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Texas' first absinthe distillery is bringing the notorious spirit back to life

Derelict Airship Distillery
Photograph: Courtesy Derelict Airship Distillery

Inside Derelict Airship Distillery’s Bastrop, Texas, warehouse, the smells of fennel and anise cling to the air as Matt Mancuso, Derelict’s head distiller, gives a tour of the stills. He’s not making gin or whiskey, though; he’s making absinthe at the first distillery of its kind in the State of Texas. And it’s not the absinthe you think you know.

Mancuso, Jessica Leigh Graves and Chris McLaughlin founded Derelict in 2015 and released their first liquor to the public in early June: Violet Crown Spirits Emerald absinthe. “We actually think our product is closer to what was made in the 1790s than in the past 100 years,” says Graves, who is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to absinthe and its storied history.  (The liquor was banned in the U.S. in 1912 due to a harmful chemical compound in wormwood called thujone; when it was reintroduced in 2007, the amount of thujone was limited to 10 milligrams per liter—though most of the compound doesn’t survive a proper distillation process.)   

The three main herbs in absinthe—anise, wormwood and fennel—have been an obstacle to its popularity. “The American market isn’t crazy about that black licorice flavor, the anise,” says Mancuso. “So we toned it down a lot. It means you can taste other things after your first sip.”

And it’s true—Derelict’s absinthe ($92 per bottle) is smooth and doesn’t leave an overwhelming aftertaste. But is it enough to change people’s minds about the liquor? “We wanted to release our Emerald absinthe first,” Graves says, explaining that people are accustomed to the green variety. Derelict will then release its clear opal absinthe. “The greatest part will be when people overcome their initial ignorance about absinthe,” she says. “There’s no zealot like a convert.” 

Wondering where to find Derelict's absinthe? Head to the following bars and retail stores:

Firehouse Lounge
Midnight Cowboy
Hard Luck Lounge
The Peached Tortilla
Swan Dive
The Roosevelt Room
The Ranch
King Bee Lounge
W Hotel

Retail Stores
The Austin Shaker
J&J Spirits
Beverage World
The Austin Wine Merchant

And if you're interested in taking a tour of the distillery, call ahead at 512-766-5090. Derelict Airship Distillery is located at 704 Hwy 71 in West Bastrop.

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