It’s a pity that the American life style cannot accommodate Pastis. It could be that Pastis requires a cafe and people to look at from it. Or a beach. Or a broad palm-lined avenue.
In any case, Pastis is just not the same here no matter how hard I try. Pastis takes several forms but all follow the same formula — anise-flavored liquor blended with assorted herbs. The most famous names are those of producers, notably Ricard or Pernod. But the Pastis ritual is the same throughout the Mediterranean — raki in Turkey, ouzo in Greece, sambuco in Italy. It’s served from an unrefrigerated bottle accompanied with cool water.
Pour it into a glass, then add the water to taste — ultimately four to five parts water to one part Pastis. But not all four or five parts at once. Add a little water, sniff, sip, rest. Add another bit of water, repeat. A single serving, properly dispensed, may take an hour. It’s the perfect accompaniment to an hour or so of brooding, relaxing, perusing the newspaper, quiet conversation, or shutting out the bustling world.
It seems to work best in Provence and better yet in Marseille, but it’s enjoyed throughout France and her Mediterranean neighbors. Pastis evolved from the banishment of absinth in the early part of the last century. It imitated the rituals but was mixed without the notorious wormwood. Few cafe bartenders mix their own anymore, as the bottled versions are consistently good and quite reliable.
I bring my Pastis home to my deck — no broad boulevard, no throngs of pedestrians, no nearby tables, no beach. Not even a companion who shares my taste for it nor who truly appreciates an hour or two with nothing to do but add a few drops of water every now and then. While Pastis is a liqueur, it is not terribly alcoholic so long as you dutifully replenish the water. Neat, it may reach 45% alcohol.
It is a marvelous warm weather drink. That’s why its home is the Mediterranean and not the Baltic. And, by the way, do not use ice cubes. They cause the anethol to separate. And don’t worry when it changes color or becomes cloudy when the water is added. That’s what it’s supposed to do. Cheers.