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In Forcalquier, a small village built on a hill between the high plateaux of the Luberon and the Lure mountains, and the Durance river. Forcalquier is an appealing little town, steeped in history.

A brief history of Pastis.

While there is nothing absolutely wrong with Kir, one thing is certain : whether you are on the south coast or in northern France, pastis is the most typical aperitif found in French Bistros. And rightly so , if you consider how much this drink has had to endure to gain its place at the bar.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, a liqueur called “Vinum Silatum” was created from fennel and wormwood (absinthe) to quench the thirst of folk in the Mediterranean region. It most recent history begins in 19th -century France.

In 1805, Henry-Louis Pernod, a distiller, settled in Pontarlier, near the Swiss frontiere. Each day, his distilleries produced around four gallons ( 16 liters) of a herb-based spirit with a very high alcohol content. The drink which became very popular and was known as La Fee Verte or Absinthe.

During the Colonial wars in 1830, absinthe was handed to French soldiers suffering from dysentery. The drink had a medicinal effect and it also helped with the soldiers’ thirst and helped them to endure wars.

Drinking absinthe entailed a very special ritual which further enhanced the experience. Water was added to the drink and it trickled through a crystal containing absynthe, which gradually turned cloudy and lost its greenish tinge.

From around 1860 onward, absinthe began to gain a lot of popularity amongst workers and artists alike.  It 72 percent alcohol content made it a very potent brew, often with devastating consequences. Alcoholism increased and had inspired no lesser men that Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Vincent Van  Gogh and Pablo Piccasso, fell into disrepute. In 1915 , absinthe-based spirits were banned in France – A decision that embraced all aniseed-flavored alcoholic aperitifs.

Distillers were extremely reluctant to accept this. They joined forces and after 5 years of protests, managed the government to revoke its ban on aniseed-flavored aperitifs with the proviso that no absinthe would be produced with an alcohol content of exceeding 30 percent. It was not after 1938, following long years of administrative and legal arguments, that pastis was again allowed but permitted an alcohol content of 45 percent. The producers were happy since this was precisely the right amount needed for the aniseed flavor to achieve its full potential.

The story does not end there, however. Absinthe was to be banned once more. A century after being given to French soldiers, it was banned during world war 2 for undermining the troops’ fighting morale . The ban did not last very long and once again was being served in French bars.

Pastis and its extended family.

Pastis means mixture – the individual types of Pastis are the result of different combinations. It is why the individual aniseed- flavored aperitifs  can vary considerably in taste. At the beginning of the 20th-century , a descendant of Henry-Louis Pernod opened distilleries in the Jura region. This is where Pontarlier was first produced, the father of an entire family of Pastis drinks. In 1932, Paul Ricard created his ” genuine Marseille Pastis”,” vrai pastis de Marseille” and in 1951, Paul Pernod entered the arena with his Pernod 51.

As the number of new varieties grew, so,too, did the terminology surrounding the yellow drink, a command of which distinguishes the layman from the connoisseur. You first ask the barman for your usual brand, in other words, a Casa or a 51. If your bartender knows what you like , you simply ask for a glass of Jaune ( Yellow) or Pastaga.  Then you have to refine your request : Flanc means neat Pastis with no water, momie means half measure of the desired label, and 102 means a double Pernod 51.

The Pastis can be mixed with almond, peppermint, or pomegranate syrup or with a combination of all three. Whatever your choice ice-cold water is added to the pastis in the ratio of four (or five) to one.. The water releases the aniseed flavor and causes that milky cloudiness typical of this drink.

Commanding the 35 percent of the domestic market is Ricard, the leading Pastis in France well ahead of Pernod and Pastis 51 ( 9.7 percent), Duval ( 6.5 percent), and Janot ( 0.3 percent). Those results  also reflect the preference of consumers in the South of France for Ricard and Pernod 51 over all other available varieties. The numbers have probably changed in today’s world.

Of Le Petit Jaune, available at French bars, only the Bardouin, Pernod, janot and crystal labels are 100 percent Provencal in origin.

Cheers & Happy holidays and peace on Earth!


Travel with us to Provence and book your trip in January 2015.imgres-1imgres

May 2, 2015 – May 9, 2015. ( 7 nights, 8 days)

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