Vilya Spirits, Kalispell

Story & photography by Lido Vizzutti
Muse. Devil. Goddess. Green Fairy. The distinct personality of absinthe has a tangled history, making it a symbol of artistic enlightenment, inspiration and transformation.

Oscar Wilde once said, “After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”

It is no surprise that centuries after its rise in Bohemian French cafés, distillers are conjuring the absinthe muse in the mountains of Montana, a place that has long been a mecca to artists and musicians.

Toulouse-Lautrec and van Gogh. Wilde and Hemingway. Absinthe as muse and addiction has consumed many artists through history.

“There’s no spirit out there that has more of a stigma,” said Jazper Torres, owner and head distiller of Vilya Spirits. “Everybody that comes in, half their questions are, ‘Is (the absinthe) going to make me hallucinate?’ ‘Is this going to make me cut my ear off?’”

Vilya Spirits, which recently opened a distillery and tasting room in Kalispell, makes two absinthes: a Verte (green) and Blanche (white).

“We basically got a hold of a pre-banned recipe from France, and that’s what we based ours around,” said Torres. “It’s a very historically accurate, tasty absinthe.”

The banning of absinthe emerged from a confluence of attitude, a push from French winemakers wanting to bolster sales after the Great French Wine Blight, vilification by the temperance movement and an exaggeration of possible wormwood-associated psychoactive effects.

It is true that absinthe contains a small amount of the drug thujone. But most agree today that high alcohol content and overconsumption were more problematic than the tiny amount of that chemical.

Absinthe is an aperitif spirit, a before-meal tipple, enjoyed during “The Green Hour,” which was the name given to the mid-1800s tradition of drinking absinthe at 5 p.m.
According to Torres, absinthe’s backbone is anise and fennel.

“Some people associate the taste with black licorice,” said Torres. “Even though I, myself, am not a black licorice fan, I love absinthe.”

Vilya’s Blanche is fennel and anise forward with a strong “creamy sweetness.” The Verte is distilled with more herbs, absorbing a rich, emerald-green color from the chlorophyll, giving way to more herbs, earthy and citrus notes.

Because of its high alcohol content, absinthe was never intended to be sipped straight.
“It’s concentrate in a bottle,” said Torres.

The process of preparation — la louche — is in one way a literal representation of transformation and also illustrative of the enchanted shift taking place in the drinker’s mind.

The addition of iced water liberates the herbs and oils in the clear, emerald liquid, turning it into a seductive, milky mixture — much as “releasing the Green Fairy” frees the artist’s imagination.

“Part of what water does with those oils is it literally opens them up and allows them to express themselves,” Torres said. “And all that flavor and smell pop out into the open.”

Tradition also suggests a special glass. Torres, however, recommends a wine glass.

“It’s very similar once you break it down to that consumption,” said Torres. “It’s kind of like enjoying a wine. You’re going to swirl it around and look at the legs from the oils and open it up.”

Vilya Spirits is located at 101 East Center Street, Suite 104 in downtown Kalispell. The Absinthe Verte and Blanche are available at Vilya’s tasting room and at liquor stores, bars and restaurants around the state. For locations, availability or other information, call (406) 314-6544 or visit www.vilyaspirits.com.

Vilya Awards

Absinthe Verte
Gold – Denver World Spirits Competition – 2012
Silver – San Francisco World Spirits Competition – 2012

Absinthe Blanche
Bronze – Denver World Spirits Competition – 2012
Bronze – San Francisco World Spirits Competition – 2012

Recipes

Traditional Absinthe Drip
1 oz. absinthe
1 cube sugar
Iced water
Pour absinthe into glass. Place an absinthe spoon across the top with sugar. Drip water drop by drop over sugar. Most use a water-to-absinthe ratio of 3:1 or 5:1. Sugar is optional.

Vilya Spirits’ Beast With An Attitude
(Based on traditional Green Beast cocktail by Pernod)
1 oz. Vilya Spirits Absinthe Verte
1 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 oz. water
1 oz. ginger-infused simple syrup
Add all ingredients to a shaker with sliced (not muddled) cucumber and ice. Shake. Strain into a chilled glass — served up. Garnish: float a sliced cucumber wheel.

Fun Facts

Absinthe was banned in the United States from 1912 to 2007.

Ernest Hemingway invented his own absinthe drink. His instructions for making the “Death in the Afternoon” are: “Pour 1 jigger of absinthe into a champagne glass. Add iced champagne until it attains the proper of opalescent milkiness. Drink 3 to 5 of these slowly.”

Don’t light it on fire. That’s a gimmick from the 90s to sell cheap, inferior absinthe.

French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec carried a hollow walking stick containing a dram of absinthe.