Anise-flavored spirits are popular around the Mediterranean — think ouzo in Greece or arak in Lebanon — and the south of France has its own version: pastis.
Head to the south of France and you won’t be able to help but notice people sipping on short glasses of yellowish liquid, periodically topping them up with ice cold water. That’s because pastis is normally served with a carafe of water, so you can mix your drink as strong as you like.
The name comes from a Provencal word meaning mixture, because adding water makes the drink change color, becoming cloudy. It is made from a number of herbs including anise, hyssop, Melissa and sage.
Soldiers in the French Foreign Legion used to drink pastis as a cure-all, but there doesn’t seem to be any scientific basis for their prodigious drinking. These days the drink is known as a perfect aperitif, preparing the stomach for the meal ahead.
Pastis actually comes from absinthe, a spirit which shot to fame in the 1860s when disease killed off most of the vines in France. The country soon became addicted and rumors of hallucinogenic effects led to a ban in 1915.
However, absinthe-style drinks were still allowed, and a young entrepreneur from Marseille, Paul Ricard, launched Ricard pastis in the 1920s. Abinsthe distillery Pernod joined in the 1930s, and the two soon merged to form Pernod Ricard, a famous brand that still makes pastis today.
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