Pastis is almost like a religion in Provence where the best pastis is found.
“Il faut vous enivrer sans trêve. / Mais de quoi? / De vin, de poésie, ou de vertu, à votre guise. / Mais enivrez-vous.”
“Get drunk and stay that way. / On what? / On wine, poetry, virtue, whatever. / But get drunk,”
Charles Baudelaire, Le spleen de Paris, “Enivrez-vous”
Pastis is almost like a religion in Provence where the best pastis is found. However you can find this drink in every part of France at “apéritif time” (“apéro” in a casual way) just before a meal. Comprising anise and licorice, pastis typically contains at least 40% alcohol and so this delicious strong drink has to be mixed with fresh water (add 5 to 7 volumes) and ice to make it sweeter.
Pastis originated in Marseille, in the South East of France and now any pastis made in Provence is a sure guarantee of quality. In order to be labelled “Pastis de Marseille”, pastis has to contain 45% alcohol.
Pastis was first produced in 1915 following the prohibition of Absinth which was believed to turn people crazy. After World War I, the various producers of the drink personalised their recipes by adding some special ingredients. However it was Paul Ricard who became the giant producer of pastis in 1932. A large distribution network allowed him to increase his market share by associating the city of Marseille with “pastis”. Today, “Ricard” has become a synonym for “pastis” with the general public.
During World War II and the 1950s, pastis was also prohibited, however Paul Ricard relaunched his product by renaming it “Pastis 51” and by producing tie-in products such as ashtrays, t-shirts and the like. A hard fought competition for market share took place in the pastis market up until 1975 and ended with “Pernod” and “Ricard” emerging as the two most trusted brands.
Local producers of pastis in France include “Pastis Henri Bardouin” (which won a gold medal in up-market pastis in 2008), the brand “Berger” and the distillery “Janot” in Aubagne…
If you order a Pastis in a bar in Provence, the waiter will usually bring you a Ricard. But French Moments is here to give you a piece of advice: when you go out for a drink, ask for a “Pastis Janot”. It is one of the best pastis from Aubagne, a city next to Aix-en-Provence and Marseille. By the way, Aubagne is the birthplace of Marcel Pagnol, the famous writer of Manon des sources, La gloire de mon père, Le château de ma mère, and La fille du puisatier.
Pastis has many nicknames in Provence. If you want to have fun and to look like a real “provençal” when you order in a bar, feel free to order a “p’tit jaune” (a small yellow) or a “pastaga”!
Pastis is part of the Provençal character. In each city of Provence, you will find shops specialising in Pastis. Here you will find pastis for every budget, in every flavour and for every taste.
You cannot go to Provence without looking at the people in the street, wearing your sunglasses, enjoying the company of your friends and sipping your pastis. Enjoy!