Nothing conjures up the essence of Provence for us more than the sight and smell of a glass of pastis. Pastis is not just a drink, it is the embodiment of a lifestyle – an attitude to life. You don’t slam pastis down you sip it, you savour it – you have all the time in the world. You enjoy pastis sitting on a terrace looking out over ancient ramparts to the vineyards and lavender fields and the distant mountains. You sip pastis under a plane tree while watching men lazily playing pétanque while the breeze from the Mediterranean or from Mont Ventoux rustles the leaves and cools the players from their ever-so-slight exertion.
The essence of pastis comes from the wild herbs that flourish in the hills and mountains that form the backdrop to Provence. Some use thyme, artemesia or centaury collected from the wild, in fact up to two dozens herbs in various combinations are used in the better examples of pastis. But pastis would not gain its complex flavour just from the macerated herbs. Instead, spices from many parts of the globe are used to round out the flavour profile. Obviously fennel and star anise are used to develop the aniseed flavour. But dozens more spice notes are also added including tonka beans from Brazil, cinnamon, cardamom, Melegueta pepper from central Africa and even a scraping of nutmeg.
Each manufacturer has their own secret blend but what they have in common is the wide variety of herbs and spices that are used to develop the complex flavour. After the harvesting of the fresh herbs, they are usually soaked in alcohol for many months; the resultant maceration is then distilled to produce a concentrate distillate. The same happens to the spices. After blending, the mixture is stabilised at 45% alcohol by adding pure water.
There are two schools of though about how to serve pastis and neither is any more authentic than the other. Some like to pour the pastis over ice and then add about two parts of water to the mix. Others (and we fall into this camp) like to pour one part of pastis into a long tapered glass and top it with four or five parts of pure, chilled water.
Some of the labels that you might like to seek out include:
Others to look for include the popular Pastis 51 and Casanis.