Master Distiller and Owner of Pacific Distillery Marc Bernhard explains why he went back a few centuries to get the recipes for his spirits and what it means for modern drinkers.
Reflections magazine: Where did the idea for Pacific Distillery come from?
Marc Bernhard: It began as a hobby. When friends would taste what I made they would often joke that I should open a distillery. When absinthe became legal again in 2007, I decided to open a distillery to share my passion for this misunderstood and wonderful tasting spirit.
RM: Why absinthe and gin?
MB: The easy answer is that I love those two spirits. I’ve always loved the flavor of anise (the main flavor of absinthe), remembering the anise cookies my mother used to make. I also had a fondness for the juniper flavor of gin. My father used to give me small sips from the Gin & Tonics he would enjoy occasionally.
RM: What does it mean when you say you make Old World spirits using Old World skills and equipment?
MB: The recipe/formula for our absinthe is from an old French distiller’s manual from 1855. I actually own the antique book, and our Pacifique Absinthe is made exactly from one of the formulas in the book. Our processes for distilling our products are the same craft methods the best distilleries of the 18th and 19th centuries embraced. We use whole organic botanicals in the making of our products. We don’t use artificial flavors or colors or chemicals that are so common in many of todays’ liquor products. The stills we use are genuine copper-alembic potstills that are handmade from a Portuguese still manufacturer that has been in business making stills since 1837. These are the same type of stills that have been in use for centuries. There is no automation in the running of these stills; it requires a skilled distiller to operate.
RM: Why go with Old World techniques versus new?
MB: Part of it is because I have the romantic notion of bringing back spirits that are rooted in history. Part of it is because I think that in many cases the quality of the liquors and spirts from the best distillers of the 19th century are of a higher level that you don’t find today. Much of what you see on store shelves today is just mass-produced alcohol with artificial flavors and colors added.
RM: You grow your own herbs for the spirits as well. Why is this important to you and your product?
MB: We grow a significant portion of the botanicals used in our Pacifique Absinthe ourselves because it is brings us closer as distillers to the core of what makes our products unique.
RM: Absinthe has a reputation for being extremely strong, even hallucinogenic. Is this true for your product?
MB: The reputation of absinthe being hallucinogenic is, and has always been, a complete myth. Absinthe, outside the effect of alcohol, has never had any psychoactive or hallucinogenic effect. Much of that myth had its beginnings in the late 19th century as propaganda put forth by the wine producers seeking to regain market share lost to absinthe, and the anti-alcohol prohibition movement seeking to ban all alcoholic beverages. It is unfortunate that some disreputable companies making fake absinthe use and propagate these myths as a marketing tool to promote their ersatz products.
RM: What’s in store for the future of Pacific Distillery? Do you have plans for growth?
MB: Yes, we have plans for growth and new products. At this time we are working on producing a vodka that we hope to launch at our tasting room soon. We will also be investigating producing, in limited batches, unique liqueurs and spirits that once were favorites of the past. Also, we are in the beginning phases of re-creating cocktail bitters from old 19th century protocols.
RM: What are your favorite recipes for your gin and absinthe?
MB: In addition to the time-honored Absinthe French Drip (the traditional method of consuming absinthe) and the Gin & Tonic, I do have a couple of favorite cocktails that use our Pacifique Absinthe and Voyager Gin.
One of Marc Bernhard’s favorite gin cocktails is the Last Word Cocktail, as re-discovered by bartender extraordinaire Murray Stenson:
3/4 oz. Voyager Gin
3/4 oz. green Chartreuse
3/4 oz. maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice
Tools: shaker, strainer
Method: Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled glass.
Bernhard also really loves the Monkey Gland cocktail. It features absinthe in a remarkable way:
1 ½ oz. Voyager Gin
1 ½ oz. fresh orange juice
1 tsp. grenadine
1 tsp. simple syrup
1 tsp. Pacifique Absinthe
Tools: shaker, strainer
Method: Shake all ingredients in a shaker for 10 seconds and strain into a chilled glass.