The Scene

Peru’s Star Union Spirits crafting mysterious liquor absinthe

Peru's Star Union Spirits has begun producing absinthe.

History and craft always have been at the forefront of Star Union Spirits.

The small-batch distillery in Peru’s former Westclox factory is renowned by spirit and cocktail enthusiasts for its thoughtful and artisanal take on distillation. Between Star Union’s commitment to using authentic ingredients and its reverence for history (eagle-eyed patrons will spot the distillery’s museum display cases packed with local artifacts, and a tasting room decorated with local architectural salvage), it should come as no surprise that a daring new addition joined the beverage lineup: absinthe.

Absinthe long has fascinated connoisseurs and curious imbibers alike with its storied history and enigmatic allure. Now, thanks to the skill and innovative spirit of the team at Star Union, residents of Starved Rock Country and beyond have the opportunity to experience this legendary – and extremely small-batch – elixir.

Star Union crafts absinthe with meticulous attention to detail and a reverence for tradition. Using a blend of carefully selected botanicals, including wormwood, anise and fennel, the distillers have created Alembic Absinthe, a spirit that captures the historic, often misunderstood, drink.

Peru's Star Union Spirits has begun producing absinthe.

There are many who only know of absinthe through reputation – hearing the tales of madness and hallucination that dogged the drink based on 1800s formulations. But Star Union seeks to dispel those, emphasizing the responsible consumption of absinthe as a celebration of the contemporary distiller’s craftsmanship and creativity.

Alembic Absinthe derives its name from the alchemical still used in its production. The still is a small tabletop vat consisting of two vessels connected by a tube used for distillation of liquids. The process is labor intensive, producing only five gallons at time.

Alembic Absinthe is part of Star Union’s expanding focus on botanical spirits.

“It’s kind of an experimental line,” said Bob Windy, who co-owns Star Union Spirits with Jeff Yosowitz. “We can do about 30 or 40 bottles at a time, small runs with a focus on consistency and quality. Along with the absinthe, we’ve been exploring other botanical spirits, including our micro-batch London Dry Gin and Ginever Dutch Gin.”

Originally conceived by local mixologist Dan Williams and developed further by Star Union distillers Aren Dean and Casey Beall, this take on absinthe features notes of licorice, anise, wormwood, lemon grass and juniper – all of which are integrated into the bottle’s illustrated label. Also included in the label design is the famed “green fairy.” One of absinthe’s many unique attributes, the “green fairy,” or “ouzo” effect, occurs when select clear spirits are exposed to water, turning a once-clear drink into a cloudy-green beverage through a process known as louching.

Peru's Star Union Spirits has begun producing absinthe.

The most popular way to serve absinthe, and the way visitors can enjoy it in the Star Union tasting room, involves an ornate fountain dripping icy water onto a sugar cube suspended above the clear drink. In a few magical minutes, the cube will dissolve and leave drinkers with an opaque spirit that tastes as complex and good as it looks.

“We have a growing reputation as a place that’s really embracing artisanal spirits,” Windy said. “So, we want to make sure that when you come into our place, you’re having a unique and memorable moment – and that’s what’s so special about sharing an absinthe fountain. It’s an experience as much as it is a great drink.”