Absinthe is a drink that is made from a distilled spirit and has the herbs wormwood, anise, and fennel added to it post-distillation. Absinthe was first created by the ancient Greeks for medicinal purposes, starting around 1550 BCE, by soaking wormwood leaves in wine and making a tincture with it. This tincture was called absinthites oinos. Absinthe made using distilled spirits instead of wine can be dated back to the 18th century. Its use became more popular during the mid-1800s and moved into mass production by the 1880s.
Absinthe was actually given to French troops as a malaria preventive and soon became the drink of choice in all social classes. Absinthe eventually became banned in many countries because of the claims of it being a “psychoactive drug” and a “hallucinogen”. During that time there weren’t enough scientific studies to prove or disprove this claim. Recent studies, however, have shown that the psychoactive properties of absinthe were exaggerated, and are no more dangerous than the alcohol itself.
Known for its green color, the three main ingredients in absinthe are wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), green anise, and fennel. Other herbs can be added, but these are the main three that create the original absinthe. Wine-based distilled spirits work the best for making absinthe, verses using a neutral grain spirit. The grapes in the wine distillate will help with better ageing qualities in your final product. There are several grape-based vodkas available on the market that you can use, such as Ciroc, DiVino, and Crown Valley.
After choosing our grape-based vodka, we are going to soak 1lb of dried wormwood, 2lbs of anise seeds, and 2lbs of fennel, into 1 gallon of grape based vodka. We are going to let this sit for at least 12 hours. I find that a good 24-hour rest has a smoother taste. Next comes the coloration. I like to use a double boiler and warm this tincture up to around 140F, and add ½ lb of Hyssop for 20 mins. If you want a darker green color, keep the hyssop in there for a longer amount of time. Some people like to add distilled water back to their tincture to get the ABV down to around 75%, but I like to leave mine alone and keep the higher ABV.
Now you can always play around with your recipe by adding other herbs such as Lemon balm, spearmint, calamus, sandal wood, or even genepi. Just remember that all of these herbs will add some bitterness to your final product, so go sparingly. Even using too much star anise will increase the black licorice flavor and can make your absinthe undrinkable.
We hope you enjoy trying to make this resurgent libation. As with any alcohol-based product, please imbibe responsibly!