Génépi: the Next Cult Liqueur?
Article and Photos by Virginia Miller
Génépi (in Italian) or Genepy (in French)… have you met? This herbal liqueur is set to hit your favorite craft cocktail bar soon, if it hasn’t already. Besides the liqueur, the word also refers to alpine Artemisia plants (in the wormwood family), common to mountainous regions of France, Switzerland and Italy, rumored to have been used in fellow herbal liqueurs, Chartreuse and absinthe. Think of it not as a replacement for Chartreuse or absinthe, as it’s quite different with its own unique properties, but as an alternative, and particularly compared to the former, a far more affordable one.
Peter Schaf of Tempus Fugit Spirits says, “[Genepi/y] is still debated about as the primary ingredient in some early original absinthe recipes… the liqueur was consumed by hikers and skiers in the mountains to aid the dilation of heart blood vessels at high altitudes… Almost all Génépi liqueurs are macerated and are made from one or more of the sub-species: Génépi noir (Artemisia genipi), Génépi des glaciers (Artemisia glacialis), or, the most rare, florally aromatic and desirable, Génépi blanc (Artemisia umbelliformis).”
I first tried this herbaceous, sweet, layered liqueur from a bottle a dear friend brought back for me during her European travels last year. This summer while in New Orleans at Tales of the Cocktail, I discovered upon returning to one of my favorite Nola bars, Loa, that Bar Manager Alan Walter had ordered 30 bottles of the same brand, Guillaumette, my friend had brought me and was using it in cocktails. Nearby, returning to another beloved bar, Bellocq, I sampled an elegant cocktail from their upcoming menu mixing Genepy and Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, adding subtle notes of chocolate with Marie Brizard’s Creme de Cacao.
Haus Alpenz (which imports beloved product like Dolin, St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram, Cocchi), just began importing Dolin Véritable Génépy Des Alpes Liqueur ($29.99), which I saw in a few bars in Seattle last week. At the delightful Sun Liquor on Capitol Hill, Dolin’s Genepy – though typically a digestif – sparkles as an aperitif, mixed with bitter Salers Aperitif, lemon peel, Sun Liquor’s vivacious orange bitters and Zardetto Prosecco in a cocktail aptly named The Artemisia.
Upstairs from Seattle’s Tavern Law in sexy Needle & Thread, bartender Tim Nguyen shows off Genepy’s complexity with Cocchi, Cynar, rye whiskey and peach bitters in his creation, All Bets Are Off, a boozy beauty of a cocktail. Moving from that lush expression, he, too, highlights Genepy’s aperitif capabilities in a dry concoction with Campari, lime and Prosecco. Clearly, Genepy is versatile.
As Schaf points out: “Génépi is a plant that grows in the mountains and has always been hard to find (and considered impossible to cultivate, although some have claimed to do so in the USA). It was over-used medicinally in the past, and thus its harvest is VERY regulated and limited…. This makes it expensive, so most commercial brands don’t use near as much as was used in past liqueur protocols. The plant contains thujone, the chemical that caused absinthe to be banned, and thus all products containing it must be controlled and tested by the TTB, following the same rules as absinthe, i.e. less than 10mg thujone/per liter, before it can be sold in the USA.”
While it is a rare plant, currently, the bottles of Génépi/y I’ve seen have been priced about $30, making it significantly cheaper than now astronomically priced Chartreuse – again, it’s quite different from that Queen of French liqueurs but provides an interesting alternative.
Here at home in San Francisco, cocktail wizard Brian Felley of the sadly defunct Big (he’s now doing multiple cocktail pop-ups with fellow Big bartender Mo Hodges, including Mondays at Muka, Tuesdays at Alchemist) created this vivid Génépi/y cocktail with bacanora as the base, bacanora being a delicious agave spirit imported a few months back to the US for the first time from Cielo Rojo in Sonora, Mexico, exhibiting properties of both of mezcal and tequila.
Felley notes that this cocktail works just as well with tequila or mezcal if you do not have bacanora:
- 1 oz. Bacanora
- 1 oz. Génépi
- 0.5 oz. fresh lime juice
- 0.5 oz. fresh orange juice
- 2 dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters
Shake and serve up.
Génépi is lovely neat but adds complexity to each of the cocktails I’ve enjoyed it in from New Orleans to Seattle. Peter Schaf aptly describes its taste profile: “… it has a taste and aroma somewhat like a mintier, sweeter and less bitter absinthe, without the anise/liquorice overtones, lending itself to cocktails that might favor a Chartreuse or possibly absinthe. However, the different brands have their own style and strength and thus, like absinthe, Génépi liqueur cannot be generically called for in a recipe, without variations in final flavor.”