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Absinth Verkostungsnotizen

The Sauvage 1804 Distillation @ Emile Pernot

An absinthe is never produced in one go, it is a long and complex process over 3 steps: the maceration, the distillation and the coloration. It’s impossible to obtain a fine Fée Verte in one day; all 3 steps are achieved over 3 days, not counting the wormwood stripping, the bottling and labelling of course.

Day 1 – The maceration

A distillation naturally starts with the herbs themselves. Each dried herb has to be carefully weighed following a precise recipe, a recipe dating to 1804 in the case of Absinthe Sauvage.
No big secret here, small quantities of herbs are weighed on a precision scales using a bowl, whereas big quantities – such as green anise, wormwood and fennel – are weighed with a professional electronic scales.

Herbs storage room. Dominique Rousselet (Emile Pernot's master distiller) is using a bowl and a measure to collect small quantities of herbs.

An important ingredient in absinthe: fennel, here in both whole and powdered form.

Once all the herbs are ready, alcohol and water are added in the steam-heated Egrot still.

Sugar-beet alcohol at 96°.

The herbs are then added and mixed with the alcohol/water.

Yes, sometimes I do the dirty job too…

The alembic can now be sealed. The alcohol and herbs will macerate at room temperature all night long.

Not a small baby isn’t it?

Day 2 – The distillation

The following morning, at 7am, the alembic is heated and the distillation starts. It takes around 2 hours to heat the alembic to the required temperature.

The dual Egrot alembics. The larger alembic has a capacity of 900 liters whereas the smaller can hold 200 liters. Both are jacketed with wood and topped by a traditionally shaped “chapiteau” (copper lid), which leads the alcohol vapors via copper pipe up to a rectifying ball above the condenser. The condenser then turns the vapors into a liquid which then flows into a copper tank.

The distillation process takes the whole day, during which the temperature within the alembic is very carefully supervised. If too cold, no absinthe will come out of the pipe. If too hot, the herbs are ‘burnt’ and not only is the absinthe ruined but there is a risk of destroying the lovely century-old alembic.

One another critical step during the distillation is the supervision of “heads” and “tails”. Heads are what come out of the alembic first and tails are what come out last, both are unwanted, only the clear and clean distillate is kept. Around 4 liters of heads are discarded and around 25-30 liters of tails are collected in a tank for future re-distillations. The very last tails are discarded.

The hydrometer measures alcohol, and helps supervising the whole distillation process. When it starts to fall down to 50°, you better be ready to quickly turn off the valve as it means that the tails are coming very soon!

Day 3 – The coloration

Coloration is accomplished by maceration of a percentage of the clear distillate with the colouring herbs. They can be added loose or in “tea bags” which makes filtration afterwards easier.

Tea bags in clear distillate.

The alembic is then sealed and heated until the surface of the copper lid becomes too hot to comfortably touch (from 50-55°c). Then the mixture is allowed to cool, before being removed and filtered.

The whole coloration step lasts only 1 or 2 hours, an over-coloured absinthe can easily get unbalanced and unpleasant. The next step is the filtration which removes all sediments left by the coloration.

The multi-layer filter.

The coloured absinthe is then mixed back with the remaining clear distillate to make the final product. Only water is added right before bottling the absinthe, the alcohol percentage has to fall down to 68% for the Sauvage 1804.

And the very last step is of course the tasting, the easiest and most pleasant part of the job

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  • A beautiful but hard work ... For the Earth (herbs), Fire (for heat and turn everything), air (vapor) and water (to control the strength of spirit), creating the beloved Green Fairy ...

    Cheers for all of you!

  • Very nice article Marc!
    Now we just need a photo of you and Oxy hiking the Alps looking for wild Aa. :-)

  • Very nice process, its a pice of art, liquor producction is either business and art, and a lot of pleasure