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Everything You Need to Know About Pastis

Vicki Denig By Vicki Denig, Editor 15.09.2021
pastis

If you’ve been to France during the summer months, you’ve likely seen a few highball glasses with cloudy pale yellow booze floating around before. Beloved by many (and culturally accepted even by those who disdain it), pastis has basically become the unofficial drink of summer in France, particularly amongst regions in the south. So what exactly is it, what does it taste like, and how in the world does it change from caramel brown to pale yellow? We’ve rounded up everything you need to know about this signature French spirit, here.  

What Is Pastis? 

Pastis is a booze-heavy, anise-flavored spirit and aperitif most commonly produced in the south of France. The spirit generally clocks in at around 40-45% ABV and boasts less than 100 grams per liter of sugar. The name pastis comes from the occitan word for mash-up. 

Where Is Pastis Made? 

Pastis was first commercially sold in 1932 by Paul Ricard, exactly 17 years after absinthe was banned. Although distilled across a handful of regions now, the spirit is most commonly enjoyed in Marseille, the Var, and other areas in Provence / southern France.   

How Is Pastis Made? 

Although artisanal versions exist, most commercial pastis is made by mixing a neutral base spirit with licorice flavoring. In smaller-production distilleries, anise essence/extract may be used instead. Pastis’ legal definition describes the booze as an anise-flavored spirit bottled at 40% or more ABV.  

How Does Pastis Get Its Color? 

On its own, pastis, like many spirits/liqueurs, shows a caramel-like hue. However, when a splash of water is added to it, the drink takes on a cloudy, pale yellow hue. This is because pastis contains terpenes, which become insoluble when diluted below a 30% ethanol percentage. This is how the drink gets its signature cloudiness in the glass once water is added! 

What Is the History of Pastis? 

Pastis was originally created during the early 1930s as a result of the banning of absinthe. At the time, the French were crazy for anise-flavored spirits, and upon the banning of absinthe, Ricard created and commercially sold pastis as a similar alternative.  

Pastis glass
  • © Getty Image- Urbazon

    What Does Pastis Taste Like? 

    Pastis is often compared to absinthe, though the two aren’t really that similar. Pastis is more licorice and anise-flavored. If you’ve had arak, ouzo, or raki before, these are similar spirits.  

    How Is Pastis Best Enjoyed? 

    Although best enjoyed on its own or with a splash of water, a handful of pastis-based cocktails exist. The most popular creations include the Rourou (made with strawberry syrup), Tomate (made with grenadine), and Perroquet (mixed with green mint syrup). When the latter two mixers are used (grenadine and mint syrup), the cocktail is called a Feuille Morte (‘dead leaf’ in English). Pastis is often substituted for other popular cocktails that call for absinthe, most notably the Sazerac.   

    When Is Pastis Best Enjoyed? 

    Pastis is enjoyed year round by a variety of drinkers, though the drink is commonly consumed as an aperitif during French apéro hour. However, on the weekends, pastis is often enjoyed all day long while playing relaxing games of pétanque beneath the sun – though fair warning, this stuff packs a serious punch (and might sneak up on you if you don’t pay attention!) 

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