Rediscovering Pastis

I was in France recently with a few other spirits journalists and more than once we kicked off an evening with a pastis. While I have a few anise-flavored spirits at home, including absinthe, ouzo, raki and sambuca, I don’t have pastis. And I rarely enjoy them as an aperitif—it’s more of an after-dinner thing or in a cocktail.

But enjoying an afternoon pastis is a summer tradition in southern France. The clear, yellow-green liqueur is served with a small carafe of cold water and sometimes with ice. When you add water—typically five parts to one part pastis—it becomes a milky color is a super-refreshing drink.

Pastis was created in 1932 by Paul Ricard, after absinthe was banned in 1915. The spirit gets its flavors from star anise (vs. the green anise used in absinthe) and licorice, among other spices. Plus pastis doesn’t contain wormwood, which was thought to cause hallucinations, and it’s lower in alcohol than absinthe.

Pernod, a long-time absinthe brand, removed the wormwood from its original recipe so it doesn’t consider itself a pastis. (The two major brands merged to form Pernod Ricard in 1976.) My first experience with Pernod was in college, when I helped a friend track down a bottle for her English boyfriend.

Once we did find one, which wasn‘t easy, we didn’t get the nuances of the spirit at the time (“so it’s basically ouzo?”) but I never forgot my first Pernod. Who knew I’d be writing about it all these years later?

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