Resurrecting London’s Untold Absinthe History

London’s first absinthe distillery uncovers an 18th century recipe revealing the city’s own origins of Absinthe

Devil’s Botany Absinthe Regalis (63% ABV, 700ml, from Devil’s Botany Distillery (Walthamstow, London)

As sure as the Devil’s in London — While the city was drenched in madness and merriment from what would become known as the Gin Craze, The Green Fairy was already running rampant across London.

Devil’s Botany Distillery has unearthed a key to the origins of absinthe that had previously remained unknown. Nearly a century before the first commercial absinthe distilleries opened in Switzerland or France, London’s dram-drinkers were enjoying an early precursor to absinthe made by the city’s apothecaries. Praised for its revitalising flavour, this noble aperitif has been found most effective in raising the spirits of Londoners for over 300 years.

“We spent over half a decade researching the history of absinthe, specifically interested in its origins as a cure-all elixir, as was once the case for so many of our favourite botanical spirits. Hidden within the recipe books of London’s apothecaries, we found an 18th century recipe for an early precursor to absinthe that predates the first Swiss or French distilleries by nearly a century.” — Allison Crawbuck, Co-Founder of Devil’s Botany Distillery

Until now, Absinthe’s story had always begun with a mysterious herbal elixir that inspired the first commercial absinthe distillery to open in Switzerland in 1797, but botanical spirits distilled with anise, fennel and wormwood were widely produced by local apothecaries of the time and found to be already well known in London.

“Central to any traditionally made absinthe is what’s known as the holy trinity – grand wormwood, green anise and fennel seed. These botanicals have appeared in alcoholic elixirs since ancient days, but would have started as infusions in beer or wine giving us early examples of bitter ale and vermouth. After the alchemist’s process of distillation was mastered by apothecaries, spirits became the preferred drink of choice for administering their botanical elixirs. We began our research by hunting down recipes for distilled spirits that highlighted these three key ingredients and discovered that London has its very own part to play in the history of absinthe which has remained untold until now.” — Allison Crawbuck

The instructions for this once-forgotten botanical spirit were prescribed by London’s apothecaries and received much praise for its ability to raise the spirits of their clientele. The newly released Absinthe Regalis takes its inspiration from the original 18th century recipe but is distilled by Devil’s Botany Distillery in Walthamstow with their own modern twist.

“Distilled with absinthe’s holy trinity of grand wormwood, green anise and fennel seed, the original recipe that we found from 1719 also called for imported spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg, which were all once symbols of luxury. The resulting distillate would have provided a clear-style of absinthe, but we coloured our recipe for Absinthe Regalis naturally using local botanicals, such as milk thistle and white dead nettle that can be found growing wild across London, to create an emerald green absinthe that is deeply herbaceous and luxuriously spiced.” — Rhys Everett , Co-Founder & Distiller at Devil’s Botany Distillery

“The original recipe would have first been made by the city’s apothecaries for its supposed magical and medicinal properties, but by the 18th century it was said that Londoners in particular were already enjoying this early example of absinthe recreationally. It was being sold across Britain next to other distilled spirits found on today’s back bars such as gin, brandy or rum.” — Allison Crawbuck

Devil’s Botany Absinthe Regalis is traditional, yet mysteriously exotic. It can be served stirred down on the rocks with 1 part absinthe and 2-3 parts still or sparkling water, or using the traditional absinthe fountain. Add a bar spoon of Absinthe Regalis to your favourite Sazerac recipe for an intensely aromatic cocktail.

“Absinthe played such an integral part in London’s history of classic cocktails. After the prohibition halted the sale and production of alcohol in the United States, bartenders flocked to London to continue their craft. Classic cocktail culture experienced a heyday in London during the 1920’s and 30’s. With Absinthe never made illegal here, bartenders continued to use the spirit to enhance the flavour and aroma of their cocktails. The legendary 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book by Harry Craddock uses absinthe in over 100 recipes and the 1937 Café Royal Cocktail Book calls for it in another 40! Absinthe’s connection to London’s cocktail history has seemingly almost been forgotten.” — Rhys Everett

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