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Taste the flavours of the mountain pastures of Auvergne! The root of the yellow gentian, grown on the slopes of the Sancy and Cantal Mountains, is used to make a unique and bitter aperitif, gentian liqueur.
The yellow gentian is easily identified by its bright flower, but it’s the root that is sought after by the makers of gentian liqueur. Used for medicinal purposes in the 19th century, the root is known for its strong bitter flavour. In fact, a constituent of the root is one of the most bitter natural compounds known to man!
Known as the “cathedral” or the “sky-scraper” of the pastures, the yellow gentian can grow up to two metres tall, with a root of one metre long, weighing up to 7kg. The distillers must wait 10 years for a plant to flower for the first time, and most wait at least 20 and sometimes up to 50 years for the plant to grow to an optimum size. From May to October, the root is harvested by hand and with skill by gençanaïres using what they call “devil pitchforks”.
Once sorted and cleaned, the roots are ground and then macerated to release their unique flavour. The distillation and aging process varies by brand (Avèze, Salers, Couderc, Roudayre…), each producing a unique flavour. Gentian liqueur is usually served cold as an aperitif before a meal, either straight or in a cocktail, but always in moderation!
Several gentian liqueur brands have exhibition spaces where you can learn more about the plant, the harvest and the distillation.