Distilleria San Giuseppe “Alpestre” Fratelli di Carmagnola 1970’s, 49.5% ABV, 750ml
The glorious, Italian, bone dry, high ABV expression of mountain herbs known as Alpestre owes its origins to a French maceration known as Arquebuse. Towards the end of the seventeenth century, in the area of Lyon and the Rhone-Alpes, it had been birthed in monastic orders. Its name stemmed from rudimentary firearms, of the same name, to which monks originally “prescribed” to French soldiers injured by these guns.
The Marist Brotherhood was created in 1817, though they wouldn’t have offical approbation from the Holy See until 1863, by Priest Marcellin Champagnat in La Valla of Lyons. It was this order that is formally accredited with creating Arquebuse but more importantly codifying its production. Supposedly by one specific friar, Emanuel, an expert in herbs, decantation, and maceration who combined the essential 34 botanicals and finalized the recipe in 1857.
In 1904 the brothers were forced from France due to anticlerical sentiment that had been building in much of Western Europe. They found refuge in Northern Italy’s region of Piedmonte and specifically the town of Carmagnola, with in the Turin province, due to the area’s long standing allegiance with the Catholic Church.
The first photo below showcases a portion of their original residence just outside of Carmagnola. (A small hint of modern windows can be seen to the left of the exhaust, also part of the property. In addition, rows of herbs in the foreground cultivated for production.) While they have since stationed their order in a newer building the property still hosts the production facility for today’s expressions of Alpestre. The second picture is of the loading dock and the only branding on the entire 10 acre area.
Between 1904 and 1920’s the popularity of Arquebuse flourished throughout Western Europe, inspiring hosts of other production. By 1929 the Marist order re-branded their product to what we know it as today: Alpestre. This was not only in an effort to separate themselves from other production (the advertising below showcases some of the first transition to the Alpestre brand), but Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime had come into power in 1922 and began to prohibit the use of non-Italian names.
Production has remained largely unchanged to this very day, other than nearly countless different iterations of labels and bottle formats. The chosen 34 herbs, including chamomile, angelica, anise hyssop, lemon verbena, artemsia, st. john’s wort, etc., are macerated, some dry, others fresh. After the desired concentration of flavor is acquired either from either single or co-maceration the solids are removed, the resulting tinctures are blended and distilled once.
The resulting distillate is then aged in large, used Slovenian oak barrels for varying amounts of time. Today, Alpestre is marketed in a 4 year format at 44% ABV and a 30 year old expression at 49.5% ABV. Both expressions were chosen by the Onesti Group who acquired the brand and worldwide distribution rights in the mid-90’s. Prior to that everything that was bottled was a minimum of 10 years old and bottled at its true strength of 49.5%.
Alpestre remains an exceptional product to this very day but expressions produced under direct supervision of the brotherhood remain the most sought after. It is the most underrated genpy offshoot that exists. As age worthy as Chartreuse, in fact more so, with no added sugar and botanicals specifically cultivated for its production on estate property. Back vintage expressions of Alpestre can stand up to any other bottle on the market. Everyone can look forward to varying vintages and bottlings of Alpestre becoming staple components of the Sole Agent portfolio.