Philippe Martin’s absinthe distillery is located right at the birthplace of absinthe, Boveresse in the beautiful Val-de-Travers in the Swiss Jura mountains. The family business is situated in a large, very historic house, “Maison des Chats”, the house of cats. Philippe Martin distills about ten different absinthe brands there.
In front of the historic building dating back to the 1777’s is a large garden where the family cultivates most plants used to distill their absinthes.
The history of the La Valote Martin absinthe distillery
This distillery is a true family business! Philippe Martin learned the art of making absinthe from his father Francis, who was taught by his uncle back in the days. Francis also took over the stills from his uncle when he started distilling absinthe.
Francis Martin was a true clandestine absinthe distiller and kept making absinthe for more than 33 years before the ban on the green fairy was lifted in 2005. Then, Francis Martin didn’t feel the need to hide his absinthes anymore and filed for a legal distiller’s licence.
Son Philippe Martin’s passion for absinthe led to him overtaking the distillery, and the distillation of the La Valote Martin absinthes in 2014. He still uses his father’s original recipes for a´many of the La Valote absinthe brands, but of course has developed some recipes of his own, for example Absinthe Esmeralda, the family’s first Verte.
Absinthe distillation at the La Valote Martin distillery
Philippe Martin cultivates part of the plants and herbs used to make their absinthes in the large garden in front of the historic house. He grows both grande and petit wormwood, hyssop and lemon balm.
After harvest, the herbs are hung and dried in the attic, which still looks the same as it did in the 18th century.
Discover all absinthes by the La Valote Martin distillery here.
Exclusive Interview with Philippe Martin
We had the pleasure of speaking to talented absinthe distiller Philippe Martin in person and ask him a couple of questions, ask about his favourite absinthe and what he plans to do as the recently elected President of the Route de l’Absinthe in Switzerland.
Absinthes.com: When did you first discover absinthe?
I first saw absinthe when I was about six or eight years old – the small still, made from an old steam cooker, filled out the whole bath tub. I think that was the first time I started asking myself a few questions. My parents made it very clear to me back then: Nobody must know of this, not even my best friend. If I told someone, my father Francis could well end up in jail. To be honest – that was enough threat for both me and my sister to not tell anybody about my dad’s clandestine distillery! A couple of years later when I was a teenager, I tasted a drop of absinthe when no one was looking.
Absinthes.com: So when was it that your father taught you the art of distilling absinthe? When did you distill your first very own absinthe?
Well, I went to my father’s distillery from time to time to help out with group tours or with distilling, weighing herbs and such. At some point, I felt like I wanted to be a distiller, too. I was also very interested in our region’s history with absinthe, and I got loads of books and read historic reports and newspapers, basically everything I could find. In July 2014, I finally took over my father’s distillery so he could step down and enjoy some leisure time. I’m doing everything like my father taught me to, just like he preserved the knowledge he earned from his uncle in 1972.
Absinthes.com: Do you grow all herbs you need for absinthe in this amazing garden?
Quality of the herbs and plants we use is a number one priority for me. That is why I try to cultivate as much as possible by myself – right know that’s both grand and ptite wormwood, hyssop and lemon balm. Afterwards, I take them to the attic to our drying room – the oldest still active drying room in the whole of the Val-de-Travers. It takes more time to dry the herbs this old-fashioned way, but I believe it’s much better for the herbs. If in some years I can’t harvest enough from my own garden, I buy from local producers in the Val-de-Travers.
Absinthes.com: You’re kind of a TV-star, your family distillery has been on TV a couple of times in the past, for example in the ARTE show “Zu Tisch” where your family makes a delicious absinthe based meal. How does your family react to having cameras around, and what do you think is the impression of other local absinthe distillers?
We enjoyed doing the ARTE show. Shooting it took a whole week, but the whole family was happy how it turned out. Both my family and friends were proud seeing me (or even themselves!) on TV, and they still talk about it today. We had quite a few distillery visitors pass by because they had seen us on ARTE, which is great. Some of the other absinthe distillers congratulated us to the show, because it has a positive effect for any distiller in our area, it puts the spotlight on our beautiful Val-de-Travers.
Absinthes.com: A few things have indeed changed since you took over the distillery. For example, you had entirely new labels designed for all your absinthe brands and you distilled the first ever La Valote Martin Verte “Esmeralda“. Do you make all decisions alone?
Before I took over the distillery, I often hosted distillery tours for groups in English or German. This way, my father didn’t have to hire someone. When doing those tours, I noticed that many visitors seemed to be confused by the labels – there were seven different types of absinthes, seven different label designs, and seven different fonts. People though the absinthes came from different distilleries! So I suggested we changed the labels, and my father agreed. To make my take-over official, I created my own absinthe “Nirvana“, a blanche, and had the label design by an artist. Working with this artist was so great that we did all the other labels as well, in a similar fashion. Their format, their paper and everything else was discussed together with the family in order to get more different opinions from different age groups. However, every final decision was made by me. My father gave the distillery to me, in order to make my own decisions. He loves to come by a few hours per week though to help out with the distillation. 🙂
Absinthes.com: You’ve recently been elected the new President of the Route de l’Absinthe. What does this mean for you personally, for your distillery and your absinthes? What would you like to accomplish with this title?
I decided to take over this role in order to strengthen the absinthe business for our whole region and to make sure the Val-de-Travers remains a successful and essential place for absinthe. I hope I can cope with the responsibilities! Former predident, Mr. Giger has worked so hard with people from the area, French friends and many producers to create the concept for the Route de l’Absinthe. The project is on track at the moment, but I would like to make the Route more popular and drive tourists to the Route de l’Absinthe. I want people to experience our beautiful valley.
Absinthes.com: To us it seems that there are less and less visitors at the annual absinthe festival, which is held in Boveresse. In the past years, you had many more visitors in your distillery. What consequences are there, for you, your distillery if the festival has close to no visitors any more?
The biggest problem are Swiss laws, which prohibit the serving of alcoholic beverages on public streets. This upsets many distillers so they chose not to take part in the festival. I’d like to support the committee of the “Fête de l‘Absinthe” organize a 21st festival in 2018, but we need people who help us. I’ll do the best I can, being a member of the “Interprofession des Distillateurs du Val-de-Travers“ (Organization of distillers in the Val-de-Travers), I’ll try convince all my colleagues to book a stall for the next absinthe festival. I also contacted “Goût & Région”, an organization that hosts tourist tours and perhaps they can help, too. The absinthe festival should be big, it should be beautiful, but most importantly: it should be continued.
Absinthes.com: Which is your favourite absinthe, and why?
It used to be “La Grenouillarde“, because it’s got 65% abv. and has characteristic notes of licorice, which makes it taste rather sweet. At the moment though, my favourite is Absinthe Nirvana. Probably because it’s kind of my “baby”, being my first absinthe. But also because it has a quite dominant wormwood profile! I’ve also just created a cask-aged absinthe which I introduced to a few friends at the 2017 Absinthe Festival, it’s called “Bacchus”, and it reminds one more of a digestif than an aperitif with lovely notes of wood and vanilla. In fact, I love all our absinthes, it just depends on the day and mood you’re in which one you prefer.