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Pastis

Pastis is a favourite tipple at apero time for many French people. This strong aniseed smelling liqueur is drunk with a small dash of water which turns the yellow liquid cloudy and 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 but it’s understood to be based on a melange of star anise, licorice and a handful of Provencal herbs.

Pastis is a derivative of absinthe, a lethal alcoholic drink made from wormwood as far back as the 18th century. It was originally given to patients suffering from rheumatism and intestinal worms but 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, where he made huge amounts of absinthe for a growing fan club. Over the next century it became incredibly popular, with fans claiming that the drink was hallucinogenic. It has shouldered the blame 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, and allowed absinthe-style drinks to be sold as long as they didn’t contain wormwood.

The major absinthe producers (then Pernod Fils and Ricard, who have since merged as Pernod Ricard) 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.

 

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