Whiskey with a difference.
WORMWOOD ( ARTEMISIA ABSINTHIUM) is a wild plant in the daisy family native to northern European mountainsides. It is nature’s richest source of alpha-thujone, a chemical compound believed to have mind-illuminating powers. It tastes harshly bitter.
None of that stopped Sasha Selimotic and Taras Hrabowsky, cofounders of Standard Wormwood Distillery, from building a line of spirits around it. ‘We were drawn to the mythology,’ says Selimotic. ‘Before absinthe was legalised, it was a lost ingredient. We had to bootstrap wormwood’s redefinition outside the traditional palate.’
The business partners, who have known each other since primary school in upstate New York, were home distillers – moonshiners, really – in Brooklyn for nearly a decade before deciding to go legit. Their spirits maintain a creative DIY character. They source grains upstate, rye being a hardy winter grain typical of northern whiskies, use wormwood that’s grown, cut, dried, and sifted on the Hrabowsky family herb farm in the Hudson Valley, and do their spirit runs in a retooled, stainless-steel-jacketed kettle they recovered from an old bagel factory in Queens.
One spirit run yields about 900 bottles and takes about eight months, actually a remarkably short time for such a beautifully amber, warm, and woody whiskey that goes down easy in classic cocktails, such as a manhattan or boulevardier. And it goes down even easier when you have it neat, undiluted by ice – perhaps because Selimotic and Hrabowsky don’t put the spirits in a barrel; they put the barrel in the spirits.
From left: Selimotic adds wood staves during distillation; Hrabowsky, whose family grows botanicals in the Hudson Valley; the charred oak adds colour and richness.