French Beverages, Part 1: Pastis

Pastis is an anise-flavored liqueur and popular aperitif in France.

Ricard is the number one pastis beverage in the world, its recipe unaltered since its creation by Paul Ricard in 1932. A refreshing apperitif, Ricard is a long-time favorite in France, especially in the southern regions of the country. Over 130 million liters of pastis is sold each year in France, more than two liters per inhabitant.  The name “pastis” originally comes from the regional dialect occitan’s word, pastís, meaning “mash-up.”

Ricard Pastis
Ricard Pastis

Pastis’ popularity grew following the French ban on absinth. One reason for the popularity of pastis can be attributable to the demand for anise flavored drinks created by absinthe decades earlier. There is also an old tradition in the Mediterranean of anise-based liquors like Sambuca, Ouzo, Arak, and Mastika.

The principal ingredients of Ricard is star anise, a rare spice that grows in southern Chinese and in the north of Vietnam, licorice from Syria, and aromatic herbs from Provence. Pastis is not absinthe and does not does not contain grand wormwood (artemisia absinthium), the herb from which absinthe gets its name. Absinthe obtains its base flavor from green anise, not the star anise which Ricard uses. Pastis’ flavor comes from licorice root which is not used in absinthe. Also, absinthes are normally bottled at 45 to 74% ABV, while pastis is typically bottled at 40 to 50% ABV. Finally, unlike absinthe, pastis is classified as a liqueur  because it contains sugar.

Pastis is normally served with the liqueur presented in one glass and accompanied by carafe of cold water.

The liqueur is diluted with the water according to the drinker’s preference, traditionally about 5 parts water to 1 part Ricard. Diluting the liqueur creates the “French Milk” effect as the water is added. The combination of liqueur and water ‘louches,’ and turns the diluted beverage cloudy and white in appearance. The drink is then consumed cold and is considered a refreshing beverage for hot days. Ice cubes may be added after diluting the pastis.

Pastis before dilution with water
Pastis before dilution with water
Pastis after dilution with water and 'louching' starting
Pastis after dilution with water and ‘louching’ starting

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