Picture Julie Andrews twirling euphorically across an Austrian mountaintop in the opening scene from The Sound of Music. Now envision a similar panorama in the Swiss Alps with lush, green, rolling hills of soft grass covering a mountainside, just like the one where the fictional character Heidi and her grandfather lived. In the summer, specks of colorful wildflowers nestle in the soft, wispy blades of grass. Scattered among this vibrant array of posies, the silvery genepy thrives on the hillsides of the western Alps. Those who wish to gather the tiny golden flowers of the genepy must be willing to scale the steep slopes of the mountain; these Alpine herbs grow at very high elevations of 2,400 meters or more.
The golden buds of the genepy plant are transformed into a liqueur of the same name. This herbal mountain dew; genepy or genepi des Alpes, is known as a natural elixir indigenous to the western Alps. The genepy plant comes from the wormwood family, more specifically, Artemisia genipi, glacialis, and mutellina. Even though a wide assortment of these herbal plants dot the mountains and valleys throughout the region, only these three varieties are harvested for the liqueur.
It should be noted that the illegal, mind-altering drink, absinthe, banned in many nations for its hallucinatory qualifies, is made from a different wormwood plant, Artemisia absinthe, If a little psychedelic head-trip is what you're looking for, be aware that absinthe is illegal in most countries and its use carries strict penalties, especially in Europe. Imbibing a large or concentrated quantity of absinthe, also known as wormwood, can be toxic. (Enthusiasts can read all about absinthe in Art Culinaire, Issue 49.)
Initially having a pale golden sheen, genepy's color intensifies and develops into a tawny shade over time. However, some genepy has a greenish tint depending on the amount of chlorophyll in the plants. This version is usually sold in dark bottles to preserve the color. Comparable to grappa, genepy is quite harsh and bitter and, therefore, is often added to espresso or strong coffee in order to dilute its strong taste.
There is no authority that oversees the manufacture, sale or consumption of this little-known spirit. In fact, in the French Alps, there are no rules at all governing the production of this liqueur. Therefore, it is common in Europe for mountaineers to make their own genepy. A mixture of pure alcohol, water, and the dried flowers of the plant are all that are needled to create a version of this Alpine elixir for home consumption.
Genepy is marketed under some labels for commercial sale but has a small audience. These commercial versions are most often sold as regional products and poured in local bars and restaurants. Contrary to the simpler infusion method of home-made genepy, the commercial product is made by artisans and distilled to extract the natural flavors of the plant.
Aside from being solely an alcoholic drink, genepy is also an ingredient in local products like chocolate and jams. However, the classic way to enjoy this drink is to kick back at a ski station in the heart of winter and dig into some hearty fondue or tartiflette--a traditional Alpine dish of Reblochon cheese, lardons, and potatoes-- accompanied by a tiny glass of this potent liqueur. After dinner, sip it with an espresso. With a high alcohol content of 40%, genepy can make those cold winter nights feel a whole lot warmer. So the next time you are skiing in Chamonix or frolicking among the nooks and crannies of the sunny Alps, make sure to indulge in a drop (or two) of this unique beverage.
Conrad III, Barnaby. Absinthe History in a Bottle. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1988.
Large Rubren. "Genepy." <http://www.genepy.com/accueil_fr/genepi/genepi.html>(Accessed April 10, 2002).
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|Title Annotation:||European alpine liqueur|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2002|
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