September 16 2017, The Times
Now two North Sea oil workers are set to steal France’s thunder as the producers of one of the world’s most potent drinks by launching the first absinthe to be made in Scotland.
The bright green spirit, to be named Murmichan after the ancient Scots word for “wicked fairy”, delivers a staggering 64 per cent ABV (alcohol by volume) hit, well above even the most potent malt whisky or botanical gin.
Created in collaboration with Heriot-Watt University, it is due to be launched on the Scottish market this month and then to China and Japan.
Absinthe, a bitter anise-flavoured spirit made principally from wormwood, was originally thought to have curative qualities and was used by French troops in Algeria to fight malaria.
Traditionally drunk diluted with water, like pastis, it became popular with ordinary Parisians during the “Belle Epoque” when vineyards were devastated by a virus and wine became too expensive.
The highly potent mind-altering drink, which had an ABV of 80 per cent, was made affordable to the masses by using industrial quality alcohol. It became known as the “green fairy” which would put imbibers into a reverie and inspired new-wave artists such as Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Picasso and Van Gogh, who also drank it in their quest for new ideas.
It was banned in France in 1915 because of its alleged harmful effects, although the rule was later relaxed.
The Scottish absinthe is rather less potent and certainly less bitter than the original to make it more appealing to the all-important younger millennial market. Dark green 500ml bottles will retail at about £40 and feature decorative labels specially designed to echo the famous 19th-century Mucha advertisement poster for the absinthe green fairy, designed by the Czech-born artist, Alphonse Mucha, the forefather of Art Nouveau.
The spirit itself is made to the traditional recipe using potent botanicals such as Grande and Roman wormwood, anis and fennel, though with Scottish heather flowers, bramble leaves and local honey added. Water from the Pannanich Wells at Ballater will add to its Celtic credentials.
“There is a lot of scepticism and fear about absinthe due to its dubious past reputation of people misbehaving after over-consuming it, but we wanted to create something new for the market that is more palatable and socially acceptable, while following the traditional recipe,” Richard Pierce, co-founder of the Lost Loch Distillery with Peter Dignam, said.
“Murmichan retains the attractive striking green colour but it’s sweeter than traditional absinthe, which makes it a great component for cocktails, although some more daring people may want to drink it in shots.”
Pierce and his colleague Peter Dignan opened the Lost Loch Distillery, on the site of the former Auchlossan Loch, which was drained in the late 1860s, in January. They have already produced a whisky liqueur called Haroosh and will launch a gin called Eenoo, and hope to host a new Scottish opera on the subject of distilling next year.
Although they are still employees in the offshore oil industry, they are looking to the future. “This is our get-out plan if oil goes pear-shaped,” said Pierce. Clearly, they are hoping the shift from the black stuff to green will help them strike gold.