Pastis is a favourite drink at apero time for many French people. And many a glass has been poured to celebrate a win or a loss at petanque.
This strong aniseed smelling liqueur is drunk with a small dash of water which turns the yellow liquid cloudy. Pastis is popular across France, particularly in Provence.
The name pastis comes from the Provencal word pastisson meaning a mixture. Pastis producers are extremely guarded about their famous recipe. However, it’s understood to be based on a melange of star anise, licorice and a handful of Provencal herbs.
From Medicine to Madness
Pastis is a derivative of absinthe. This lethal alcoholic drink made from wormwood dates as far back as the 18th century. It was originally given to patients suffering from rheumatism and intestinal worms. It became a bona fide drink when it was discovered by Frenchman Henri-Louis Pernod in the 19th century.
In 1805 Pernod built a distillery in Pontarlier, near the Swiss border. He made huge amounts of absinthe for a growing fan club. Over the next century it became incredibly popular, with fans claiming the drink was hallucinogenic. It has been blamed for historic excesses from artists including Oscar Wilde and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.
It was Oscar Wilde, who wrote:
“The first stage is like ordinary drinking, the second when you begin to see monstrous and cruel things, but if you can persevere you will enter in upon the third stage where you see things that you want to see, wonderful, curious things.”
In fact, the French use the phrase “Je suis dans le pastis” to mean in trouble.
Called “the green fairy”, the drink was deemed so dangerous, the French government banned it in 1915. However, less than a decade later politicians caved in. They allowed absinthe-style drinks to be sold as long as they didn’t contain wormwood.
The major absinthe producers were then Pernod Fils and Ricard, who have since merged as Pernod Ricard. The company reformulated their drink without the banned wormwood and with more aniseed flavor, coming from star anise, sugar and a lower alcohol content, creating pastis.
Pastis is still one of the most popular beverages in France where 130 million litres are sold each year. Enjoy, in moderation, of course. Cheers!