Where to Try Génépy in the East Bay
The mysterious Swiss Alps herbal liqueur is having a moment.
The esoteric spirit génépy is have its 15 minutes of fame on the cocktail scene.
Photo by Lance Yamamoto
If you’ve ever scanned the back wall of any well-stocked American bar, you’ve noticed, interspersed among the recognizable brands, mysterious bottles of obscure liquors that aren’t part of any house cocktail and aren’t even listed on the menu.
A recent recruit to this phalanx of mystery ingredients is génépy, a heretofore little-known herbal liqueur from the Alps that’s been slowly building buzz since it first became available in the United States a few years ago.
Génépy is the forgotten primitive ancestor of two celebrated spirits.
“Génépy is made from Artemisia glacialis, also famous as the primary alpine herb used to create the legendary Chartreuse” — a similar but more complicated Alpine liqueur made exclusively by monks — “and is still debated about as the primary ingredient in some early original absinthe recipes,” explained Brian Howard, beverage manager at Emeryville’s Honor Kitchen & Cocktails.
“It’s pale green to yellow in color; the nose is dominated by the concentrated, pungent, herbaceous nature of the herb, with a sweet mouth coating on the palate that transitions to a long, warming, minty, candy-cane, and lavender finish.”
Unlike absinthe, popular among tortured artists on Paris’ Left Bank, génépy has traditionally only been served at Alpine ski resorts in Switzerland, Italy, and especially the Savoy region of France, where it’s regarded as the indigenous drink.
“I have plenty of French tourists who come through and gasp with astonishment, ‘You have génépy? It’s only served in the Alps!’” laughed Jonathan Carter, bar manager at Zut Tavern.
But that’s no longer true, as génépy is making inroads to the American cocktail scene.
“It’s been starting to catch on lately,” Carter continued, “but it’s not too common. So far I’ve noticed it in five places in the Bay Area.”
Howard agreed: “Génépy is having its 15 minutes of fame.”
While génépy remains too esoteric to have yet earned a place as an ingredient in any cocktail permanently featured on East Bay menus, it does occasionally crop up in seasonal craft cocktails at local hotspots — recipes archived in secret back-catalogs, from which you can order.
Hopscotch always keeps a bottle of génépy behind the bar; ask for the back-catalog cocktail Elf on a Shelf comprising génépy, Armagnac brandy, Carpano Antica, rye, and mint. At A16 Rockridge, you can special order the El Pepe (génépy, mezcal, lemon juice, Angostura bitters, and basil). If Shinmai isn’t still serving the omnicultural Hibagon — made with génépy, kikori rice whisky, Smith & Cross rum, Becherovka, fuji apple juice, and Saigon cinnamon syrup — ask for it. At Zut Tavern, request the Casual Acquaintance (génépy, rum, lime, tarragon, and mint syrup), while Honor Kitchen’s mixologists should know how to craft their East of Eden: génépy, tequila, celery juice, lemon, agave, and basil.
Or you could just order a shot.
“Génépy is absolutely drinkable straight,” Carter said. “That’s how they do it in Europe.”