just one month can make in turning a "failed" absinthe into something downright phenomenal by the last glass, and Skow has said the same of finding a 15 month old bottle he didn't like upon distillation that had aged into one of the finest he'd ever had)

Also, if I put a Delorian in a water bath and freeze it instead of heating it, can I travel back in time?

User avatar
NZChris
Master Distiller
Posts: 8382
Joined: Tue Apr 23, 2013 2:42 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by NZChris » Mon Oct 05, 2020 12:52 pm

I hadn't found that, but it might be similar to something I've tried with other products. My Duplais PDF isn't searchable, I've looked for it but might have missed it. Have you got a reference for it? Page number?

Samael
Novice
Posts: 19
Joined: Mon Jul 20, 2020 10:54 am

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by Samael » Mon Oct 05, 2020 3:49 pm

Assuming you have the same copy as me (also not searchable; huge pain in the ass for somebody with a shit memory for numbers) it's on page 442 of the text, 463 according to adobe.
If that's not accurate, it's in Chapter XXIV: LIQUEURS, prior to the recipes for fine, demi-fine, superfine etc. along with the coloring/mixing/sizing instructions.

User avatar
NZChris
Master Distiller
Posts: 8382
Joined: Tue Apr 23, 2013 2:42 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by NZChris » Mon Oct 05, 2020 4:06 pm

I'll give it a try in a few months when I harvest the botanicals.

User avatar
kiwi Bruce
Distiller
Posts: 2295
Joined: Mon Apr 23, 2012 12:38 pm
Location: Transplanted Kiwi living in the States

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by kiwi Bruce » Mon Oct 05, 2020 4:43 pm

Bryan1 wrote:
Fri Oct 02, 2020 10:12 pm
Wormwood is the mental destroying part of this recipe so I decided not to try and make it.

Cheers Bryan
Remember...Absinthe was first made and sold as a nerve tonic and the wormwood part was very important. By the time that the treatises were written it had become a recreational drink, pretty much exclusively, replacing the table wines France was famous for. In all the results Ive read on tests that have been done on the surviving antique Absinthes, none of them appear to have had a total alkaloid content (thujone) of more than 35 mg per liter. There are only 22 and 1/2 shots of Absinthe in a liter bottle, that's 1.5 mg of active alkaloid per drink. The average cigarette has 10 to 12 mg of the alkaloid nicotine....I just don't see that thujone could be that much more dangerous that nicotine.
Absinthe popularity was killed by a desperate wine consortium that had to recapture the French love of wine by disgracing Absinthe. It took 10 years and millions of Franks in bribery and propaganda, but eventually they won. So Wormwoods ability to mentally destroy the drinker, is in my opinion, total anti-absinthe propaganda from a hundred years ago.
I must have drunk hundreds of bottles of Absinthe over the last decade or so, and look at me...as mad as a hatter ! :crazy:
Getting hung up all day on smiles

User avatar
Bushman
Global moderator
Posts: 15080
Joined: Tue Mar 30, 2010 5:29 am
Location: Pacific Northwest

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by Bushman » Mon Oct 05, 2020 4:57 pm

As Kiwi Bruce says with a lot more history than I have, everything I have read is that it was all miss information and for years Absinthe was outlawed in the US. Since it is now sold in stores I am sure it has been tested and retested misspelling the myths surrounding it.

sweeps
Swill Maker
Posts: 245
Joined: Sun Jun 03, 2012 9:50 am

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by sweeps » Mon Oct 05, 2020 6:32 pm

Samael wrote:
Fri Oct 02, 2020 5:39 am
even absintheherbs.com just says "Genepi" without any further specification.
That said, it sells there for $30 an ounce!
If I recall correctly, he bought his original starter plants from Sandy Mush, which would make them Artemisia genepi, (black genepi, AKA A. spicata). Also, what you are paying for is not just the herb, but the knowledge and skill to harvest it in the right way at the right time. Something that is critical with this sort of ingredient, but which is not economically viable for the big herb suppliers to do.

For the sake of completeness, other species I've found to be more or less interchangeable are A. vallesiaca (Swiss wormwood) and A. caucasica (Caucasian wormwood), but these are much less common. In fact, if you find anywhere that has plants or seeds, please let me know, as I lost mine in a bad winter a few years back.

It also apparently bears repeating that by far the most dangerous ingredient in absinthe is ethanol.

Samael
Novice
Posts: 19
Joined: Mon Jul 20, 2020 10:54 am

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by Samael » Mon Oct 05, 2020 9:17 pm

NZChris,
definitely let us know how it turns out. I probably won't be testing it myself for a while (I'm always worried I'll go too far with just the coloring), so it would be good to have some feedback from somebody experienced.

Kiwi Bruce,
Can you recommend some accurate English sources for a thorough history of absinthe? I saw a discussion from like thirteen years ago where some people said that most extant texts are biased and inaccurate, and the sites they recommended are no longer available. I know there are a lot of books in French, but that's not in my skillset.
And I don't for a moment doubt the validity of your factoid, because I was a big wine drinker for over a decade but haven't bought a single bottle of Chianti since discovering absinthe--and that was nearly a decade ago.

Sweeps,
Thanks again. And yeah, the prices on angelica seeds and veronica aren't bad because even at 4x what anybody else charges, he offers free shipping at over $50, which is actually a lot easier to hit at his prices. My pontica cost under $20 for a half pound, but then another 20 just in delivery fees. Knowing every bad seed is being sifted out beforehand at least ensures I won't wind up with more camphorous fennel giving a nasty stank to my drink. (and his fennel and anise aren't even that much more than other herb sites, even though he's reselling them)

It's just that damn genepi that ensures making a potentially failed yellow chartreuse is more expensive than just going out and buying two bottles, haha.

User avatar
NZChris
Master Distiller
Posts: 8382
Joined: Tue Apr 23, 2013 2:42 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by NZChris » Mon Oct 05, 2020 9:42 pm

Samael wrote:
Mon Oct 05, 2020 9:17 pm
NZChris,
definitely let us know how it turns out. I probably won't be testing it myself for a while (I'm always worried I'll go too far with just the coloring), so it would be good to have some feedback from somebody experienced.
Because you are in the northern hemisphere you should be able to do it now, so get a move on and don't wait for me.

User avatar
kiwi Bruce
Distiller
Posts: 2295
Joined: Mon Apr 23, 2012 12:38 pm
Location: Transplanted Kiwi living in the States

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by kiwi Bruce » Tue Oct 06, 2020 3:41 pm

Samael wrote:
Mon Oct 05, 2020 9:17 pm
Kiwi Bruce,
Can you recommend some accurate English sources for a thorough history of absinthe? .
I recommend
"Absinthe :- History in a Bottle"
an easy read and a good reference work also...
Good Abs Book.jpg
Getting hung up all day on smiles

Samael
Novice
Posts: 19
Joined: Mon Jul 20, 2020 10:54 am

Re: Absinthe questions

Post by Samael » Tue Oct 13, 2020 10:19 pm

Thanks KB. Looking into the book. If there are any more sources you can recommend, I'm open to them. Can't have too much of a good thing.

NZC:
I don't know if you didn't read my post or if you just like being contrarian, lol.
No matter.
As I said, won't be testing it until I have a consistent test group to, y'know, test.
That said, I tried Duplais method for "mellowing" "perfumed spirits" which is less demanding than liqueurs, but instead of using salted broken ice I did something extremely creative and ingenious--

I stuck the bottles in the fridge.

Anyway, base as it sounds, it actually worked. Never would have done this if some booze nerd hadn't formally told me to, because my first assumption would have been that cold would do what it usually does, and retard the aging process.
I can't give a temporal parallel as to how "mellow" it makes the spirit vs natural aging, but I'm scientific enough to chart before and after, and just a few hours refrigerated (encapsulated by cold water bottles) resulted in a product closer to the expensive imported stuff.
At the very least, it's a convenient shortcut for improving flavor.

Post Reply