Pastis in Provence June 01 2017, 0 Comments


Spring season is here, summer is right around the corner; the weather is becoming warmer each day, people starts going out and chilling outdoors throughout the cities and villages of Provence. Activities, festivals invade the streets and the famous “apéro” (aperitif) is unmissable.

Imagine you are sitting at one of the hundred’s outdoor cafés in Provence. The weather is hot, dry; the sun is shining and the sky is blue, so blue… a deep and colorful blue that you will only see in Provence. What could you order? Most Americans would order a cold beer but a Provençal (inhabitant of Provence) will order a Pastis, the most famous alcoholic beverages of Provence. Different versions of Pastis exist throughout the Mediterranean. For instance in Lebanon it is called Arrak, in Greece you will be able to taste the Ouzo and in Turkey it will be the Raki.


A little History:

Pastis is an alcoholic beverage mainly composed with star anise, licorice, white and pepper corns, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and sage. Each distillery keeps their recipe very secret. The denomination Pastis comes from the Provençal “Pastisson” and from Italian “Pasticchio” which means mixture, jumble. 

The university of Marseille, Provence led studies about the origins of this beverage. The searchers found clues that the Pastis originated in the region of Luberon where a hermit who was living in the forest collected herbs and stewed them. The juice extracted from it was boiled into a cauldron and had remarkable properties: it protected him of the plague, which was devastating the region at the time.

Pastis and absinthe have a common past. The latter has been banned in France and in other European countries because it contains hallucinogenic substances supposed to have driven many to insanity.

The legend says that absinthe led the famous artist Vincent Van Gogh to insanity and caused Paul Verlaine to shoot Arthur Rimbaud. That’s the reason why the absinthe was declared illegal in 1915.

At that time, a man named Mr Pernod owned an absinthe distillery in Montfavet, a village near the city of Avignon. In 1915 he was very disappointed about the new illegal status of the absinthe. Mr Pernod was a smart businessman. He changed the recipe and name of his absinthe to legally authorize its commercialization. The new alcoholic beverage became a commercial success.

Years later in Marseille, the father of Paul Ricard was a wine merchant who was taking his young son to the many bars of the city where pastis was essentially distilled in the back of each shop. Paul Ricard decided to distil his own pastis and sell it to bar owners around the city. It was a real success. Paul Ricard secret: promotion branding and modern marketing strategy. Rapidly the pastis Ricard became the bestselling pastis in Marseille and within the Provence area.

Originally Pernod and Ricard were fierce competitors but they joined forces in 1988 and Pernod-Ricard is now a worldwide company, which detains a huge panel of brands from all around the world. A commercial success that started right here in Provence.



Adopt the “Apéro” (cocktail hour) attitude :

When you order a pastis in Provence at a bar, the waiter
will always serve you a generous portion of Pastis in a glass that you will dilute to your taste with water. The usual ratio is 1/5 of Pastis to 4 of water. Pastis becomes milky white and cloudy when you mix in the water. You will smell this sweet aroma of anise that we call “the milk of Provence”, because all vegetables with anis flavor are from Provence: fennel, thyme, rosemary…

Never have a pastis in a hurry ; take the time to smell it, taste it, enjoy it! Having a pastis is a happy moment, a relaxing time, a time to enjoy the bright of the day and have a break. It is a time for light conversation with friends, talks of soccer and gossips. That’s the reason why inhabitants of Provence love their “apéro”!


Around the Pastis:

At the end of the 1980’s the pastis became a product where creativeness led some to imagine and make new sorts of Pastis. Henri Bardoin and Jean Boyer were the initiators of this new dynamic. The key words were, creativeness, tradition and inspiration. A lot of subtle mixtures and vintage creations came about. The house of Pastis was created to be the place where you can learn and understand a lot about the various pastis and their history. The aim was to unify this entire heritage in a single place.

Even Snoop Dog has tested our pastis!



By the way we can’t avoid talking about Pétanque when we talk about Pastis. During dry summer afternoons after a pastis and a Calisson by Gilles, the pétanque game is a tradition for many Provençaux (inhabitant of Provence). In the next article you will discover this game to correctly get into the summer season spirit. Stay tune!



About The Author:

Gilles Cailleaux is the Owner & Master Confectioner at By Gilles, an online French candy store based in Orange County, California. They sell traditional French confections called Calissons from Provence. Gilles is always ready to share his 25 years plus experience of candy making and baking with everyone and want to hear about your experience with his calissons. Gilles and his team are sensitive about taste and harmony. They prepare your packages with special care and attention.