Visit to Liquoriste de Provence - Versinthe producers (Long post)

Sepulchritude Forum: The Absinthe Forum Thru December 2001: Visit to Liquoriste de Provence - Versinthe producers (Long post)
By Dr_Ordinaire on Friday, October 05, 2001 - 01:26 am: Edit

A, thanks for your input.

"Are you sure you can compare a one year old (matured) sample with one fresh brewed, maybe I understood wrong, but is that what you want to do? "

Well, yes, in any case the matured sample should be smoother than the new one, I'm trying to see if the opposite is true. (Because of this yet undiscovered Long Maceration Effect)

"Are you sure you have exactly the same quality
of herbs as for the batch one year back."

No, I am not sure. This is a company that supplies consistent quality, fully organic herbs. Have I done a chemical analysis of them? No.

"Are you sure that you have such a stable process,
not only destilling, but als preparation of the herbs (e.g. grinding, fineness of the herbs has enormous influence, maybe more than different recipies). "

Of that I'm sure. The distilling process hasn't changed in years. The herbs are used as they come. They always look the same... (some scientific assessment, uh?)

"If you want to test the influence of mazeration time, you´ll have to do it with 2 new batches using the same herbs, the same alcohol, herbs ground together for both batches and than devided into the 2 batches separately destilled, and I wouldn´t colour it for that test. "

Well, Aion, yes, I'll do all that if it were that important to me. It ain't. My friend, Dr.O, makes a brew that he enjoys with friends, and he wanted to share some information.

The whole thing is not very important to him since he's not going to change what he's doing. He thought that this info would be useful to others.

By Aion on Friday, October 05, 2001 - 12:53 am: Edit

Dr. O

Are you sure you can compare a one year old (matured) sample with one fresh brewed, maybe I understood wrong, but is that what you want to do?

Are you sure you have exactly the same quality
of herbs as for the batch one year back.

Are you sure that you have such a stable process,
not only destilling, but als preparation of the herbs (e.g. grinding, fineness of the herbs has enormous influence, maybe more than different recipies).

If you want to test the influence of mazeration time, you´ll have to do it with 2 new batches using the same herbs, the same alcohol, herbs ground together for both batches and than devided into the 2 batches separately destilled, and I wouldn´t colour it for that test.

A.

By Dr_Ordinaire on Friday, October 05, 2001 - 12:11 am: Edit

Regarding the long maceration time, I would like to add a little anecdotal evidence.

My friend who makes absinthe (Dr. Ordinaire) uses Mexican cane alcohol. Needless to say, this not fine cognac. Actually, out of the bottle is quite nasty, harsh and biting.

Surprisingly, the end result is quite smooth. And there is nothing in the process (maceration, re-distilling, colouring) that should eliminate whatever is giving the alcohol its "nastiness".

Certainly nothing like what Don does to his alcohol, precisely described by him in another post.

What's interesting is that this undeserved smoothness seems to be proportional to the time the herbs macerated in the alcohol. I have no theory to explain this and actually I don't know if this effect is real or imagined.

Luckily for us, there is an absinthiste that received a sample of Dr. O's brew about a year ago and who ACTUALLY SAVED A SAMPLE OF THAT.
(He must be a Ninja or something...)

Well, he's getting a sample of the same recipe and procedure brew, only with a longer maceration time. It would be interesting to see if he can perceive a difference.

Results will be posted.

By Head_Prosthesis on Wednesday, October 03, 2001 - 09:55 pm: Edit

Once it digs into and takes over your being I'm sure you will. Can't wait!!!

By Wolfgang on Wednesday, October 03, 2001 - 09:48 pm: Edit

I love you Head ;-)

I have no doubt that the red oil is keeping your prosthesis in great shape.

Don't worry, I will soon post a nice report about Serpis65 ...

By Wolfgang on Wednesday, October 03, 2001 - 09:44 pm: Edit

Ok, now about the color test...

On sept. 26 I put a sample of Versinthe in a clear bottle by the window (heading south). We had many sunny days since sept 26. Now It's yellow with a very small hint of green remaining. I just made the comparaison with the last oz of Versinthe that was in the original (dark) bottle I kept in the dark. The color is not the same. The louche is white and thick with a hint of green opalescence. I also think the taste may be affected a little if that's possible (but it's difficult to say because Versinthe is very sensitive to water ratio and I didn't measure the exact quantity).

So I think they are using natural coloring but you better keep your bottle in the dark (and not for too long) if you care about drinking green absinthe.

Damn I'm sure those guys at La Liquoristerie are making a special brew only for themselves with higher alcohol and more A.A...!

By Head_Prosthesis on Wednesday, October 03, 2001 - 09:29 pm: Edit

Come to the Red side you knob.

By Head_Prosthesis on Wednesday, October 03, 2001 - 09:26 pm: Edit

and what do you turn to...


Serpis. Just admit it Wolfman, you love the stuff.

By Wolfgang on Wednesday, October 03, 2001 - 09:19 pm: Edit

Now that I think of it, there is *some* similarities between Versinthe and Ted's Berger... If only they could sell an unsweetened version of Versinthe, I'm sure it would be more obvious...

I finally got that by playing a lot with water ratios. The more water you add, the more you dilute the sugar and you finaly got something similar to a watered down bad batch of Berger, witch is still better than many brands of absinthe available today.

Of course it's been many weeks since my last sip of Jade's elixir ...

By Mr_Rabbit on Saturday, September 29, 2001 - 12:50 am: Edit

There is a brand of Pina Colada flavored soft drink available here under the brand name 'Big Top' which says it is naturally flavored.

The only Natural Flavor on the ingredients list is Wood Rosin.

Yep. MMMM! Sap!

By Heiko on Friday, September 28, 2001 - 07:11 am: Edit

"And that is of course assuming that chlorophyllic coloration is what these guys mean by 'natural color'."

Hmmm, good idea - "natural color" could also mean "colorant that was not artificially produced", which could mean "colorant that was produced using natural material". Just like "natural strawberry flavor" is made from fungi or "natural coconut flavor" is made from wood choppings...

By Timk on Friday, September 28, 2001 - 06:58 am: Edit

"

By Absinthedrinker on Friday, September 28, 2001 - 02:22 am: Edit

The pictures are all Phil's work. I just grilled the producers.

By Simonsuisse on Thursday, September 27, 2001 - 10:05 am: Edit

I bow down in apology for assuming that Versinthe had no absinthium. Versinthe is still one of my favourites. Regardless of whether it had contained wormwood or not. Ian those are great pictures by the way.

By Wolfgang on Wednesday, September 26, 2001 - 10:22 am: Edit

That`s a point. ''Natural coloration'' may not be what we think it is... In fact, it would be easy to test...Just put some in a clear bottle and leave it by a window... If the color doesn`t change after a while...

We shall also note that the un-louched color is more straw yellow than green.

But anyway, do we realy care that much about the color (hey, some people enjoy Serpis...) ? What I'm looking for in Absinthe is good taste and this little extra little something that make you feal funny. Versinthe have just an ok taste and no euphoric effect (or maybe I just don't feal it...). I would rate it as being in between pastis and absinthe. Not bad if you pay less than 25$ US a bottle.

By Etienne on Wednesday, September 26, 2001 - 07:09 am: Edit

Hurry!!!

By Absinthedrinker on Wednesday, September 26, 2001 - 05:03 am: Edit

yes please!

By Don_Walsh on Wednesday, September 26, 2001 - 04:57 am: Edit

Oh, btw, we will soon be showing you what the proper meaning of 'as little compromise as possible' is.

By Don_Walsh on Wednesday, September 26, 2001 - 04:55 am: Edit

Okay, Ian, they can have the benefit of the doubt.

I do still think that at 45% EtOH, the chlorophyllic coloration is not going to be preserved long at all. And that is of course assuming that chlorophyllic coloration is what these guys mean by 'natural color'.

And of course you are right about the maceration time for the main herbs.

(Various alleged old 'recipes' to contrary.)

By Absinthedrinker on Wednesday, September 26, 2001 - 02:15 am: Edit

double post

By Absinthedrinker on Wednesday, September 26, 2001 - 02:15 am: Edit

Don, I don't think there was any BS in the air on my visit to Venelles, I've spent years talking to wine makers and distillers and can usually spot it. Also they knew I was a chemist and they knew Phil and I had slightly more than general knowledge on absinthe matters. What I think they are trying to do is produce a commercial absinthe to the best of their ability and with as little compromise as possible, given that they have to market it along side pastis and other established aperitifs.

Two weeks maceration seemed odd to me too, I would have assumed that once the alcohol became saturated with the oils it was pointless to leave it any longer.

By Don_Walsh on Tuesday, September 25, 2001 - 09:39 pm: Edit

Wolfgang, ethanol boils at 78.5 C at atmospheric pressure, so, 50 C would represent a modest vacuum. It is easy to calculate just what the reduced pressure is, but I doubt they are giving exact details of their process, so why bother?

ANYWAY, as to 45 degree (90 proof) alcohol versus 68-72 degree, 45 degree will not support natural chlorophtillic coloring (the stuff will turn dead elaf FAST) and 45 degree will not hold much in the wasy of essential herbal oils in solution.

I am sure these folks have their reasons, and my guess is that those reasons are more economic than the 'well being of the public' or 'not playing into the hands of the prohibitionists" arguments, which sound like eyewash to me.

The 'prohibitionists'? Have they banned 151 Rum, or Green Chartreuse?

45% abv means they add more water to their product, and they pay less tax than they would if it was c.70%. It's like a jeweler who tries to convince you that 14K gold is better than 18% gold or that 18K is better than 24K. Sure, it's better for the jeweler. He (and his supply chain) have just adulterated the precious metal more, and then still sell by weight as if it is 'gold'.

45% alcohol is 55% water.

70% alcohol is 30% water.

How much do you want to pay for water?

Hell, you add your own water at the end anyway.

By the way a 2 week maceration is a joke. WAY off.

I'm beginning to suspect these ex-perfumers were having you on, guys.

By Petermarc on Tuesday, September 25, 2001 - 02:06 pm: Edit

i don't think there's any question that it should be in vera and head's site...wish i could have been there with them... after a little conversation with ian tonight, 'absinthiades-pontarlier 2001' should be rather amusing...

By Wolfgang on Tuesday, September 25, 2001 - 02:02 pm: Edit


Quote:

the charge is only heated to 50 degrees




Celcius ?

By Etienne on Tuesday, September 25, 2001 - 01:58 pm: Edit

Great story and beautiful toys. I can tell that you and Phil travel as gentlemen should.

Vera, I second the motion to include this in the travel section of your site....pleeese!

By Wolfgang on Tuesday, September 25, 2001 - 01:56 pm: Edit

Thanks!

I`m reading this review, sipping a tall glass of Versinthe (European version, now available in Montréal for 33.50 CAN $).

After tasting it for the first time, I sent an email to the manufacturer and to the rep. with my review. The only bad side of Versinthe is the sugar. I suggested an unsweetened version but they told me they wanted Versinthe to be pre-sweetened for marketing reasons. They want people to be able to enjoy it even without having to use a spoon and sugar... I think it`s a mistake but they have a different opinion. In fact I would pay up to 20% MORE for the same product without sugar!

Anyway, now I add some citrus to it to cut down the sugar. It`s not bad. It`s way cheaper than ordering from over sea and I think I will be able to survive on Versinthe until Jade`s Edouard is available. I prefer NS70 and Segarra but Versinthe comes third so that`s not too bad. One day I will try a mix of those three...

Do you have an idea about how much A.Absinthium is used in Versinthe ? is it comparable to the Spanish ? Do you know it the A.A. is also distilled under vacuum ?

By Morriganlefey on Tuesday, September 25, 2001 - 12:18 pm: Edit

Absolutely lovely tale, Ian. I envy you the opportunity to sample vintage Pernod fils, SA and the Versinthe in such an idyllic setting (and with such gorgeous accoutrements!). Versinthe (and sadly I've only had the U.S. variety!)is, along with Herbsaint, my favorite pastis.

Vera, I would recommend adding this story (and some of Phil's photos, with their permission) to your Green Travels website!

Bravo Ian.

- M

By Chevalier on Tuesday, September 25, 2001 - 11:10 am: Edit

The "feuille de l'absinthe" spoons! The Charles Maire-esque decanter! An artemisophile's wet dream.

By Germanandy on Tuesday, September 25, 2001 - 11:08 am: Edit

great post ian, congratulations!

By _Blackjack on Tuesday, September 25, 2001 - 07:42 am: Edit

I am pleased to hear we have confirmation from the primary source that it DOES contain A. absinthium. I really quite enjoyed the bottle of l'Amesinthe I had, and if it is absinthe (albeit in a more pastis-like form), I will likely try it again.

By Verawench on Tuesday, September 25, 2001 - 06:33 am: Edit

Wonderful story! I wonder what Ted will say with regard to Pascale's explanation of the lower alcohol content.

By Zman7 on Tuesday, September 25, 2001 - 06:27 am: Edit

Ian and Phil,
Thank you for bringing us such a great account of your adventures. The pictures on Phil's site are wonderful and add to this story. If the Versinthe available from SC indeed contains A.absinthium, maybe I'll give it a try and add it to my collection. Again thanks,

By Absinthedrinker on Tuesday, September 25, 2001 - 04:46 am: Edit

Pictures can be found at: http://www.frenchmanltd.com/visit/visite1.htm

I had arranged to meet Phil at a restaurant overlooking Mount St Victoire in the small village of Venelles, ten miles north of Aix-en-Provence. I was driving from Antibes and Phil was arriving from Marseilles where he had been visiting his mother. I reckoned on a 90 minute dash along the autoroute and was doing fine when Phil phoned to say that he was at the restaurant and it was closed on Mondays. In the confusion of arranging an alternative rendezvous and negotiating the Peage at Aix I managed to take a wrong turning and ended up heading towards Marseilles. If any of you have driven on French roads you will be aware of two habits designed to confuse the foreigner. One is to only include the sign posts to your destination on every third or fourth way marker and the second is to make up for this by putting all the left over signs on posts at the roundabouts so that the sheer choice of destinations is overwhelming. As a result I arrived late but my stress was relieved by the sight of the vintage Pernod bottle in Phil's bag. After a quick lunch we drove to the distillery of Liquoristerie de Provence who make Versinthe. The distillery was definitely artisnal, it resembled one of the many small wineries that dot the landscape around that part of Provence, lying in the shade of some plane trees by the side of the main road out of Venelles.

Phil had brought along some fountains, spoons and glasses which were going into my collection and these were brought out and displayed on the tasting room counter to the great interest of the back office staff and occasional customer that wandered in. We were met by Pascale, the president of the company and his distiller who were clearly absinthe enthusiasts. A previous career in the perfume industry gave them valuable experience in distilling fragile essences. Phil produced his bottle of Pernod and poured a measure into a Pontarlier glass, it was the 'feuille mort' colour that is characteristic of an old naturally coloured absinthe. There was much sniffing and swirling before water was added to reveal a subtle louche and the release of more delicate odours from the glass. We drank without sugar so as not to mask the flavours and smiles all round proclaimed it to be good. However the distiller thought that it was slightly oxidised, and after the 100 years it had spent in the bottle I suppose he might have been right. He then produced a bottle of Tarragona Pernod circa 1960 which he poured into another glass. This was of a lower alcoholic strength (as stated on the label) and seemed to have lost much of its character. The distiller clearly only considered it a curiosity as he spat it out after tasting (no one had done that with Phil's sample - in fact I was eyeing the still quite full glass and thinking about the drive home).

Of course we then tasted the Versinthe which I have to say was not totally overwhelmed by such prestigious company. I tasted it neat and it came across like Chartreuse, complex and well assembled with the components in harmony. It has up to 20 different herbs in it so its pastis heritage clearly shows but it does contain A. absinthium (not the US version) and it is coloured naturally although only bottled at 45%. Sadly I didn't get to taste the European version along side of the US version (which contains Mugwort as a substitute for absinthium). The louche was intense, due to the dose of star anise that Versinthe contains, similar to that of La Fée. Pascale is very proud of the natural colouring used in his absinthe and brought out bottles of Oxygénée and Absente which he derided as artificial and confected. I also find that I am not such a great fan of Oxygénée as I was - a case of a 'Jaded' palate perhaps? I asked why Versinthe was not bottled at 65% or 72% if authenticity was the name of the game. The answer was interesting. Pascale said that to put out a drink with such a high alcohol content was sending the wrong message to consumers and playing into the hands of prohibitionists. He cited the example of the UK where the high strength of absinthe became a selling point and drinkers used it as a quick route to oblivion by drinking absinthe shooters. He considered that this market will quickly die as those interested in a drug-like experience will abandon absinthe in favour of more reliable sources of altered states. To make absinthe fashionable and popular in France he says it will have to be around 45%, ie no stronger than pastis or other spirit aperitifs. He seemed convinced that at 45% it was not missing out on anything that would be present at 65% - other than a significant duty and tax burden, which he says would also be a barrier to sales in France. (This goes against the thinking of German absinthe producers - but that is a story for another time)

Next on the menu was a tour around the distillery, in fact two smallish rooms with a still not much larger than some bootleg stills I have seen, but of a curious design which puzzled me until the explanation made everything clear. The first room contained hoppers of dried herbs, mostly labelled with their actual names but some with intriguing labels such as 'gamma'. In the centre of this room was a maceration tank where the herbs were steeped in alcohol for up to two weeks before being pressed to extract the oils. Then it was over to the still, and I apologise for the lack of pictures which is not due to secrecy at the distillery but to the fact that I left my camera in Antibes and Phil wasn't as interested in the technicalities of distillation as I was. The reason behind the curious design is that Versinthe is made by partial vacuum distillation so that the charge is only heated to 50 degrees, this preserves the delicate flavour compounds and bouquet and ensures that the herbs are not burned. Such a process would come as second nature to a perfume chemist.

It was an interesting visit and I would have liked to stay longer to discuss the process with the distiller but my wife Deirdre phoned to say that far from spending the day relaxing by the pool as she had hoped, it had rained since I left and she was having a terrible boring time indoors. And so, looking guiltily at the clear blue skies framing the Mount St Victoire and beginning to realise why Cezanne had spent so much time painting it, I bade my farewells, put Serge Gainsborough on the car stereo and pointed ma voiture for Antibes.

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