Duplais Distillation Manual - Absinthe - Reviewed by Experts and Consumers at The Wormwood Society

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Duplais Distillation Manual - Absinthe

Considered by many to be the official canon of 19th century French distilling practice, this English translation of Duplais' 1855 treatise, Traité de la Fabrication des Liqueurs et de la Distillation des Alcools, Chapter 9, The Manufacture of Swiss Absinthe, details the most common recipes and processes involved in making high quality absinthe.



Swiss absinthe at the present time constitutes the object of considerable trade and a special manufacture. Pontarlier, Montpellier, and Lyons, are cities in which it is manufactured in very great quantities. We shall describe the article as produced in each locality, assuming that the quantity of Swiss absinthe to be made is one hectolitre.


Absinthe of Pontarlier.

Larger absinthe, dried and ground,     2 kilogrs., 500 grms.
Green anise                                     5     "
Fennel                                            5     "
Alcohol at 85°                                  95 litres.

Digest these ingredients for at least twelve hours in a water bath, add 45 litres of water when ready distil, close the apparatus, and distil off 95 litres of perfumed spirit.  Continue the operation until all the phlegm is drawn off, and set it aside for another operation.

The green color is given by the following process:
Small absinthe, dried and picked                 1 kilogr.
Hyssop (tops and flowers),                          1     “
Lemon balm, dried and picked                    500  grms
Perfumed spirits, from the preceding operation,        40 litres

Divide or cut up the small absinthe, reduce the hyssop and balm to a powder in a mortar, put the whole into a water-bath with the perfumed spirits, lute immediately, then heat gently, so as to produce a very moderate and gradual heat, and, so soon as the hand cannot be placed on the cap, withdraw the fire quickly beneath the apparatus, in order to prevent the liquid from being distilled.  Allow it to cool entirely before withdrawing the still from the water-bath, then pass the colored liquor through a hair cloth to drain the plants; add this product to the 55 litres of perfumed spirits that are reserved, and reduce to 74 degrees by adding litres of water, which will bring the quantity up to 100 litres.

Absinthe of Montpellier.

Large absinthe dried        2.5 kilogrammes.
Green anise                    6         “
Florentine fennel            4         “
Coriander                       1         “
Angelica seed                 500 grammes.
Alcohol at 85°                 95 litres.
Distil as in the preceding case. The color is also in the same 'way with the following ingredients

Dried hyssop, (herb and flowers),        750 grammes.
Dried balm of Moldavia                      750       “
Small absinthe                                 1  kilogr:

Absinthe of Lyons

Large absinthe,. dried         3 kilogrammes.
Green anise                       8        “
Fennel                              4        “
Angelica seed                    500  grammes.
Alcohol at 85°                    95 litres.


Dried and selected lemon balm         1 kilogramme.
Small absinthe dried.                       1          “
Hyssop tops and flowers dried          500 grammes.
Dried Veronica                               500       “

Absinthe of Fougerolles. (For 600 Litres.)

Green anise                     45 kilogrammes.
Fennel                            25         “
Larger absinthe                16         “
Alcohol at 85°                  570 litres.
Water                             300 litres

Digest for at least twelve hours with the alcohol in a proper apparatus, add the water at the time of distilling, draw off 570 litres of perfumed spirits.  When this quantity has been obtained continue the distillation until all the phlegm has been distilled off and set aside for another operation.


Lemon balm                    4 1/2  kilogrammes.
Hyssop                            3 1/2          “
Lesser absinthe               4            “
Veronica                         4            “

Treat as for that first described and reduce the mixed spirits to 74° by the addition of enough water to bring the quantity up to 600 litres.


Absinthe of Besançon. (For 600 Litres )

Great absinthe                 24  kilogrammes.
Green anise                     30          “
Fennel .                          40          “
Coriander                         4            “
Alcohol at 85°                   570 litres.
Water                              300    “

To be treated as above.


Balm                         3  kilogrammes.
Less absinthe             6     "
Hyssop                      5 1/2   “

Treat as the last.


Absinthe of Nimes. (For 600 Litres.)

Great absinthe                        22 1/2 kilogrammes.
Green anise                            22 1/2        “
Fennel . ..                              15             “
Coriander .                             2 1/2         “
Roots of the black alder           1 1/2        “
Angelica root                          1 1/2        “
Alcohol at 85°                         570 litres.
Water .                                  300    "
Treat as above.


Less absinthe                  5 kilogrammes.
Hyssop                           4 1/2    “
Balm                              1 1/2    “
Veronica                         2 1/2    “
Mint                               2 1/2    “
Treat as before

It is always optional to diminish or increase the quantities of the ingredients in the foregoing recipes according to the taste of the manufacturer, or the price of the article he wishes to produce; but this fact must be borne in mind, that it is only age that will give to absinthe that softness so much prized by consumers.

Remarks.—The greatest pains should be taken in the selection of the materials, especially the plants intended for the coloring; these should be very green and dry, and free from black and mouldy leaves.  The seeds should be powdered in a mortar, and the great absinthe picked over and ground.

The distillation of absinthe should be effected in a Turk's-head still, in a water-bath, or, what is better, by steam, in order that the essential oils may rise with more facility, especially towards the close of the operation; because the phlegm is employed in another operation, in which it is most useful, by adding to the perfume through the large proportions of essential oils it contains.

The coloring is of the highest importance. The plants are finely divided, or reduced to powder, and covered with perfumed spirits; then heated gently, in order to extract the chlorophylle or coloring principle.  After cooling, the colored spirit is drawn off clear, and the plants are drained.  They may still, after this operation, serve for coloring a smaller quantity of absinthe. They are then subjected to distillation, to collect and save the small quantity of alcohol still adhering to them.

In the large factories, the extract of absinthe is colored in tinned copper vessels, containing about twenty hectoliters—they are called colorers.  These vessels, hermetically closed, are heated to 60 degrees by means of steam.

The coloring may be made in the cold way, but the operation requires many days, and a large quantity of plants, which considerably increase the acridity of absinthe.

When the coloring and perfumed spirit, held in reserve, have been mixed, the alcoholic strength is tested and reduced to 74°, although absinthe is never sold above 72°; but, by rest and time, there is always some loss which must be provided against.

The green color of absinthe becomes yellowish by age, and then has a dead-leaf tinge.  The green tint may be preserved by adding, after the mixture, fifteen grammes of alum, dissolved in a glass of water; but consumers generally prefer the yellow tint.  By age, absinthe improves in quality, by losing its sharp and empyreumatic taste, which is communicated by the distillation and coloring.

It is to be remarked that it is not the great variety of substances introduced into the manufacture that constitutes the great merit of absinthe, but rather the rational combination of a small number having peculiar virtues: thus, the anise serves to produce the whiteness; the fennel corrects the piquant and sugary taste of the anise, at the same time adding something to the flavor; ,the hyssop fulfils the same end, while it yields a beautiful green color, which the balm increases still more.  Finally, the lesser absinthe, by its slightly yellowish tinge, modifies the excessive brilliancy of the green color, while its slight bitterness and aroma, added to those of the great absinthe, impart to this liquor the characteristics peculiar to a well-made product.

Absinthe is considered as being of good quality when, on being diluted with water, it becomes white, and exhibits the colors of the opal, which is due to the essential oils from the seeds, and the resinous and coloring matters of the plants, which, under these circumstances, are set at liberty, and form, with water, the milky compound so highly prized.  In this state, it should be pleasant, agreeable, odorous, and sweetish.  Sharpness and tastelessness are always signs of a recent manufacture.

Absinthes of inferior quality are often met with in the market. Some are manufactured without distillation, essences being used to replace the seeds and plants; some are distilled with trois-six from beets, &c., which leaves much to be desired in flavor; some are prepared with old or damaged materials, while, finally, there are others which, after the distillation have had added to them aromatic resins, such as benzoin, guaiacum, &c., in order to increase the opalescence.

White Absinthe

Greater absinthe, selected     2 kilogrs., 750 grms.
Less absinthe                        1 kilogr,   125   "
Hyssop flowers                      1    "        100
Veronica                              550 grammes
Genepi                                550    "
Roman chamomile                 225    "
Green anise                         5 kilogrs., 250 grms.
Fennel                                5    "        250   "
Coriander                            1 kilogr.
Angelica seeds                     550 grms.
Alcohol at 85°                      96 litres.

Conduct the maceration and distilling in the same way as for green absinthe; then rectify the product, and reduce to 74°.

The abuse of absinthe, even diluted with water, is - most deleterious to the animal economy. Taken pure, it occasions serious disorders of the stomach and brain. It is not to the alcohol alone that these injurious effects are to be attributed, but more especially to the large quantity of essential oils of anise and fennel which it contains.

Causes of the Pernicious Effects of Absinthe

This so-called Swiss absinthe has attracted public attention for some time, and much credit is due to the writers of many scientific and medical essays, for indicating with so much persevering energy the abuses of this product, a horrible curse which is killing the youth of our colleges, decimating the army, and will cause the fatal debasement of the rising generation. In order to increase the sale of t.his truly horrible beverage, the idea has been invented of mixing it with syrups of gum, so called, and which most generally do not contain a particle of gum, and which, on account of the vile method of the manufacture, only bring in their train an increase of the evil.

Of course these evils are not to be attributed to firstclass houses, who only sell for consumption perfectly distilled absinthes that are free from all adulterations. We have no intention, by what has just been said, to advise the use of this liquor, however well it may be made, but to set forth the fact that, in many localities, sufficient care is not taken in the selection of the plants, and in conducting the distillation. This results 'from the fact *at most persons who undertake this work are ignorant of the first principles of distillation. So much is this the case, that, if allowed to express an opinion. on so serious a question, we should advise the authorities-

1. To require that all liquor distillers who manufacture absinthe, or any other spirituous liquors, should have some knowledge of chemistry and botany, should be of good character, and be possessed of organs of taste and smell accurate enough to be of use in estimating the quality of the materials passing through their hands.

2. That a certificate or diploma as a distiller should be conferred on him only after his having proved, by a satisfactory official examination, th& he is possessed of a competent knowledge of the theoretical principles of the trade he wishes to pursue.

3. Finally, that he should serve for at least one year as an apprentice, in order that he may, on entering the business, add also practical knowledge to the theoretical which he should possess. By following this plan, we would have good and true distillers. While at the present time a large proportion of the young men, who set up in this business, have very little knowledge, they very often leave trades having little or no connection with distilling, and at the end of a few months’ apprenticeship, sometimes under a man more ignorant than themselves, they present themselves as master workmen at the distillery or the brewery. Why, then, should it be cause for astonishment if badly manufactured products of distillation enter into our daily consumption? We cannot close this article without giving some advice on the distillation of absinthe.

The plants should be picked over, as only the tops are distilled, and the flow phlegm should never be pushed to the end of the distillation. It may be objected that the liquor will be less penetrating, and will have less bouquet; we answer, so much the better for the consumer. They may rejoin that the price will be much higher: we reply, what is the difference? it will sell all the better for that.

We cannot omit to recommend the use of calamus aromaticus, and angelica root in the proportion of 125 grammes to the hundred litres of the product, with balm, hyssop, and the petite wormwood for the coloring, which should always be made hot.

But why are absinthes so bad in Paris? It is because the greater proportion of absinthes sold are not distilled, but made from essences, which, as is well known are highly charged with empyreumatic essential oils. Now, if the proportion of these essences is too great, as is almost always the case, they are not completely dissolved, and the absinthe so manufactured, after being swallowed, leaves an acrid taste, and a lasting and painful sense of heat and discomfort in the mouth, throat, stomach, and even in the urinary organs in persons who use it habitually.

In conclusion, absinthe, as a medicine, like most other plants, has some useful properties; but as a favorite and daily drink it has its dangers and becomes very often fatal. But it is certain that if this liquor was always of good quality and properly prepared, it would not play such sad havoc, and would spare many useful men to the country.


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