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).
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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.
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.