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A Summer Drink You Should Know and Love: Pastis

  • Najib Benouar

The best drinks always involve a bit of ritual when consuming them. And the upcoming Bastille Day weekend has reminded us of a simple yet refreshingly summery drink we picked up in the South of France: pastis.

The main ingredient is a star-anise-based liquor born from France’s 18th-century ban on absinthe—it’s still got the complex, herbaceous flavor without the ear-lopping strength or need for a flaming cube of sugar to get it down. It’s an acquired taste (vaguely like black licorice), but once you embrace the cooling effect of the bright anise notes, you’ll have found your new summer rooftop accomplice. First and foremost, you’ll want to know how to enjoy it properly.

How to properly imbibe the French potion known as pastis.

It’s actually quite simple, once you’ve tracked down a bottle of pastis—much like the early days of whiskey, there are only about four people making this stuff, so look for a bottle of Ricard, Prado, Pastis 51 or Henri Bardouin (which is as close to artisanal as it gets).

Next, grab a bottle of fresh spring water and chill it. Some prefer throwing it in a carafe with ice, or sitting the bottle in a bucket of ice—these are ways you’ll make the ritual yours, but most importantly it’s about your preferred pastis-to-water ratio.

Here’s the neat part: when you pour the water into the pastis, it begins to cloud up and turn into this wonderful yellow haze—due to a chemical reaction we’re not qualified to explain. It could be magic. Regardless, it a fun parlor trick for the uninitiated. (Note: you’ve always got to start with pastis in the glass first, then add water. And if you must add ice, do it after the drink has settled—the booze’s properties get muddled for more scientific reasons we can’t explain.)

The standard ratio calls for one part pastis to five parts water. It’s a nice start, but once you’ve graduated into connoisseur-dom, you’ll find what works for you. (We’re partial to grabbing a Collins glass, filling a quarter to a third with pastis and topping off with water.) You can play with the ratio as you go along, adding water to re-cool your glass, or if flavors start to get too overwhelming. It’s not something you can drink too fast, which makes for a breezy afternoon of conversation, water refills, more conversation and perhaps a round or two of pétanque.

Not a bad way to spend the rest of the summer...