The Absinthe Maker: Jaz Jarzewiak is barely of drinking age, but he’s the only person in Georgia to legally bottle and sell the storied spirit

Jetty Absinthe is produced at Lilburn’s Hope Springs Distillery
Jetty Absinthe Atlanta
Jaz Jarzewiak holds a glass of Jetty Absinthe.

Photograph by John E. McDonald

Jaz Jarzewiak pours a chartreuse-colored spirit into a small glass measuring cup and slowly adds cold water. The mixture forms a milky white cloud, and the startling scent of anise—bright, green, botanical—wafts from the drink.

Jarzewiak is preparing a taste of Jetty Absinthe, a small-batch spirit he crafted at Hope Springs Distillery in downtown Lilburn. A master distiller by day and a server by night, Jarzewiak is a round-the-clock student of the green fairy. After months of experimenting with 60 different recipes, he began bottling Jetty Absinthe for sale to the public in November.

So, how did a 23-year-old from Columbus come to make the louche, legendary sip of the Parisian demimonde—which, up until a decade ago, had been banned in the United States for nearly a century? Born in Missouri and raised in Georgia, Jarzewiak came to Atlanta five years ago to study industrial design and architecture at Georgia Tech and ended up getting a server job at Holeman & Finch Public House, considered the birthplace of Atlanta’s craft-cocktail movement. He was only 19 (legally, he could serve alcohol but not consume it), and his experience at Linton and Gina Hopkins’ influential Buckhead gastropub was formative. “I was thrust into this culinary adventure of a job,” he recalls. “I absolutely loved it.”

He wanted to know everything about spirits and how they were made, or as he puts it: “Why is tequila ‘tequila,’ and why is whisky ‘whisky’?” When Jarzewiak chooses to pursue something, he doesn’t hold back; after deciding he wanted to be a writer, he penned four novels, two of which are available as Kindle editions on Amazon. He started his booze odyssey by homebrewing—“making everything from wine to all-grain beer”—and eventually became enthralled with digestifs like amari and absinthe.

Jetty Absinthe Atlanta
Jetty Absinthe

Photograph by John E. McDonald

A heady, botanical-based intoxicant that originated in Switzerland in the early 1800s, le fée verte (the green fairy) became associated with the wild visions of van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Rimbaud, and Edgar Allan Poe. To educate himself on absinthe, Jarzewiak watched the French-language film Chartreuse Liqueur, which describes the technical side of chartreuse production, so that he could soak up details about the manufacture of the green herbal spirit that’s a cousin of absinthe.

“Spirits are the perfect blend of art and science,” says Jarzewiak. “If you don’t understand the science of something, then you won’t understand exactly why it is happening and what you can change to make it happen in a different way. And if you don’t appreciate the art of something, you aren’t going to be expressive enough to make it worth enjoying.”

When his plans to open his own distillery fell through, he struck up a relationship with the husband-and-wife team of Betsey Dahlberg and Paul R. Allen, founders of Hope Springs. Gwinnett County’s first legal distillery since Prohibition, Hope Springs launched its inaugural product, Top Hat Vodka, in June 2017 and now is also the only commercial producer of absinthe in Georgia.

To make Jetty, Jarzewiak macerates green anise, sweet fennel, wormwood, and thyme with three gallons of neutral wheat alcohol at 85 percent strength. He uses a small, eight-gallon “milk-can still,” which he immerses in a water-bath to temper the heat. Once he creates the distillate, he colors it with fresh peppermint, lemon balm, hyssop, and black peppercorns, and seals it in a classic, dark green, Bordeaux-style bottle.

Next up for Jarzewiak: a lavender-citrus gin, an IPA-inspired gin, and a bitter-orange aperitif. He hopes to release the small-batch spirits as part of an exclusive “distiller’s select” series. True to his philosophy of making everything by hand, he recently acquired a vintage cast-iron Arab Platen printing press to emboss labels for the boutique line.

As for the Jetty label, it’s actually a reproduction of a painting Jarzewiak made of a friend on the rocks of Sweetwater Creek State Park. When the bottle is uncapped, you get a rush of the crisp, green fragrance of the outdoors. As Jarzewiak explains: “That’s me trying to put a walk through the forest in the bottle.”

This article appears in our July 2018 issue.