Those of us who are spirit or wine nerds have the experience of learning about a beverage before actually imbibing it. Learning of the process, the history, and its flavor profile, we come to a mental-taste-conclusion. Sometimes the results are different than imagined. Maybe what we thought was way off. Maybe we built it up so much that it simply doesn’t live up to expectations. Not as exciting, but maybe the best result is when we are simply pleasantly comforted with the outcome being everything we imagined. Much like simply enjoying a movie one was excited for.
Genepi comes from the Alpine areas of France and in Italy in the Val d’Aosta and Piemonte regions. It is also found in Switzerland and apparently a similar beverage exists in the Basque region straddling France and Spain but under the name Izarra. It is very much reminiscent of Chartreuse, and consequently that distillery also makes a Genepi. It is the result of an infusion with a plant which the people of the region also call Genepi. It seems to be one of the Artemisia family, though this group contains around 400 different plants. Sort of like wormwood, but not really.
Discovery and Components
Upon arriving in Italy I started seeking out Genepi at every enoteca I would peruse through. They would range in color from Chartreuse green, to neon green to faintly colored. There are clear examples and barrel aged ones. It soon became obvious that every Genepi had a different background and style. The most obvious distinctions are as follows:
- Amount of Artemisia Infused
- Blend of Artemisia
- Length of infusion of the Artemisia
- Barrel aging length, if any
- Sweetness level
- Base spirit is for sure important but rarely mentioned. Much like discussions on Amaro.
- Last and definitely least is coloring.
This makes it both exciting to discover Genepi and hard to distinguish the differences. For simple organoleptic pleasures it otherwise does not matter. Much like Amari, each brand reveals its own truth.
A note on the coloring. It seems that there are a decent amount of Genepi brands floating around that added obviously fake green coloring to the blend. This seems to be a hangover from the 70’s when it was a functioning marketing gimmick for cold skiers. Still, I have encountered a few brands that continue to do this.
Homemade & Healthy
A French friend told me his aunt’s family would produce homemade Genepy with a mix of forest botanicals. Another friend who did a WWOOF jaunt with a cheese producer in Valle d’Aosta told me how he met a local eccentric that lauded how Genepi, much like Marijuana, helped heal and keep both body and soul healthy. This healing sentiment was also among non-hippies in the region. I bet there are many locals of the region that say that Genepi is at its best when it is homemade. A sentiment also common for Southern Italians with Limoncello.
In the future I would like to add a review of brands. Though outside of Europe it may be hard to find any at all. The French vermouth company Dolin from Chambry has one in the US market.
The Coolest Drinking Ritual and Vessel
A classic way of drinking Genepi in Aosta Valley and apparently also in the Savoy region of France is through the Grille or Grolla. Sometimes translated as a friendship cup, it is a wood or ceramic vessel that looks like a multi-spouted kettle of sorts. Ones online have from 4 to 10 spouts. It’s filled with a hot grog, with the bowl being passed around and not placed down till finished. Supposedly, the mountain Police of Aoste would break one of these out upon finding a lost and cold hiker. It reminds me of two drinking traditions. One is of the British Port decanter that would have a round bottom as to keep the flow of the decanter moving across the table. This made sure to keep the glasses full, maintain the enthusiasm of the dinner and some may say to make sure the Vintage Port is finished. The other memory is of readings of Dark Ages drinking culture, of often negative references to the Germanic beer-drinking habit of sharing a large bowl among a tavern. The port decanter and the Grolla may very well be traditions harking back to that time.
In the Grolla, the traditional drink would be the Caffè alla Valdostana.
This is a mix of coffee, Genepi, Grappa, sugar, orange & lemon peels and maybe some spices. It would then be lit on fire presumably to warm it up. I still need to try this.
Genepi is great alone but it can be added to cocktails too. Much like Chartreuse it can add a texture that a good Whiskey or Mezcal do magically. I have found adding a teaspoon into dry vermouth cocktails is enticing. Even slipping some into a Manhattan can be a nice touch.
Here are two Genepy-heavy examples.
The High-Altitude Highball (from SF bar ABV):
- 1.5 Hakushu single-malt whiskey
- .5 Génépy
- 3 club soda
- Lemon slice
- 1 Genepy
- 1.5 Bianco Vermouth
- 1 Grappa infused with herbs or Gin