There’s just something about absinthe.
Stand in Vilya Spirits in Kalispell long enough, and someone will wander in having seen the distillery sign and inevitably start asking questions about the storied alcohol.
How is it made? What’s with the fairies? Wormwood? Why is it green?
And behind the bar, you’ll likely find Jazper Torres, ready to pour a taste or a cocktail and tell you all about it.
Of course, there is more to Vilya Spirits than absinthe. At its recently opened distillery and tasting room at the Loading Dock on Center Street, Torres also distills Silvertip American Dry Gin and a huckleberry liqueur. The absinthe comes in two kinds — green or white.
Despite the recent opening, Vilya’s products have awards from years past, when they were known as Ridge Distillery, operating west of Kalispell. That distillery project started with a group of people in 2009, Torres said, and he was a part owner when it eventually produced booze.
Joe and Julie Legate were the majority owners, and Torres and his wife, Amanda Torres, bought out the company and moved it to Oregon a few years ago. The couple wanted to return to the Flathead and moved back in March.
Then they got to work building Vilya in Kalispell, having given up the Ridge name after running into issues with like-named businesses. Torres decided to rebrand; Vilya roughly translates to mean “wood nymph” in some Slavic cultures.
The nymph harkens to the historical traditions of absinthe, which has centuries of stories but is most well known for its French roots in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where it was nicknamed the Green Fairy. The United States banned absinthe in 1912 after the drink was publicly associated with violence and disorder, and it wouldn’t become legal again until 2007.
Torres and his friends realized that most of the important ingredients for absinthe were readily available in the Flathead, particularly the high-quality wormwood.
“The main ingredients of absinthe are alpine herbs, and it just so happens they grow really well here,” Torres said.
The Wormwood Society — a collection of absinthe lovers and distillers — pronounced the Flathead’s wormwood to be some of the best they’ve seen outside of France, Torres said.
The only ingredients they don’t source locally are anise and fennel, he said.
Absinthe distills clear, and then Torres pours it into a mixture of herbs, helping it glean the green color and adding all sorts of essential oils. It’s meant to be diffused with water, Torres explained to a visiting couple, and if you add some ice-cold water to the alcohol it will cloud up when mixing with the oils.
People are meant to drink it like wine, he said, with one part absinthe to several parts water, but Vilya Spirits developed a clever cocktail menu incorporating the famous drink into new iterations, such as in a mojito.
“It’s crazy how well absinthe pairs with other flavors,” Torres said.
His personal favorite cocktail is a very dry martini made with his gin, which is smooth and subtle with lemon instead of a punch of pine. The distillery also makes it own juices and syrups for cocktails.
Torres said the distillery has plans for new concoctions, including a cherry liqueur, but for now, he and his wife are enjoying being part of the downtown Kalispell renaissance. Born and raised in Kalispell and a graduate of Flathead High School, Torres said coming back to open up a business as the core area blossoms is exciting.
“Just seeing the downtown resurrection is awesome,” he said.
Vilya Spirits is open Tuesday through Saturday, 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., and is located at 101 East Center St., Suite 104. For more information, visit www.vilyaspirits.com.