Historic Indiana Absinthe Project Between Musee De Venoge, Locust Grove, Spirits of French Lick, Kentucky Artisan Distillery, and The Alchemist Cabinet. December 2020 update!

Just a quick update on the ongoing Indiana Absinthe project we spoke of before. The project has moved forward by leaps and bounds in recent months. Brian Cushing, Myself, DJ Henderson (responsible for the gorgeous photos above), and Adin Pempberton with the help of several Locust Grove and Musee De Venoge volunteers managed to get two 50 gallon barrels of mash completed at the Locust Grove Farm Distillery in early October.

The mash bill for this base whiskey, which we will use to re-create the Switzerland County Absinthe, was composed of 80% Corn, 10%, Wheat, and 10% malt. We went with a grain base as we feel it is likely what those absinthe distillers in the Swiss Colony would have been making use of as the Catawba grapes for their wine were at too high of a premium to use for distillation. Unfortunately, hard facts regarding distillation protocol in Switzerland county in the 1830’s is impossible to find, as such we have to work off of the logic of “common sense” based on the equipment and ingredients we know the distillers would have had at hand. The day of the mash in was a joyous one for all involved despite current public health concerns. These historic mash in’s always draw in those who are truly interested in the art of Alchemy at it’s deepest level and tend to attract the people who want to learn more about the art and go further both in terms of depth of knowledge of the art but also those who want to go further back in time and place to better understand the roots of their art. Pre-industrialized alcohol production certainly has it’s romantic lures, but also has a lot to teach us about the future of Sprits production as well as medicine and perfumes. I tend to liken these events to Black Smith hammer in’s at historic re-enactments, they are about knowledge and experience and teaching, but just as much they are about community. Sometimes too they are bragging rights, or even a chance to show off a new skill or new homebrew, or newly stitched clothing, or new knowledge. Anything really. They are fellowship.

The grain was provided to us by Brooks Grain, and thankfully came pre-ground. We mashed both of these barrels using hops in the copper boiler to compete against any type of bacterial contamination that might be on hand. This was a common method in many early farm distilleries. The other common method involves using Eastern Red Cedar. The rowing was much easier with volunteers from both Locust Grove as well as from Musee De Venoge. We may have all have consumed a fair bit of Absinthe as well as Adin’s fantastic home brewed cider as well as a few beers, but the work was completed safely and efficiently and a lot of laughs and jokes were shared amongst the tribe of workers. At the end of the day the two mash barrels were setting around a 1.055 specific gravity and by the looks of the mash alone as well as the lack of mash splattered across the workhouse bricks I could easily tell that this was by far the best and most efficient mash that Brian and I had ever completed at Locust Grove.

We pitched the yeast that we gathered from the botanical garden at Musee De Venoge. A truly wild strain that took some adapting to new mash bases and which gave me trouble for some weeks prior to the event. It is the yeast in my opinion and experience that is the very Soul of the base alcohol and will bring with it the golden pixie dust that provides contrast and depth to all that will come post fermentation. It was important to Brian and I to use a yeast from Switzerland county for this project. Everything in it’s right place, even if the yeast does prove difficult to work with.

Thankfully both D.J. Henderson and Brian were able to document the day in photos and videos. In fact Brian has been filming the entire affair, from the first visit to Venoge, through mash in, back to Venoge for follow up shots we did a couple weeks back including filming the running of a small 20 gallon alembic and preparation of dried botanicals, and soon back to Spirits Of French Lick where he will film the final preparation of herbs and the Absinthe distillation process.

The mash then went to Kentucky Artisan Distillery where it fell under the watchful eyes of Jade Peterson. Fermentation was slow to start running but run it did in time and finished to 1.000. Jade then ran the mash through a small Hybrid still with a single distillation from which was recovered around 5 gallons of alcohol at roughly 130 proof. We were also given another bucket of “tails” around 108 proof which we re-distilled on a pot still to around 135 proof. This will give us several gallons to turn into true Hoosier Absinthe of the old type.

The plan is to finish filming the process whereupon Brian will edit the video into a documentary film for presentation to the public, restoring once again to the state a sense of pride and knowledge of our Farm-Distilling history, and filling yet another gap in American and Folk spirits production history and methodology. Alchemy in Action!

This past weekend Brian and I spoke and we plan to have a trailer for the documentary out on New Years Eve alongside another very cool piece of “Sprits Media” (Or is that Medium?) as Christi Atkinson and I have been working on an all new independent show titled; “The Veil”. This show (perhaps a podcast or a youtube stream, we aren’t sure yet.) will be released in seasons with each season based on the demystification or the deep history of one particular type of spirit. Season one is Demystifying Absinthe, which we have absolutely failed to do, instead muddying the waters even more than previously. We have interviewed 6-7 people intensely involved with absinthe on a production, heritage, or simple connoisseur level about everything from Absinthes origins, right through production, into drinking, and the more fun for me level of Spirituality. These interviews will be edited into clips that Christi and I will introduce and will be interspersed with stories of the paranormal from our guests on the show. Very Art Bell inspired in tone.

Work is also nearly complete on the long awaited Hells Half Acre Documentary as DJ Henderson is currently working on narration and I am working on music.

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