Despite the boom in craft spirits, you still won't find a lot of domestically produced absinthe. Part of the reason is that, in 2007, the U.S. approved the manufacturing (and import) of the wormwood spirit for the first time in 95 years.
But that's exactly why Mt. Defiance Cidery & Distillery, a small artisanal operation based in Middleburg, Va., wanted to produce their own absinthe. Founding partner Marc Chretien, along with distiller Peter Ahlf, are particularly interested in spirits that have a historical context. "It intrigued us because it had banned for almost a century," Chretien says.
Their absinthe is the only one produced regionally. While it's been available at Mt. Defiance's distillery for the past several weeks, the product will make its D.C. debut with an event at Libertine tonight at 6:30 p.m. The absinthe will be served the traditional way with ice cold water dripped through a sugar cube as well as in a Sazerac. The Wormwood Society’s Brian Robinson will share the history of the spirit as well.
While absinthe is legal now, there are still obstacles to produce it. Chretien says it's one of the few, if only, spirits in the U.S. that has to be sent to a federally approved lab for testing before distillers can get a license to sell it. "Ours has been approved. It contains no hallucinogens," he assures.
Mt. Defiance's absinthe is loosely based on a Parisian recipe from 1857. They locally source ingredients like wormwood, hyssop, and lemon balm in Viginia. Anise, however, comes from Andalucia, Spain, and golden fennel seed comes from Provence, France. "If it's not golden fennel seed from Provence, the experts say it's just not authentic absinthe," Chretien says. The final product has an aroma of fennel, mint, and lemon balm and finishes with a licorice taste.
"We're proud to hold ours up against anyone's, and that includes the Swiss and the French and the Czechs," Chretien says.
In addition to Libertine, Science Club will also carry the product, as will a few D.C. retail locations. Ace Beverage (3301 New Mexico Ave. NW) has a delivery coming in on Saturday, and Paul's Wine and Spirits (5205 Wisconsin Ave. NW) plans to place an order in the next week or two. The suggested retail price for the 375 mL bottles is $36.
If you happen to be in Middleburg, you can also try the absinthe with the works: an absinthe fountain, slotted spoons, sugar cubes. Chretien says Ahlf has a serious artisanal bent—"so artisanal that he insisted on hand-making the sugar cubes for the absinthe, because store-bought perfect cubes just don't dissolve the way that he likes."
Both Chretien and Ahlf are early retirees from the federal government. Ahlf was a senior executive for NASA, while Chretien was previously a political advisor to General John Allen in Afghanistan. "Seven out of the last 10 years, I spent in war zones," Chretien says. "I've been looking forward to a peaceful early retirement."
Photo via Mt. Defiance Cidery & Distillery