Drink This: Pastis
May 24 2015
For all its idyllic fields of flowers, lavender cookies and Cézanne and Van Gogh scenes come to life, Provence can be an oppressively hot place. Humidity in summertime regularly peaks at just below drowning and the Provençal smartly choose not to hermetically seal themselves inside A/C, but there are nonetheless some excellent ways to beat the heat. Chief among them is passing time in cafés, in the shade of stately old trees with an icy glass of pastis.
Though it was first branded and commercially prepared by early 20th century, the drink has been around in some form or another for far longer than that. Its kissing cousins, Greek ouzo and Turkish arak are also anise-based Mediterranean staples, but pastis is distinctively smoother, more mellow and almost always served on the rocks.
In France, there are several brands on the market but only the original Ricard and slightly later Pernod are synonymous with the drink around the world and have a rather interesting interlocking history. They’re also now produced by the same company, Pernod Ricard, which succeeded an older company, Pernod Fils, a major producer of genuine old world absinthe before it was first banned.
We had our good friends at Can Can Brasserie just down the street from our studio and store in Richmond, Virginia pour us a couple of glasses this week.
Pastis is generally served over ice: when it interacts with water, oils in the drink derived from its anise become cloudy and make for a distinctive milkiness (read up on terpenes for the chemical backstory). The drink is then generally diluted with more iced water at the drinker’s preference. 1:1 makes for a more concentrated refreshment and is sure to get you nice and bourré real quick. Add more water for a slower burn.
Though their recipes are similar, Pernod and Ricard are dramatically different in profile. Pernod is a dramatic almost neon yellow. It looks mysterious and almost nefarious, though its cloudiness upon pouring is less dramatic as it quickly shifts from clear yellow-green to chalky highlighter yellow. It works well in cocktails like the Sazerac, in which it can nicely stand in for for absinthe.
Ricard, on the other hand, is full-bodied, darker, and has a clarity of flavor Pernod completely lacks. Both taste strongly of anise, but the Ricard is full-mouth experience: its silky texture coats evenly and its aftertaste rings clearly, leaving a pleasant freshness behind. Its pour is also more dramatic, going from clear light amber to milky cream (see above). It is our hands-down favorite and in our opinion best for a hot day.
Thanks again to Can Can Brasserie.