Marc Bernhard developed a taste for licorice as a child. His mother, originally from France, would make him anise candies and cookies. He lives in Washington close to Seattle, often called “the absinthe center of the United States” by wormwood lovers, where he discovered that anise was a large part of the ambiguous green spirit’s flavor profile. He was hooked.
Bernhard experimented with making small-batch absinthe, which led to an herb farming business. “A lot of the good quality herbs for making absinthe are not available, so I had to be able to make sure I had the best quality herbs to make my homemade absinthe,” he says. He began selling the extra, and when absinthe making became legal in the United States, he decided to open his own distillery.
Pacific Distillery followed in the footsteps of Dry Fly Distilling that opened in Washington one year prior, except that Pacific does not qualify for the craft distilling license that Dry Fly has. To be a craft distiller, or essentially a farm distiller, producers must source more than 50& of the materials from within the state. Many of the essential absinthe ingredients (like wormwood and anise) are available more widely in other countries.
Only craft distillers are able to pour samples of their products in-house, but Bernhard still encourages anyone to stop by the distillery and see what he’s up to. He’ll be making one of his two flagship products: Pacifique Absinthe or Voyager Gin.
Growing herbs and making absinthe is what got Bernhard interested in distilling gin. “[The two spirits] are very similar in the way they’re distilled, and there’s a lot of crossover of botanicals,” he says. Voyager contains juniper, coriander, licorice root, cardamom, aniseed, orange, orris root, angelica, cassia, and cumin. The popular recipe was chosen by 30 blind tasters who came to Pacific to try 7 of Bernhard’s gin batches.
“I took the best part of one recipe and the best part of another, put them together, and made Vodyager gin,” Bernhard says proudly. He should be proud — the spirit has won numerous awards, notably a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2011.
It’s difficult to tell what Bernhard is the most passionate about: absinthe, or herbs, or gin. He seems equally fired up about all three. The exceptional quality of all of his products reflects his genuine excitement for the entire process.