Absinthes.com introduces the Artemisia Bugnon distillery

Dear friends,

As you might already know, we are featuring one of our distilleries each month. We’ll give you some information on their background, their history and their products.

Today, we continue this series with a distillery from Couvet, located in the Val-de-Travers, Switzerland, also known as the birthplace for absinthe: Artémisia Bugnon.

The owner of this distillery, Claude-Alain Bugnon, was the first clandestine distiller granted legal status by the Swiss government in the spring of 2005.

 

                             Claude-Alain preparing the herbs for his next absinthe distillation

The history of the Artémisia Bugnon distillery

 

For years, he had been responsible for a certain quantity of bootlegged absinthe, that attracted a lot of attention towards this small region. His Absinthe “La Clandestine” was, and still is considered to be the best Swiss La Bleue available today by many absinthe experts. Claude Alain’s custom designed distillery is located at his premises in Couvet, which used to be a butcher shop. But let’s take a closer look at the history of this remarkable distillery.

1989: As a specialist in oil refining, Claude-Alain Bugnon found interest in another liquid: Absinthe. Considering where Claude-Alain lived – right at the birthplace of absinthe, this business seemed more promising than to keep working with oil.

 

1990-2000: Claude-Alain’s interest in absinthe grew stronger, as a result, he distilled his very first “bleue” in 2000. His alembic was still rather rudimentary: a 12 liter pot with a cooling device on a hotplate.

 

2001: A friend gave Claude-Alain an old recipe from his aunt, Charlotte Vaucher (a well-known distiller) that she had been using since 1935 to distill high quality absinthe with a special richness in flavor and a nice bitterness. The idea of making a living by distilling absinthe led Claude-Alain to getting a real distillation alembic.

 

2004: The ban on absinthe was about to be lifted, and Claude-Alain is the first clandestine distiller to request a license. The interest of the media was growing and, after conducting a series of experiments under the control of the authorities, he was granted a license two months later. In December 2004 the first delivery of his products was exported outside of Switzerland, to Germany.
b
                 Antoine went to visit the wormwood storage hut together with Claude-Alain
b
2005: Finally the decision is made: Absinthe will be legalised on March 1st . This ends the 95-year ban on the Green Fairy and marks the beginning of the Artemisia distillery. La Clandestine is our first official absinthe and there are more products to come.

 

In order to be able to meet orders, Claude-Alain decides to set up in a new location, but still in Couvet, the village where absinthe was born over 200 years previously. Production keeps growing, until in August our absinthes are distilled using rather small equipment. So, at that stage, Claude-Alain finds distilling equipment that is more suitable for meeting customer demands.

 

2007: La Clandestine starts to go into more countries around the world: Japan, UK, and Canada are among the first new countries to discover La Clandestine. To celebrate the second anniversary of Swiss legalisation, Claude-Alain sets up a business with a young local florist to open up the first shop selling Absinthe and Flowers: Fleur-Bleue.

 

2008: The American market opens up, and preparations start for the US launch of La Clandestine. The first pallets made for the USA leave the distillery in July. The wonderful story of absinthe continues … If you would like to get more detailed information on this distillery, visit the La Clandestine website.


                 A batch of historic, secret recipes Claude-Alain is still using today

Absinthe distillation at Artémisia Bugnon

The alembics each have a capacity of 145 litres, and produce 95 litres of finished absinthe. They are single-walled, rather than duplicating the bain-marie system more commonly used in France. Claude-Alain feels that the fiercer heat gives better extraction of the herbs. No need to introduce the absinthes from Claude-Alain, they are very famous and very popular already, always in the top ten, but let’s name them again and give a detail or two:

Absinthe La Clandestine

Absinthe La Clandestine: This is one of the first absinthes that were distilled in the Val-de-Travers. Its traditional, artisanal production complies of only natural ingredients.

Absinthe Angélique Verte Suisse: Angélique Verte Suisse absinthe can be thought of as the rebellious, diabolic sister of the Clandestine. Indeed, it’s stronger, more bitter, but still recognisable as a modern Swiss absinthe.

Absinthe La Capricieuse: La Capricieuse reveals a remarkable aromatic palette, and a delicate final bitterness. A “Bleue” full of complexity.

Absinthe La Clandestine Wine Alcohol: The wine alcohol base spirit makes it particularly suited to aging. Put a couple of bottles away in your cellar and they will only improve!

Absinthe Marianne La Clandestine: Marianne La Clandestine, revealing slightly more pronounced flavours than its sister, was awarded gold medals at the 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 Absinthiades. An amazing success, and well deserved.

Absinthe Opaline: Our verdict: one of the best absinthes around today!

Take a look at all our Bugnon products here.

Absinthe Barrique

The latest significant experiment of Claude-Alain: An absinthe made after the La Clandestine recipe that aged in an oak barrel for 6 years. You can enjoy this absinthe like a classic dinner digestif, and drink it neat. This batch is very small, and only few people will get the chance to taste it. We were only able to get hold of a couple of bottles that each contain 20cl.

Interview with Claude-Alain Bugnon

Claude-Alain – a charming man, devoted to absinthe and highly committed to educating the world about the green fairy, gave us the honour of running an exclusive interview with him.

Absinthes.com: When and how did you first discover the aperitif “absinthe”?

 

Claude-Alain: Well, my passion for absinthe didn’t just appear recently, I’ve enjoyed it for a long time. The first time was I think in the late 70’s, when me and my friends finished a gym class early and had a nice, fresh Bleue with a bit of cold water.

 

Absinthes.com: According to you, what is the right definition of a “good absinthe” and what are the 3 fundamental elements critical to producing a fine absinthe in a distillery like yours?

 

Claude-Alain: In my opinion, a good absinthe is obtained through distillation in copper stills, with dominating notes of anise and fennel that through mixing it with the flavour of wormwood leave both a bitter and sweet taste at the same time. My three primary criterias are: 1) The quality of the plants used 2) Rigor throughout the whole artisanal production process 3) Give it all your love and passion, and the product shall turn out great.

 

Absinthes.com: Do you think the Swiss – or even European – market should be locked to naturally distilled absinthes only, or on the contrary, macerated and essences-based absinthes have also the right to exist and to be called “absinthe”?

Claude-Alain: The approach by the Val-de-Travers (which remember, is the historic birthplace of absinthe) to obtain a International Geographic Protection (IGP) clearly states that absinthe is a product won through the distillation of alcohol with water and aromatic plants. It doesn’t talk about adding chemical dye and sugar. In 2005, Switzerland was the first and only country to legalize Absinthe under a definition regarding its ingredients. The goal for getting this IGP for Switzerland is to perpetuate this myth and tradition, and to prevent large manufacturers to destroy the standard quality of absinthe by adding aromatic oils or other artificial flavours in 20, or even 30 years time.

Absinthes.com: How do you see the future and popularization of absinthe in France in the next years or decades? Will it become the favourite French aperitif again like it was a century ago?

Claude-Alain: I don’t think absinthe will ever become such a mass product and reach a consumption as high as it was in the 19th century. The pricing alone does not at all reflect the pricing before absinthe was banned – back in these days, a liter of absinthe did not cost more than a bottle of syrup. An increasing number of consumers are looking for genuine products and quality absinthe that reflects this prestigious history.

Absinthes.com: Don’t you fear a new ban of absinthe if the European consumers, and especially the youngsters, get into the habit of drinking absinthe like vodka or whisky? The internet is full of videos showing young people drinking shots of absinthe or setting it on fire even though it’s 60-70% alcohol.

Claude-Alain: I think it is rather likely that the affected authorities will have to launch some project together with social workers, if this problem persists. However, it would be very sad to see a restriction in the alcohol content for spirits as a result of these developments. We try our best to eductate customers and visitors about absinthe, it means and how it should be used. Especially, that it should be enjoyed moderately, and I think these aspects of educating consumers will become even more important in the future.

Absinthes.com: Last question. Green Fairy: myth or reality? Have you ever noticed effects other than those from alcohol – secondary effects – after absinthe consumption? Some talk about an enhanced view, dreams, mental clarity, or even intellectual improvement which it could be imagined might have somewhat helped artists and writers from the 19th century.

Claude-Alain: I must say that to this day, I haven’t met the Green Fairy. Maybe my wife made sure it didn’t get that far… But either way, absinthe is no ordinary drink. Some say it’s because of the effects of thujone, but I think the mixture of essential oils of the plants used for its production enhances my sensations. This is why I understand that artists used to love absinthe, and I can see how it might have improved their creativity. Personally, my talent stops after having absinthe, which is why I always say that if you’re a painter, put down your brush after drinking absinthe, unless you wish to refurbish your apartment afterwards!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *