Artemisia, Artists & Absinthe

A Brief Look at the History of Absinthe and Its Popularity through the Ages

Vincent Van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway, Arthur Rimbaud, and countless other artists and intellectuals in the late 1800’s all shared one thing in common—their love of the mystical and controversial spirit, Absinthe. 

Absinthe & Artemisia

So, what exactly is absinthe? Absinthe is a spirit that’s produced much like gin. It’s a high-proof, natural spirit infused with botanicals. Three of the main herbs used in production is Artemisia absinthium (or wormwood), green anise, and fennel. Traditionally, the spirit is infused twice in order to obtain its trademark green color.

While absinthe is a drink that was particularly popular in the late 19th century, its roots date back centuries prior to that time. In fact, the earliest recorded use of wormwood was found in the Ebers Papyrus, an Egyptian medical papyrus dating back from 1550B.C. To the Egyptians of this time period, wormwood had both religious, as well as medicinal significance. Likewise, a decoction of wormwood was described fully by medical authority Pliny the Elder in A.D. 77 in his book “Naturalis Historia”, and used for over 1500 years to help ward off gastrointestinal worms (hence the name), soothe the bowels, promote digestion, dispel nausea and flatulence, aide in depression, and even increase sexual desire. In the 1840’s, French Soldiers were given absinthe to help ward off fevers and treat malaria. After the war, soldiers were found drinking the beverage for non-medicinal purposes and the popularity of absinthe grew.

The Artist’s Muse

After soldiers returned to France post-war, wine was in short supply and absinthe stepped in at the perfect time. The French love affair with the drink commonly referred to as ‘la fee verte‘(the green lady) spread throughout Europe. Drinking the concoction was art itself. The addition of cold water dripped over a cube of sugar through a specialty absinthe spoon, led to the magic of le louche (roughly translated to ‘the clouding’). It’s no wonder creative and intellectuals were trajected towards the absinthe trend.

Absinthe was also rumored to hold psychoactive properties, making it dangerous and seductive. While conservatives condemned it, artists and writers romanticized and drank obsessive amounts. Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Baudelaire, and others prominently feature the green lady in their writings and art.

Absinthe Banned

Absinthe was known as a mind-altering hallucinogenic during the time of its popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was said that people were drinking so much of the green lady, it was leading to madness and even death. Before long, scores of testimonials and scandal caused the mystical drink to be banned. The flashpoint for the drink’s demise was the case of John Lanfray, who murdered his wife and two young children in a drunken rage. His intake of absinthe was claimed to be the reasoning for his insanity and crime. Ultimately, Belgium, Switzerland, Brazil, and the Netherlands all prohibited absinthe from being sold in the early 1900’s. The United States followed suit and banned the sale and production of absinthe in 1915.

The Reemergence of Green Lady

After nearly a century, the fascination with Absinthe was resurrected. In the 1990’s a legal loop hole was created which overturned France’s legislation outlawing ‘la fee verte’. In the early 2000’s the repeal of absinthe bans took hold all around the world, and it was again legalized in the United States in 2007. Now, distilleries like Saint Lawrence Spirits have popularized the opalescent drink once again. This 2019 Distillery of the Year has three award-winning Absinthe options: Blanche Absinthe, La Fee Rouge Absinthe, and Verte Absinthe. Saint Lawrence Spirits offers creative absinthe cocktails at their adjoining farm-to-table restaurant and Chateau, as well as their tasting room in downtown Clayton, New York.

Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Death in the Afternoon’

Ernest Hemingway was said to have created the drink ‘Death in the Afternoon’ himself. He instructed that one should add iced Champagne slowly to the absinthe until it had obtained the “proper opalescent milkiness.” He was known for drinking three to five of these cocktails in one sitting.

Recipe:

In a Champagne flute, place 1½ ounces of Absinthe, and slowly add 4 ½ ounces Champagne.

Distillery of the Year Celebration

Saint Lawrence Spirits captured many awards at the Great American International Spirits Competition this past May, earning the title of “Distillery of the Year” with the New York State Distiller’s Guild. To celebrate this great honor Saint Lawrence Spirits hosted a Distillery of the Year Celebration on July 31st at The Saint Lawrence Spirits Distillery & Château.

17 Saint Lawrence Spirits Products awarded at the Great International Spirits Competition

17 Saint Lawrence Spirits Products awarded at the Great International Spirits Competition

The night kicked off with complementary SLS tastings and appetizers by Château’s Executive Chef Christian Ives. Tastings included a gin/vodka booth and a whiskey/bourbon booth where guests were able to learn about our unique spirits and how they are made as they sipped craft cocktails.

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Travis Rocco sang his way into our hearts while guests were able to freely roam between the Château bar and terrace, as well as the SLS seasonal tasting tent and patio. Guests were able to make new connections as well as rekindle with friends as the end of the Thousand Islands summer approaches.

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Throughout the night, tours of the distillery were given by Owner Jody Garrett, Head Distiller Bill Garrett, and Distiller’s Hand Ben Vantassel and Elizabeth Carbajal. The distillery also received a special visit from NYS Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, who awarded Saint Lawrence Spirits with a Certificate of Merit for earning the title of Distillery of the Year.

Distiller’s Hand Elizabeth Carbajal, Owner Jody Garrett, Head Distiller Bill Garrett, and Distiller’s Hand Ben Vantassel.

Distiller’s Hand Elizabeth Carbajal, Owner Jody Garrett, Head Distiller Bill Garrett, and Distiller’s Hand Ben Vantassel.

NYS Assemblyman Mark Walczyk and Head Distiller Bill Garrett with the Certificate of Merit.

NYS Assemblyman Mark Walczyk and Head Distiller Bill Garrett with the Certificate of Merit.

Bill and Saint Lawrence Spirits NNY Sales Representative, Andy Beimford, discussing the distilling process with guests.

Bill and Saint Lawrence Spirits NNY Sales Representative, Andy Beimford, discussing the distilling process with guests.

Guests received a 10% discount on all spirits for the night, the perfect excuse to stock up on their favorites! When guests purchased a bottle they were entered into our amazing door prize that was filled with tons of SLS swag including two bottles of SLS spirits!


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Winner of the Swag Basket, Mike Hazelwood!

Winner of the Swag Basket, Mike Hazelwood!

The event ended with an amazing sunset over the river and a very happy door prize winner, Clayton local, Mike Hazelwood.

Saint Lawrence Spirits would like to thank all of our supporters who came out to help celebrate this incredible honor! Looking forward to another reason to celebrate in 2020!

Saint Lawrence Spirits Tasting Room Employees, CDO Doreen Garrett, Retail Manager Heidi Costello, and Events & Marketing Coordinator Maggie Williams celebrating in Prohibition style!

Saint Lawrence Spirits Tasting Room Employees, CDO Doreen Garrett, Retail Manager Heidi Costello, and Events & Marketing Coordinator Maggie Williams celebrating in Prohibition style!

PSA: (Almost) All Vodka is Gluten Free

In May 2013, a Potato Vodka became the first spirit to receive gluten-free labeling with the TTB. After this, every distiller’s worst nightmare began with the question, “Is THIS vodka gluten free?”

Labeling vodka as gluten free has become a lucrative marketing tool for many US brands. In the past few years, gluten free lifestyles have become increasingly popular, which distillers saw as a perfect way to rebrand their (already) gluten free vodka. 

Pure, distilled vodka, even if it is made from wheat, barley, or rye, is considered gluten-free, and is even safe for people with celiac disease. “Distilled spirits, because of the distillation process, should contain no detectable gluten residues or gluten peptide residues,” says Steve Taylor, co-director of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Food Allergy Research and Resource Program. 

Vodka Distillation Process at Saint Lawrence Spirits

Vodka Distillation Process at Saint Lawrence Spirits

The process starts with raw materials, grain (rye, wheat, barley, or corn) which are sprouted, or potatoes which are cooked, and transforming the starch they contain into sugar. Next, the raw materials are crushed, or ground, and mixed with water to produce a mash. Then the process of fermentation takes place in a stainless steel vat. When fermentation has finished, the alcohol is transferred to a still for distillation. At Saint Lawrence Spirits, we distill our vodka three times through our Vendome Still to make the vodka cleaner and have fewer impurities, including any trace of gluten.

However, it is important to note that some distilleries choose to add flavorings or other additives after distillation, which is one way that gluten could end up in the final product. That is not the case for Saint Lawrence Spirits Distillery, as all of our products are made with all natural ingredients from within New York State and we see no need to add sugars or flavorings to any of our spirits. It also ensures that our vodka stays 100% gluten free! 

For vodka lovers with gluten intolerances and Celiac Disease, do what you feel is right for your body, but don’t be afraid to venture out and try Vodka that isn’t specifically marked “Gluten Free.” Do your research on the brand and check out the ingredients - you’ll probably save a few dollars by going for the brands that don’t use the GF label!

For more information regarding gluten free vodka, please visit: 

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/vodka-be-marketed-as-gluten-free/

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/is-vodka-gluten-free-180947771/