Known in the south of France for a long time for its refreshing qualities, pastis has been beloved by the public since the 1930s. Nowadays it is synonymous with an aperitif with friends, the seaside and sunny days. A look back at a Provençal success story.
Prohibited Then Adored
In 1915, absinthe was prohibited in France. And with good reason: it had been wreaking havoc. Between substances that caused fits and its addictive qualities, it was like a drug. Verlaine and Toulouse-Lautrec, among others, paid the price. Banishing absinthe led to a ban on all aniseed drinks. In Provence, where the refreshing qualities of aniseed had long been appreciated, this ban was felt hard. Bar owners continued to produce their own drinks on the side. In 1922, after seven years of prohibition, the government re-authorised the sale of other aniseed drinks. It was the start of a real frenzy for pastis, which became synonymous with the seaside and sunny summer days.
The Star of Bars
A Meteoric Success
Refreshing and cheap, you mix one part pastis to five parts water, the “petit jaune” (little yellow) was a meteoric success. Brands multiplied, jealousy guarding their secret recipes and ingredients, which included green anise, star anise, fennel, liquorice, and natural plant extracts, that were macerated or distilled in alcohol. Among these bar owners, one from Marseille, Paul Ricard, stood out with his flair and business sense. In the early 1930s, he set up a large network of representatives and retailers. Sales immediately took off. Paul Ricard became number 1 in a market which quickly went beyond the borders of Provence. Nowadays, pastis lovers can be found on almost every continent.
Le Petit Jaune
An Age-Old Origin
It is believed that aniseed already existed at least fifteen centuries before our era. At the time, it was thought to be good for gums, teeth and heart disease. The Romans also consumed it, thinking that it whetted the appetite. In India, an aniseed alcohol using star anise has been produced for centuries. It was probably the most direct ancestor of our Pastis. A spice which originated in the south of China, star anise, is in fact one of the essential components of the “petit jaune.” Cheers!
Meet your new favorite mixer
The quintessential quaff of Provence.
Named from the Provençal word “pastisson” (mixture), this refreshing mix of anise and aromatic herbs is ideal for sipping in the sun – just add water and ice. This trio of classic pastis cocktails is served on patios across Provence. Choose from nutty, fruity, or minty.
- 1 oz Ricard
- ½ oz orgeat (almond syrup)
Created by French soldiers fighting in Algeria, this tipple is made with orgeat, an almond, sugar, and fleur d’orange syrup that evokes the flavors popular in Mediterranean sweets.
- 1 oz Ricard
- ½ oz grenadine
This drink is named for the color (tomate = tomato) not the flavor, for the crimson hue comes from fruity grenadine.
- 1 oz Ricard
- ½ oz mint syrup
This refreshing, bright green beverage matches the brilliant plumage of a perroquet,French for “parrot”.
French-born and NYC-based bartender Maxime Belfand likes pastis for its versatility—it goes down easy in a gimlet, a Collins, or other cocktail styles. From his personal stash of craft-cocktail recipes, here’s one of his favorite ways toshake up Ricard.
- 1 oz Ricard
- 1 oz Lillet Rose
- 1 oz fresh watermelon juice
- ¾ oz blueberry cordial syrup
- Pinch of fleur de sel
Fill a highball glass with crushed ice. Add ingredients as listed. Garnish with mint and pickled watermelon rind.
Alexis Steinman is an American food & travel writer who is proud to call Marseille home. The francophone and francophile’s first foray into Provence was a family Thanksgiving spent in the hills of the Luberon. While working a wine harvest in Cote de Rhône, she stumbled upon Marseille. After 2 days swimming in the Mediterranean, checking out Le Corbusier, devouring fresh sardines, and marveling at MUCEM, she was hooked on the multicultural melting pot that reminds her of NY, LA, and Seattle, her former homes.
Alexis Steinman, Yes Way Marseille