Austin

Graham Wasilition, a former materials engineer, is now the founder and managing partner of Tenneyson Absinthe Royale, a local distiller of white absinthe.

Photo Credit: Ricky Llamas | Daily Texan Staff

Graham Wasilition is in the liquor business. He just happens to own and manage a brand of absinthe, an alcohol stereotyped by its green color and supposed ability to cause hallucinations.

Wasilition, once a materials engineer, is now the founder and managing partner of Tenneyson Absinthe Royale, a white absinthe with a name inspired by famous poet and absinthe drinker, Lord Alfred Tennyson.

Absinthe was popular in the 19th century. The phyloxera bug killed off grape vines used for wine in France. But absinthe, created from a sugar beet base, could still be made cheaply and well. However, when the wine business began to flourish again,  the wine companies painted absinthe as dangerous and wild. It was first banned in 1914, but remained illegal after the end of Prohibition due to it’s association with insanity and death. Wasilition, a Virginia Tech alumnus, moved to Austin for his first job as an engineer in July 2006. While he was not thinking about creating an absinthe brand, Wasilition knew he eventually wanted to work for himself.

“I was kind of an efficiency/innovation engineer,” Wasilition said. “But I’ve always wanted to work for myself. And working for a company like that, you make good money pretty quickly. I felt like if I continued down that path I would be making too good of money too soon and not be able to leave that situation. ”

In 2007, absinthe was legalized in the U.S. The drink became exciting again, but more so as a novelty drink that only the most wild and dangerous of bachelor parties would bring out and light on fire.

“There were products that tried to leverage the kind of hallucinogenic, scary history of absinthe rather than actually trying to make a good, quality product,” Wasilition said. “It’s legal. It’s not some drug. And once you realize that, having a company market to you as, ‘this is a drug,’ it’s not a product a lot of people stick with.”

Intrigued by the mystique surrounding absinthe, Wasilition began his research. He discovered a small absinthe culture that knows how to enjoy the drink properly, with no fire and no hallucinations.

“A classic true absinthe shouldn’t be anymore hallucinogenic than any other high proof booze,” Wasilition said. “Absinthe is just another kind of buzz. It’s a very clear-minded, clear-headed, creative kind of feel.”

Wasilition drew in people like David Nathan-Maister, author of “The Absinthe Encyclopedia,” with his vision for the drink, a vision that relied less on gimmicks and danger and more on having a unique experience. After two and a half years of experimenting with recipes and brand ideas, Wasilition began selling Tenneyson in 2011. By marketing his product as similar to gin (white absinthe and gin have the same distilling process) he hoped to make absinthe more accessible.

“People understand gin a lot better than they understand absinthe,” Wasiliiton said. He explained that Tenneyson incorporates juniper berry in their absinthe, the key ingredient in gin, so that while Tenneyson is a true white absinthe, its style is very gin-like and opens the absinthe category to a wider audience.

Tenneyson is currently sold in seven states, even though Wasilition said he doesn’t spend any money on marketing. Tenneyson also won 2 gold medals — for spirit and packaging — at last year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

“[Wasilition’s] product in particular will continue to flourish because Austin is a city of homers, people just absolutely root for the home team,” Justin Elliott, bar manager at The Volstead Lounge, said. “As people learn more and more that there’s absinthe that is more or less traditional, produced in Pont but owned by a local guy [Wasilition will] continue to get a lot of good traction that way. ”

Wasilition has recently employed the help of three UT McCombs business students, Matt Ciferri, Brian Egan and Sean Kirtman, to continue growing his brand.

“It’s a very exciting spot to be in,” Ciferri, management information system senior, said. “Ever since absinthe was legalized in 2007, people have been waiting for something big to happen and finally have it become a mainstay in the liquor industry.”

Wasilition recognized the same curiosity in Ciferri, Egan, and Kirtman as he had when first delving into the business world.

“You can never really get involved with something like this unless you ask,” Wasilition said. “When I first started looking at this type of business, I was emailing these big companies and would get an email back maybe half the time. But then I started talking to smaller companies and you have a lot more luck there. You can get a job with any of these small companies you just have to reach out and do it.”

Fifteen months after the death of Roy Butler, Austin’s first voter-elected mayor, Austin’s Public Safety Training Campus opened Monday morning in honor of his dedication to keeping Austin safe. Members of the Austin Fire Department, Austin Police Department and Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services joined Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Austin officials and Ann Butler, widow of the former mayor, to inaugurate the facilities by cutting yellow caution tape. “I remember hearing the vision of this campus to be a full-fledged higher education campus for public safety, literally like a public safety university,” said Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez, who was an Austin firefighter for 13 years. The expanded campus includes the Roy Butler Building, a 50,000- sq. foot facility that houses a gym, a weight room, classrooms and state-of-the-art computers and technology to serve the modern training demands of Austin’s emergency responders. With energy-efficient building infrastructure, city officials expect a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design from the U.S. Green Building Council. Other improvements to the 40-acre campus include a 40,300-sq. foot indoor shooting complex that replaced the previous outdoor range, a 3,350-sq. foot burn building, outdoor training facilities, a driving track, an emergency vehicle operating course and a SWAT obstacle course. The $20 million in additions, renovations and environmental considerations were funded by 2006 bond funds and emphasize what Leffingwell believes is “the city’s commitment to being the safest city in the nation.” As part of the Art in Public Places program, the City of Austin commissioned New York artist Chris Doyle to produce “Showershade,” an outdoor pavilion with silhouettes of training cadets cut out of the roof to create animated shadows during the day. “Public safety is the cornerstone and foundation of a world class city,” Martinez said. “Without public safety, you don’t have education, you don’t have jobs, you don’t have quality of life.”