Absinthe arrives in Atlanta

Lilburn’s Hope Springs Distillery’s Jetty absinthe is making a splash
The Lilburn-crafted absinthe Jetty can be served neat, mixed in a cocktail, or--as Biltong Bar beverage manager Sean Gleason recommends--prepared with sugar, mint, a splash of cold water and a twist of lemon.

The Lilburn-crafted absinthe Jetty can be served neat, mixed in a cocktail, or--as Biltong Bar beverage manager Sean Gleason recommends--prepared with sugar, mint, a splash of cold water and a twist of lemon.

If you were to believe the stories, absinthe is a wild drink, an alcoholic spirit from the heart of Europe that conjures hallucinations, inspires poets and ignites madness. Those are great stories, but they’re far from the truth. And, with the introduction of Jetty, the first absinthe distilled and bottled in Georgia, area drinkers can experience the storied spirit on a local level.

Hope Springs Distillery was founded by Gwinnett County residents Paul Allen and Betsey Dahlberg in 2014. Located in downtown Lilburn, it is Gwinnett's first distillery since Prohibition. Over the past few years, Hope Springs has made a local name for itself with its Top Hat vodka. It now has branched out into Jetty, choosing the infamous anise-flavored liquor as its second spirit.

To make absinthe, they recruited spirits pro Jaz Jarzewiak. Though Jarzewiak is only a few years into legal drinking age, he holds the position of master distiller at Hope Springs. His training in Atlanta’s hospitality industry, especially at the cocktail-centric Holeman & Finch, kindled his passion for spirits. And, he’s eager to share both his experience and information with Atlanta, as well as push against some of the misconceptions surrounding the spirit, including that it’s banned. (Absinthe has been legal in the United States since the 1960s.)

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But, that reputation is part of the draw, according to experts, and why those who’ve never tasted absinthe still may know its name.

"I think the appeal of absinthe is its mythology and accoutrements, at least, at first," said Lauren Vogelbaum, co-host of the Atlanta-based food science podcast "FoodStuff," which recently focused an entire episode on the myths and facts surrounding absinthe. (Full disclosure: I also work at HowStuffWorks, the podcast network that produces "FoodStuff.")

“The association with artists and madmen, the gorgeous glass-and-silver fountains, it’s all a little mysterious and sexy,” she said. “But, then you drink it, and, assuming you don’t hate aniseed, it’s this lovely balance of sweet and bitter.”

According to the Wormwood Society, a U.S.-based nonprofit that provides “current, historically and scientifically accurate information about absinthe,” true absinthe never has held hallucinogenic properties. Reports of such from the history books more likely were due to severe alcohol withdrawal or alcoholic hallucinosis. These days, marketers in less-regulated countries still tend to play up the myth.

The best way for curious drinkers new to absinthe to learn about it, Jarzewiak said, is simply to give it a taste. Jarzewiak’s recipe for Jetty went through about five dozen iterations, he said, before he settled on a blend.

Jetty’s flavor foundation is the absinthe “holy trinity”: anise, fennel and wormwood, all of which infuse their flavors into a wheat-distilled spirit base. But, Jarzewiak also wanted to accent his absinthe with local flavors, and looked to his passion for hiking, particularly at Sweetwater Creek State Park, to incorporate piney, herbacious flavors.

“There’s a little bit of a bark, foresty (flavor profile),” he said of his recipe, “with a little bit of thyme, with some macerated black peppercorn to add spicy brightness.”

Jetty already has made its way onto the shelves of a number of local bars. Intown bars, like the French-leaning steakhouse Marcel and the stylish Decatur destination Kimball House, known for its full absinthe service, are pouring Jetty. It’s not just an Atlanta thing: Suburban spots like Smyrna pizzeria Zucca and the Woodstock pub Donovan’s Irish Cobbler also feature the spirit.

Sean Gleason is the beverage director at Biltong Bar, the Ponce City Market cocktail den that's opening a second location in Buckhead later this year. Gleason is championing Jetty to his guests, serving it solo, and in a cocktail.

“I think it’s awesome that someone is making absinthe in Georgia,” he said. “I grew up one town over from their distillery, actually. We like to feature unique products, especially local ones, so it was an easy fit for our backbar. It’s a really solid, classic-profile absinthe. Great herbal depth, good wormwood presence, nice louche.”

Louche is the phenomenon that turns absinthe from clear to cloudy and milky when water’s added, as happens with other anise-flavored spirits, like ouzo, pastis and raki. In addition to the dramatic visuals, adding water to absinthe allows the flavors to mellow.

“With the Jetty, I prefer drinking it perroquet-style, with sugar, mint, cold water and lemon oils,” Gleason said.

Where to find absinthe in metro Atlanta

Hope Springs Distillery Tasting Room is open 4-7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and for special occasions. 4839 Railroad Ave., Lilburn. 770-861-6397, hopespringsdistillery.com.

Jetty Absinthe is available at a number of Atlanta-area shops, including:

Branded Barrel, 735 Pleasant Hill Road, Lilburn. 470-299-5094, brandedbarrel.com.

Green's Beverages, 737 Ponce De Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-872-1109, greensbeverages.com.

H&F Bottle Shop, 2357 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. 404-841-4070, hfbottleshop.com.

Total Wine & More, 380 North Point Circle, Alpharetta, 770-772-0694 and 740 Ernest W. Barrett Parkway NW, Kennesaw, 678-354-0168, totalwine.com.


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