Delilah's Sweet 16 Absinthe
Green Fairy–fanatics develop a new spirit.
Fairies, hallucinations, murderous rages: “It’s all bunk,” says Sonja Kassebaum, who runs North Shore Distillery in Lake Bluff with her husband, Derek. The pair rolled out Sirène Absinthe Verte last year and recently teamed up with absinthe-fanantic and Delilah’s owner Mike Miller to develop a new absinthe, Delilah’s Sweet 16, released in honor of the bar’s 16th anniversary. Here’s how it’s made—with a couple of secrets left up to your Green Fairy–fueled imagination.
A third-party distillery converts common grains—corn, wheat—into a neutral, low-proof alcohol. It’s refined in a still until it has virtually no flavor.
Once distilled, the spirit is shipped to North Shore Distillery. “It’s the blank canvas,” Derek says. “And what we’re creating is kind of the artwork on the canvas.”
The three traditional building-block flavors of absinthe are anise seed and fennel (both of which have a licorice-like flavor) and wormwood, a bitter herb that contains infinitesimal quantities of the chemical thujone, which was formerly believed to spur absinthe’s purported psychedelic effects. The three botanicals, along with eight secret others, macerate in the neutral spirit in the still for up to one day, releasing their natural oils.
Like a giant double boiler, a water-filled chamber provides the indirect heat that propels the distillation process. As the water heats up, the rising temperature causes the alcohol and botanicals inside to convert into vapors and rise up the copper kettle. The vapors pass through a silver tube called a condenser, which cools the hot vapors, condensing them into an aromatic liquid, about 150 proof, that drips out of the still and is collected in jugs. The distillant is then transferred to a stainless-steel tank and diluted with water to bring it down to a drinkable 120 proof. This resulting liquid could be bottled as white absinthe.
To give the spirit its signature color and to add complexity of flavor, more dry herbs, including hyssop (used primarily for its green color) and lemon balm (to add notes of mint and citrus) are added to the distillant in a 30-gallon tank.
After the absinthe has developed its color, it passes through two filters, removing the leaves and any other material, before being bottled and corked.
At Delilah’s, bartenders top a fluted glass filled with absinthe with a slotted spoon holding a sugar cube. Drizzle the sugar cube with cold water from Delilah’s absinthe fountain to dissolve it, and the absinthe is ready to drink.