Make “Absinthe” at home?


Delicate Bitterness from Poland

Not really. This is something rather different, with a noble and ancient pedigree which actually predates absinthe (Stefan Falimierz 1534) Absinthist in Poland has sent us a picture of this little known wormwood drink, which is called Piołunowka (the Polish word for wormwood is piołun – the French word for wormwood is absinthe) According to Wikipedia:

Piołunowka has much higher levels of thujone than absinthe because it is not distilled. Many people produce it today to try and feel the ‘absinthe effect’

The level of thujone in Absinthist’s Piołunowka is unknown – anyone care to make a guess? There are of course numerous places that sell a ready to use absinthe kit  although this Polish drink uses only wormwood, no costly star anise, fennel, calamus, hyssop and so forth. As I have mentioned before I have been given a strange recipe for Známý likér absintovy (well known liquor absinth) from a late 19th Century Czech text. It seems to call for the addition of lemon oils – as well as the usual absinthe regulars – rather curious, which is why I am currently checking it with a more informed source. This recipe also requires no distillation – a kind of folk recipe absinthe which could be fun to try for Christmas!

What I also find very curious is that Absinthist – an expert herbalist – describes his drink as having a “delicate bitterness“. This is contrary to what others preach at us. We are told that macerating wormwood in high proof alcohol creates something “vile-tasting and insanely bitter” – quite wrong it seems.

The very same writer has penned another polemic on the wrongs of Czech absinth, written words which cry out for a little sugar when reading, due to their bitterness. The writer might like to ponder the words of wiser men: “The worst offense that can be committed by a polemic is to stigmatize those who hold a contrary opinion as bad and immoral men.” (John Stuart Mill).

Anyway, fancy making piołunówka? Here’s how simple it really is:

I have made piołunówka 39.6%, rye-base, no sugar, assemblage of distillate and macerate. Wormwoody to the boot, pleasant herbal aroma, delicate bitterness, medium alcohol bite.

The recipe is simple, makes 300ml of piołunówka

1 coffeespoon of dried wormwood leaves macerate for 24h in 100ml of vodka, then strain and dilute it with 200ml of vodka, let it rest, sugar if you wish. The simplest recipes yield the best results.

The main difference between it and Falimierz’ s recipe: no sugar, wormwood leaves instead of flowertops, slightly less strong.

I wonder if Absinthist actually used spirytus rektyfikowany? A high proof Polish spirit that I understand cannot be legally exported from Poland. The comments box below is open for comments about this drink / alternative recipes – and nothing else.

18 responses to “Make “Absinthe” at home?

  1. For piołunówka, I have used rectified spirit distilled for that very occassion in Szczytno and diluted to a required strength with spring Mazurian water, if I am usually using water from my own source-“Hemar”.

    Hence, combining either excellent quality spirit and water or very good vodka is the key to success. I would suggesting using rye or wheat ones to achieve best neutrality of the taste and let wormwood explode with all its nuances.

    For any other creations, I do recommend Polish spirytus rektyfikowany (either from Lublin or Warsaw, eventually Białystok’s 96% vol version, very smooth and delicate).

  2. I should also add, that we are discussing three different things: piołunówka is nalewka (40%-50% on average), absinthe is liquor (65%-74% on average), whereas absinthe kit is recent invention that has nothing to do with either piołunówka or absinthe. It is just like “tequila essence” that allegedly once added to vodka-turns it into the genuine tequila.

    Apart from choosing good spirit base, it is recommended to monitor the maceration, the beginning of yielding essential oils along with chlorophyll to alcohol is usually third hour, if you take a whiff that time, you will notice that alcohol smell is slowly disappearing.

    Second thing is tasting from time to time, how it might influence the final stage, is it too strong, too weak, too minty, whatever.

    Best, just as Falimierz required, would be young wormwood from recent (Aug/Sept) harvest, of course a dried one.

    Thus, trust your nose and mouth as every recipe for any nalewka, though sounding as simple as chicken soup’s one, requires knowledge, experience and perseverance, and time.

    Happy creating to anyone!

  3. recent invention that has nothing to do with either piołunówka or absinthe. It is just like “tequila essence” that allegedly once added to vodka-turns it into the genuine tequila.

    If you are talking about those bottles of essences that some sell today, they actually existed during the 19th Century and post ban era as well. This was a surprising discovery and adverts exist:

    a. “Steuer & Friedlander” in Prague, Vienna and Budapest circa 1880 selling these absinth essences.

    b. Batri Janouskove Praha circa 1941

    Add to alcohol and voila…absinthe! :mrgreen: Off topic anyway..sorry.

  4. Essences and “do-it-yourself-kits” have been around for a looooong time. Still – it does not create an authentic product. It really can’t get any more simple than that.

    Vodka + whiskey essence does not make whiskey.
    Vodka + tequila essence does not make tequila.
    Vodka + absinth(e) essence does not make absinth(e).
    Vodka + steeped herbs does not make absinthe.

  5. Anything made from essences has no right to be called the product it is gonna imitate.

    I have at home two essences: for “tequila” and “whisky” my neighbour bought me as a curiosity-gift and can say only this: adding them to anything will not produce the desired spirit whatsoever.

    These essences are made by Swedish firm Saturnus (which surprisingly makes a very decent and natural glögg) since 1893. Their ingredients: glycerine, aroma, citric acid, water, E202-211.

    Absinthe extract is mentioned in Fritsch’s treatise as the one being manufactured by the firm of G. Précheur, 13 Rue Quincampoix, Paris.

  6. My fault – this is now getting way off topic.

    Thanks for the info on G. Précheur – if you know of any German companies that made these mixes I am very curious.

    This is still a mystery:

    “I ordered a double glass of absinthe which is in fashion right now. It’s a kind of green “dryák”. Like dissolved lizards. I drunk it all. Then I felt good”

    Prague Nights by František Kubka ( 1943)

    piołunówka service will now resume…I hope..

  7. Hopefully, Markus, you have no connection with these guys:

    who are also essence-making company from Sweden (STRANDS the name).

    Coming back to topic, here is a modern piołunówka recipe (published in “Kuchnia Polska” cook-book in 1987) which I, personally, do not like, but anyway:

    20g of dried wormwood (not specified which parts) macerate in half a litre of vodka for a week (too long).

    One glass (50ml?) of that alcoholate add to 1 litre of alcohol at 50% vol. Colour (for what?) with 30g of caramel.

    That recipe reminds me of infamous kosher “piołunówkas” sold in Poland since 1950’s which were really vile-tasting and apart from worst alcohol base, had no herbal complexity.

  8. Kosher? Like kosher slivovice from Jelinek?


  9. Yes, something like that.

    The best slivovice I have had from your neigbour, however, were Chalupárska (very first batches) and Bošácka.

    We have kosher one made here which is a complete failure thanks to wrong method of aging; if Jelinek uses the same ideas and bearing in mind, its price is far too high for the product slivovitz is, I might be worried a bit.

    On the other hand, Jelinek’s Moravská Zlata Švestka (not kosher, at least it was not mentioned on the label) was excellent, very fruity with delicate plum aroma .

    Personally, I recommend Łącka Śliwowica, the best in the class made continuously since the 12th CE, if not commercially-available.

  10. For Scotty: awaiting your result! Have you got our spirit or will you replace it for something else?

    According to tradition, piołunówka, just like several one-herb nalewkas, should not be aged, so adding these chips might be a nice experiment but might affect the taste.

    Here, we usually age fruit nalewkas or those containing a variety of herbs (Benedektynka or Bernardynka, etc).

  11. Hi all, the spirit available here in the state liquor store is a 96% spirit made from grain. I’m not sure which grain is used as the label only states grain spirit. I’ll see if I can contact the distiller to find out which grain they use. Maybe I will only put chips in half the batch and consume the other half immediately.

  12. Hi again. The brand of neutral grain spirits used is Clear Springs, 95% abv, made from corn, owned by Clear Spring Distilling Company in Clermont, Kentucky, also home of James B. Beam Distillery. According to Bourbon Enthusiast forum ( Jim Beam acquired Clear Spring in 1966.

    Absinthist, the piołunówka turned out to be a golden color, not at all what the photo above looks like. I’m putting together some questions for you to clarify the procedural process of the recipe, if you will indulge my ignorance.

    I understand what you you mean by “delicate bitterness.” Not at all “gnarly” (as we say here on the left coast) like raw wormwood. The bitterness nails the tongue immediately yet quickly sustains a rather dry horizontal profile, followed by a matrix of notes that I haven’t yet got words for. How about serving tips? I think that a dram or two on the rocks would rock.

    My immediate reaction was to want to put some in a cocktail. This could be the basis for a new cocktail mixer. What’s the word on this type of usage for piołunówka in your lands? Anyhow, thanks for the recipe.

  13. I have not worked with corn, but I like Beam’s creations, so choice was good.

    As for the colour, have no idea, but it might be dependent on what wormwood you have used (bought or home-grown); when I was making it for the very first time, using dried wormwood from pharmacy, it went golden yellow out as well and needed sugaring.

    All questions are of course welcome.

    Piołunówka as any nalewka should be served in shot glass slightly chilled (put it for 15-30 mins into the freezer), ice might be a nice addition, but chilling is more effective in my opinion. It can be served in room temperature as well. Nalewka is not a shooter, it is something to be sipped.

    The only cocktail I know where piołunówka was used is Żółta Papuga (yellow parrot):

    1 glass of apricot liqueur
    1 glass of Wyborowa
    1 glass of Bernardine
    1/2 glass of piołunówka

  14. Hello again, finally a moment’s break from autumn chores to ask a few questions about the piołunówka.

    1. I’m curious why the sugar and wormwood quantities are strange, 168 g and 7.91 g respectively. Are these quantities converted from an old system of weights and measures?

    2. After you add the sugar and wormwood, how long do you boil the mixture, and should it be a gentle boil or a rolling boil? Is it absolutely necessary for the sugar to go into the mixture. The reason I ask is that it’s somewhat sticky to filter the liquid with the sugar in it. Often, I try to add sugar to liqueur recipes as late as possible to avoid this.

    3. I used shade-dried flowering tops of A. absinthium plants. The color of the resulting liqueur is a golden-brown.

    I looked at the piołunówka on and if I were to reduce the alcohol content of mine to 40%, it might resemble the color of the product on the website. In any event, it is rather tasty and some friends who have tried it enjoyed it.

  15. Yes, these have been converted from old system of weights and measures (I didn’t want to torment anyone with “kwarta”, “łut” , etc.)

    The boiling should last 15-30 mins, when you see the bubbles appearing you should immediately stop.

    I have used leaves, so it might be the case.

    Yeah, that one from “Nalewki i Inne” was quite tasty but oversugared, hence I have declined from using any sugar before or after.

  16. Cool, thanks. Have you visited the factory of Nalewki i Inne? Their product line and shop look very nice. Do you have any recommendations, Absinthist, for other nalewka to make? Maybe anise nalewka and fennel nalewka? Do you recommend lighting them on fire?

  17. Must have overlooked it, I have posted two recipes for anise-flavoured liquors: Kontuszówka and Dubelt Annis here:

    As one of them is actually requiring fennel, so it might answer your question.

    Personally, I light any spirit on fire only to check its proof and what might be its methanol content. Then, I usually use alcoholometer or “bubble” experiment to compare all the results.

  18. As for visiting the factory, unfortunately not yet, but I am often visiting their shop in Warsaw and asking lots of questions before purchasing anything.

    From the same line, I would highly recommend: Korzenna, Miodowa, Miód Pitny, their Pszeniczna vodka is excellent product as well.

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