Génépi or genepy (in French) or genepì (in Italian ) is a liqueur or aperitif, similar in makeup to absinthe; Chartreuse is an augmented form of génépi concocted in the early 18th century. The word is also used to refer to alpine plants of the genus Artemisia (commonly called wormwood) that provide the liqueur's flavor, color and effect.
Capitalized, Genepi can also refer to the region in Franco-Italic Savoy adjacent to the Aosta Valley where the plants grow and where the beverage originated, as well as a mountain, a town, a stream and numerous other features in that region.
Like many European herbal liqueurs, especially those used as digestifs, génépi can be an acquired taste. It is less sweet than many digestifs, and the flavor imparted by the herbs is reminiscent of chamomile or feverfew. It is naturally pale gold in color, but some varieties have a final maceration of the wormwood which yields a light green color. A few commercial products are made bright green through the addition of food coloring.
Because génépi is produced by steeping the aromatic wormwood flower heads in a strong, clear alcohol such as vodka or pure grain alcohol, it cannot be considered an equivalent to Spanish aguardiente, French eau-de-vie or German Branntwein because all of these require their plant ingredients and flavorings be distilled with the alcohol, or, in a few cases, fermented. Further separating it is its added sugar content, which clearly marks it as liqueur rather than spirits.
The word génépi has uncertain etymological origins, but it is strongly associated with the Savoy region. The Petit Larousse Illustré says that génépi "is the generic name of different aromatic plants typical of the Alps". Zingarelli defines the term "genepí" by distinguishing between two meanings. The first refers to the plant, an unspecified member of the Artemisia genus, while the second refers to the beverage resulting from it and from other Alpine plants. The Enciclopedia Espasa contends that "genippi" is the native Alpine word for a particular group of plants of the genus Artemisia and lists their names and characteristics.
French writers distinguish between two kinds of génépi: white or female génépi (botanically A. rupestris, formerly known as A. umbeliformis Vill., A. laxa Lamarck and A. eriantha Tem., among others) and black or male génépi (botanically A. genipi, also known as A. spicata (Baumg.) Wulfen ex Jacq. and A. rupestris Vill., among others).
The wormwoods known as génépi are endemic to the Alps and Pyrenees, but can also be found in the Apennines and other mountainous regions in the western and central north Mediterranean. However, in the strictest sense the name génépi applies only to those members of the genus Artemisia growing in the Savoy region known as Genepi. While the name clearly reflects a geographical origin, the European Union does not protect French génépi liqueur under its Protected Geographical Status system. Instead, as of 2008, while génépi is recognized as a category of spirit to be regulated by the EU, only génépi of Italian origin (from Val d’Aosta and Piemonte) is protected. Under the EU legislation, the name génépi is limited in use to those Italian products, but unlike under systems of appellation, there are few regulations or limitations on how the product is produced or what ingredients are used in making it. A beverage may be labelled and sold as génépi only if it complies with general EU requirements for liqueur, such as a minimum sugar content (expressed as invert sugar) of 100 grams per litre.
Swiss chocolate is sold in France (and no doubt elsewhere) with the wording in English (as well as in French and German) "Milk Chocolate with a Swiss Genepi Liquor filling".
As of 2011 it does not appear that the French AOC system recognizes génépi from Savoy or anywhere else.
For making génépi liqueur, three species of Artemisia (the genus of the wormwoods) are particularly valued: A. rupestris (white génépi or rock wormwood), A. genipi (black génépi) and A. umbelliformis (sometimes called yellow génépi). The botanical identification of the plants traditionally collected for use in making génépi liqueur is complicated by significant reclassification work in the genus Artemisia, spurred by advances in molecular assay and cladistics, that has resulted in the obsolescence of names used in older literature. It is likely that a wide range of wormwoods native to the mountainous areas of Spain, France, Switzerland and Italy have been used to make the liqueur, with personal taste, tradition and availability shaping the selection. Other species known to have been used at one time or another in producing génépi are A. glacialis, A. pontica and A. borealis. Flowers of "Alsem der Alpen", the botanically related Achillea erba-rotta subsp. moschata known in English as musk milfoil, are sometimes added or used to substitute entirely for one or more of the génépi species. Collectively, these various Alpine plants that blossom at high altitudes during July and August are known in German as “Edelraute”.
Génépi at home
Génépi can be made at home through the simple addition of prepared herbs to vodka or grain alcohol. The chopped, dried wormwood flowers are sold in southwestern Europe in small sachets similar to tea bags. Home-brewing instructions, as well as ingredients, can be found online. For the more adventurous, the flowers and herbs can be harvested in July and August. After drying and chopping, the herbal mass can be enclosed in cheesecloth for steeping. Each Alpine mountaineer has a recipe for génépi, but a generic recipe for a liter would require forty flowers and forty sugar lumps to be added to 40% alcohol by volume.
There have been a number of famous liqueurs that resembled génépi or shared significant ingredients with it. The most famous, created in the early 1700s by Carthusian monks in the mountains beyond Grenoble, is Chartreuse. The worldwide product as we know it today (through brands such as Grande Chartreuse and A.T.C. Chartreuse) is considerably more complex than traditional génépi, but its foundation flavor clearly comes the same aromatic plant. On the other extreme, small producers throughout the Savoy have occasionally bottled and made available their local product, and many restaurateurs in the Savoy produce and sell their own.
Widely available varieties include Amaro centerbe (30% vol.), Alpestre (38% vol.), Millefiori (38% vol.), Trisulti brandy (45% vol) and Vegetale (38% vol.). Other génépi brands include Fiori Alpini and Alpenkraeuter. Génépi des Alpes purports to be based only on the wormwood colloquially known as "mutellina" (today known botanically as A. umbelliformis). Another elixir, Barathier, represents itself as being composed of seven herbs and flowers, although none are identified.
A génépi-like product called Izarra (Star) is typical of Bayonne in the Basque Country along the border of France and Spain. Representative of the far western edge of the génépi tradition, it is available in both green and yellow versions.
For the most part, there are myriad brands of the liqueur available, many simply labeled "génépi", though sometimes accompanied by the legend “Fleurs des Alpes”. The drink continues to evolve, though. Bernard & C., a firm based in Val Germanasca in the middle of the Alps, is producing Génépi blanc, the first commercial génépi that is clear rather than yellow or green. It is supposed to be based only on the "spicata" variety of wormwood (today classified as Artemisia genipi. In 2000 a liqueur branded as Génépi des Pères Chartreux premiered, based on neutral spirits instead of the nearly universal “eau-de-vie”. The goal is to provide a "cleaner" drinking experience, but opinions differ as to whether the difference is even perceptible.
- Marie-Claude Delahaye: Le Génépi. Equinoxe, 2008, ISBN 978-2-84135-545-7
- The Génépy at the Valle d'Aosta official tourism website
- Recipes from the Alps: Génépy, website of the Académie de Grenoble (Internet Archive)
- Article on Génépi in French Wikipedia
- Nicola Zingarelli, Vocabolario della lingua italiana, 12ª ed. a cura di Miro Daglioti e Luigi Risiello, Ed. Zanchilelli, Bologna, 1990 ad vocem "Genepì".
- Ed. París, 1918.
- Ad vocem "Artemisia".
- European Parliament (2008). "Annex II:32 (Spirit Drinks), Annex III:32 (Geographical Origin)" (PDF). European Union: Regulation (EC) No. 110/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 January 2008 on the definition, description, presentation, labelling and the protection of spirit drinks (in English). World Intellectual Property Organization. Retrieved 2011-06-28.
- Alexa Murray (2007). "A Spirited EU". shucking oysters, shelling peas: ruminations, fulminations and recipes (in English). blogspot. Retrieved 2011-06-28.
- "The Plant List: A working list of all plant species" (in English). New York Botanical Garden. Retrieved 2011-06-28.
- Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity: Traditional Genepy from the Cuneo valleys