Alpine Absinthe


Andy Hamilton search of Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) in Italy:

A few years ago I visited the Italian alps in search of the secrets of Vermouth, visiting the region where many of the herbs that have been traditionally used grow. I managed to pick some wild herbs to bring back to England and I convinced a local restaurant to let me serve wild Negronis to their customers. As I explained to them about how the vermouth was made there was a sudden rush to ditch the gin and Campari and try the fresh vermouth. 

Many of the herbs I used had been infusing for weeks in grappa or vodka. Some had gone a little vegetative ‐ by that I mean that there was a distinct off flavour profile, something that I often encounter making drinks. Many people don’t detect it, but once you are aware there is no getting away from it. Four years later, having come across frequently this problem, I have discovered how to overcome it and the results are far tastier.

What I now realise is that an so many herbs will give up their flavours in a matter of minutes rather than days or even months, especially those with much stronger bitter flavours.

The other mistake that I made when visiting this region was to go in the early spring, at a time before many herbs have even started to grow on the mountains. Indeed as we made out accent up Grand Paradiso there was still plenty of snow and ice around, in some places a couple of feet thick. 

A few days ago I returned to the same mountain range, but on the French side. One plant I really wanted to find was wormwood and although I did find some growing on my first trip, it’s grey green leaves magically swaying in the breeze in the town of Astora next to the old Roman walls. But this was domestic, I really wanted to see it growing wild.

It’s odd the relationship that can form between man and plant, I’ve used wormwood so often over those four years, even growing my own to keep up with my demand for it. Whenever I see it growing in Botanical gardens, herbariums and in gardens it delights me. If I get a glimpse of its distinctive leaves and silly grin will forms on my face as if I’m a child getting that first glimpse of the pile of presents under the tree on Christmas day. 

As we drove up a mountain pass I could see glimpses of grey/green from the window. I wanted to jump out of the car there and then but my friend on the trip, a German mathematician, thought I was joking. Finally, when we parked from lunch I shot out the car like a dog who hadn’t been walked and started to scan the hedgerows. And then I saw it, in abundance. Plants starting to sprout, some in flower ‐ something I’d never seen before. I was giggling as I picked ‐ I was happy just to be up a mountain, but picking one of my favourite plants made the whole experience one that I won’t forget.

It might be hard for anyone but a die hard forager to understand the delight one can feel at finding a plant, indeed, this finders delight is often reserved for mushroom foragers. I suspect my feelings are wrapped up in nostalgia and memories of all the drinks I have made. The smell of wormwood is enough to have a little part of my brain remembering parties, booze walks and occasions that I have drunk wormwood drinks. I hope you too can have a similar experience and so I share this recipe to help you along your way.

Here is a revised recipe to try at home:

Equipment needed
One kilner/mason jar 


1 tsp fresh wormwood
1 tsp St Johns wort
1 wild lettuce leaf
1 tsp mugwort
1 tbs pine needles
1 tbs spruce tips (make sure it ain’t yew)
1 tsp wild carrot seeds
1 tsp yarrow

Infuse in 500ml vodka for three hours ‐ strain and serve with pomegranate kombucha 

Andy goes more in-depth on his wormwood love affair here.

More on ‘What is absinthe” here with Spruce Eats.

Read more on our attempts on make an Islay garden absinthe.

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