Absinthe From The Catskills, Thanks To A Self-Taught Woman Distiller

ALAMEDA, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Bottles of St. Geo...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I loved this profile of Cheryl Lins, 56, the first distiller of absinthe in New York. Inspired by a New Yorker article about the spirit, she decided to make it herself.

She happily admits to being obsessed, and her passion has won her devoted clients.

Customers like Astor Wines & Spirits and the bar Louis 649 seem to find her lack of self-promotion sometimes amusing and mostly refreshing. Justin Chearno, manager of the wine store Uva in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said: “When she walked into the store, I saw she had that thing natural winemakers have — an authentic, obsessive thing. When she said she was selling absinthe, not wine, I was, like, ‘You’re kidding!’ Then I tasted. Her flavors and tastes were just as alive.”

Five years ago, Ms. Lins was living in a yurt in New Mexico. To escape the heat, she came to this small town in Delaware County, chosen for no apparent reason other than instinct. A computer programmer and watercolorist, she tended the fish counter at the health food store in nearby Delhi. Then one March morning in 2006, The New Yorker arrived in the mail. Inside was an article on absinthe.

Though nearly a teetotaler at the time, Ms. Lins became so possessed by the history of the green fairy that she ordered bottles (perfectly legal) from Europe. After several $100 deliveries, frugality took over. She ordered a copper-pot still from Portugal that arrived with “decorative garden ornament” written on the shipping label. Pierre Duplais’s bible of 19th-century distillation techniques became her best friend. She headed to her basement to concoct. Soon, the police were on constant patrol. “They probably thought I was running a meth lab,” she said.

“My first effort was vile,” she recalled. “I burned the herbs.” Eventually her varieties grew in sophistication, absinthe was legalized and friends encouraged her to be a professional distiller. Working as a fishmonger wasn’t a labor of love; distilling became one. “Tactile and sensory, it’s like painting,” she said.

4 thoughts on “Absinthe From The Catskills, Thanks To A Self-Taught Woman Distiller

  1. Caitlin Kelly

    Sounds like the sort of deep, thoughtful investigative work our readers here expect from us.

    I can buy Cuban cigars when I go home to Canada but I’d have to smoke them there for you.

  2. gustavo

    The image in the article isn’t Cheryl Lins’ absinthe. That brand is St. George absinthe which is made in Alameda, California.

    As an art history minor in college, I was well aquanted with the drink’s long history and myths. As soon as the US government allowed it’s importation and production in 2007, I soon had to try it.

    I’ve tasted a few absinthe brands and have quickly become a fan. Next on my wish list is a bottle of Walton Waters absinthe from Cheryl Lins’ Delaware Phoenix distillery. I’ve only read great reviews from many absinthe websites, news articles and other absinthe drinkers.

    I wish her well in her one woman enterprise.

  3. Caitlin Kelly

    gustavo, I know about the photo, but thanks for weighing in. I’m not persuaded of the allure of absinthe, but I’m always happy to celebrate a successful businesswoman. The Times piece also made clear — while finding it puzzling – that she’s a deeply modest person, which is also, in my view, attractive.

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