At Sidewinder, we’re always pioneering new frontiers in whiskey craftsmanship. Our latest venture? A first-of-its-kind triple malt bourbon, meaning all three grains – corn, rye, and barley – are floor malted before entering the mash. This complex process promises to unlock entirely new dimensions of flavor.

We know many of you are eager to dive deeper into whiskey production. Let’s demystify some key terms. The mash bill is the whiskey’s grain recipe – its genetic code dictating the final product’s character. The mash brings those grains to life, extracting fermentable sugars through steeping in hot water. And the wort is the sweet liquid that results, ready for yeast to transform into alcohol.

So where does malting come in? Malt provides the enzymes that convert starch into fermentable sugar, creating a more flavorful wort. It’s a meticulous process of germinating and drying grains to unlock their inner complexity.

That brings us to our triple malt milestone. Thanks to our partners at Admiral Maltings, we now have access to the first floor-malted dent corn in California, grown on Victoria Island in the fertile California Delta. When combined with their floor-malted rye and barley in our mash bills, it unlocks astonishing depth and nuance.

From raw Californian grains to the first sip of bourbon, we take pride in shepherding every step. Follow our journey on social media as we ferment and distill this rare triple malt bourbon. When innovation meets passion, there’s no telling what heights we can reach. This bourbon represents our relentless pursuit of the extraordinary. Stay tuned for what’s next on the frontier of flavor!

In the world of spirits, there’s always room for innovation and improvement. At our distillery, we’ve embarked on a fascinating journey beyond our regular production, dedicating both time and resources to crafting specialty spirits that stand out in a market often saturated with hastily produced alternatives. Our primary goal? To create superior spirits that fill gaps in the current marketplace while honing our skills in distillation, fermentation, and extraction.

For the past half-decade, we’ve been meticulously developing an absinthe that not only honors its rich historical traditions but also elevates them to new heights. This project has been a testament to our commitment to quality and our passion for the art of spirit-making.

The Formula: A Delicate Balance of Botanicals

Our journey began with the formula—the very soul of absinthe. We carefully selected a blend of herbs, roots, and spices to achieve our desired flavor profile. Traditional absinthe ingredients include:

1. Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium): The key ingredient, responsible for absinthe’s distinctive bitterness.

2. Green anise: Provides the characteristic licorice flavor.

3. Florence fennel: Adds a sweet, anise-like taste and contributes to the louche effect.

4. Hyssop: Offers a minty, slightly bitter note.

5. Melissa (lemon balm): Introduces a fresh, citrusy element.

6. Star anise: Enhances the anise flavor and contributes to the louche.

Botanicals are chosen not just for their individual aromas, but for how they harmonize with the others to create a complex, layered flavor profile.

The Distillation Challenge: Finding the Perfect Still

Once we perfected our formula, we faced the next hurdle: distillation. This process proved to be more challenging than anticipated. Initially, we used the column still from our gin production, assuming column reflux would benefit our absinthe. However, we quickly discovered that this method stripped away too many essential herbal oils, diminishing the spirit’s aromatic complexity and preventing the formation of the louche—the cloudy effect that is the hallmark of fine absinthes.
After much experimentation, we turned to our Alembic Still, typically reserved for our brandy production. The Alembic Still, with its traditional design dating back centuries, allowed for a gentler distillation process and the capture of more essential oils in the distillate. This resulted in a richer, more nuanced spirit and provided us with an exquisite louche.

The final distillation, achieved just this week, marks a significant milestone in our absinthe journey. The spirit that emerged from the Alembic Still possessed the depth, complexity, and potential for louche that we had been striving for all along.

The Green Fairy’s Hue: The Art of Coloration

With distillation complete, we now move to the third and final step: achieving the signature ‘fairy green’ hue of traditional absinthe. This process involves steeping chlorophyll-containing herbs post-distillation, a technique known as the “Verte” or green step. Herbs used in this stage include:

1. Petite wormwood (Artemisia pontica)

2. Hyssop

3. Melissa

4. Roman wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)

These herbs not only impart the characteristic green color but also add an additional layer of flavor complexity to the final product. The steeping process is a delicate balance—too short, and the color and flavor will be weak; too long, and the absinthe can become overly bitter or astringent.

The Science Behind the Louche: A Mesmerizing Transformation

One of the most captivating aspects of a quality absinthe is the louche effect—a fascinating chemical phenomenon that occurs when water is added to the spirit. This transformation from a clear emerald solution to a milky, opaque one is not just visually striking; it’s a testament to the complex chemistry at play in a well-crafted absinthe.

The louche effect is primarily due to the interaction between three components: ethanol, water, and hydrophobic oils (particularly anethole, found in fennel and anise seed) that flavor the spirit. Ethanol is a versatile molecule, capable of bonding with both water and oil. In its natural state, absinthe appears clear and crystalline, with the water, oils, and ethanol in perfect equilibrium.
However, when water is added, this delicate balance is disrupted. The oils that were previously dissolved in ethanol begin to separate from the water, creating a haze similar to what you might see in a shaken bottle of oil and water. Unlike oil and water, however, the components in absinthe remain suspended in the solution through a process called spontaneous emulsification.
On a molecular level, this transformation involves a spontaneous reorganization of molecular bonds between ethanol, fusel oils, and water, resulting in a nanoemulsion. The dissolved anise oils form microscopic droplets, scattering light and causing the drink to turn cloudy. This process is particularly striking in absinthe due to the dramatic color change from bright green to a milky solution with a green hue.

The quality of the louche can tell you a lot about the absinthe. A good louche should develop slowly and steadily, with opalescent swirls and eddies forming as the water is added. The final result should be a milky, opalescent mixture that still retains a hint of the original green color. A thin or weak louche often indicates an absinthe that’s lacking in essential oils, while an overly thick or rapid louche might suggest an overabundance of star anise or other louche-heavy botanicals.

Lessons Learned and Future Prospects

Our journey to create a unique and delicious absinthe has been both challenging and immensely rewarding. Each step of the process—from selecting botanicals to perfecting the distillation method and achieving the ideal color—has taught us valuable lessons that have enhanced our overall expertise in spirit production.

We’ve gained a deeper understanding of how different botanicals interact during distillation, how still design can dramatically affect the final product, and how small adjustments in technique can lead to significant improvements in quality. These insights have not only benefited our absinthe production but have also influenced and improved our approach to crafting other spirits.

As we move forward with the final stages of our absinthe production, we’re filled with excitement about the prospect of sharing this labor of love with our customers. We believe that the result of our five-year journey will be a truly exceptional absinthe—one that pays homage to the rich traditions of this historic spirit while incorporating modern understanding and techniques to create something truly unique.

Our foray into crafting specialty spirits exemplifies our commitment to quality, innovation, and the art of distillation. We look forward to continuing this journey of exploration and refinement, always striving to create spirits that push the boundaries of what’s possible in the world of craft distilling.