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.
Once all the herbs are ready, alcohol and water are added in the steam-heated Egrot still.
The herbs are then added and mixed with the alcohol/water.
The alembic can now be sealed. The alcohol and herbs will macerate at room temperature all night long.
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 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.
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.
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 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 😉
Hope you enjoyed this little report on the Sauvage 1804 distillation at Emile Pernot!