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What Is Pastis?

Pastis became popular in France after absinthe was banned.
Licorice root is a flavoring used to make the French liqueur, pastis.
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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 07 July 2014
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Pastis is a French liqueur that is particularly popular in the southern region of Provence. While they can be made with a number of different herbs and spices, all recipes for this liqueur share dominant flavors of anise and licorice root. The drink became especially popular in France following the banning of absinthe — another anise-flavored liquor — in the early 20th century. It is generally diluted with water before consumption, and is often taken as a pre-meal drink.

The two primary flavors present in pastis are anise and licorice root. Most recipes also contain additional flavorings such as cinnamon, pepper, sage, and cardamom. While traditional recipes call for the use of whole herbs and spices, commercial producers of the liqueur sometimes substitute flavoring extracts or imitation flavorings. These flavorings are combined with a base alcohol and sugar. The alcohol content of the resulting product usually ranges from 45 to 50 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).

It is generally thought that the popularity of pastis is due largely to the banning of the liquor absinthe in France in the early 20th century. Like pastis, absinthe has a strong anise flavor. It contains an herb called wormwood, however, which can have hallucinatory properties when consumed in large quantities. In addition, it often has a significantly higher alcohol content than pastis. When these intoxicating properties led French lawmakers to ban absinthe, pastis makers began to market their brews as a similar but safer alternative to the outlawed liquor.

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Usually, pastis is diluted with water before consumption. Connoisseurs of the liqueur generally recommend topping one part alcohol with five parts water. Some of the components of the liqueur are insoluble. As a result, the addition of water causes it to change in appearance from clear and golden to opaque and pale yellow.

Many French pastis enthusiasts — particularly those in the southeastern region of Provence — take the liqueur as a pre-meal drink, or aperitif. Most feel that it is best enjoyed cold, and some people opt to add ice to it. Others avoid adding ice, holding that the most authentic way to consume the liqueur is to simply mix it with cold water. While it is sometimes served premixed, in most cases it is presented in a glass along with a pitcher of cold water. The drinker can then prepare the drink to suit his own tastes, adding as much or as little water as he likes.

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Discuss this Article

starrynight
Post 4

@SZapper - I think you can probably find pastis somewhere in your city. If not, there are a few other licorice flavored liquors out there. Off the top of my head I can think of Sambuca and Jagermeister. Pastis sounds like it might be a little bit different than those two so I hope you're able to find some!

SZapper
Post 3

I love licorice! I'm not a big drinker but I think I would really enjoy a small glass of this. I know it's most popular in France but I'm hoping I can find a liquor store nearby that sells it. There are a few higher end specialty liquor stores in my city so I may call a few of them and see if they have it.

MrSmirnov
Post 2

@wander - Pastis is a great drink to try if you are looking for something a lot different than what is offered in North America. For myself I found the ability to add water to the drink great as I am not a heavy drinker and it really helped to tone the flavor done.

If you haven't tried absinthe before you will find the anise in the pastis almost warming to your mouth. I find the sensation a bit difficult to describe but it is an interesting one.

For a visit to France I would say that having some pastis with friends to be a worthwhile endeavor. Just be careful to not drink too much, even with the water added it can still pack a punch.

wander
Post 1

Has anyone ever tried pastis? How did you feel about the flavor and addition of water to the beverage?

I will be traveling to France next year and am looking forward to trying some traditional drinks and food, and pastis seems pretty highly recommended on the blogs I visit.

I have never had absinthe, so it would be interesting to try something with a similar flavor that doesn't make you as ill or give you the hallucinations. A few of my friends shared a bottle of absinthe a few years back and it really made them sick. I don't forget any of them will ever forget that experience.

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