Ridge Distillery's American-Made Absinthe

Organicabsinthe By Dana Allen

Fifteen miles down the road from Montana’s Whitefish Mountain Resort in Kalispell, Montana, Joe and Jules Legate, owners of Ridge Distillery, are crafting American absinthe.

Once thought to be hallucinogenic, absinthe was banned. That absinthe is a hallucinogen is, in fact, an early 20th-century urban myth. Thujone, the supposedly psychoactive ingredient, chemically resembles THC, which causes the "high" in marijuana. But Thujone doesn’t have the same effect on humans.

Absinthe originated in the Jura mountains of Switzerland, but gained popularity and infamy with bohemian artists living in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. Wine was too expensive—insects had decimated two-thirds of Europe’s vines—and absinthe became the working class drink of choice. Not only was it a stronger spirit, but its unique herbal mix reputedly heighten some senses while dulling others. Legendary drunken debauchery ensued, with tales of impressionist painters being led to artistic revelation by "the green fairy," a euphemism for the spirit's effect. Soon the liquor was reviled, blamed for insanity, and outlawed.

Production went underground until 2007, when the American Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau lifted the ban by clarifying rules governing thujone content in foods and beverages. American distillers, including the Legates, brought the green fairy to life.

The Legates discovered that Artermisia absintheium, grand wormwood, the flavor in distilled absinthe, grew wild on their property. Curious, they sent samples to a Seattle distillery, which reported enthusiastically on the quality of their plants. Soon the Legates were growing and supplying herbs to distillers around the country.

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