As the weather warms, glasses of pastis appear in Frenchified bars. This licorice-flavored drink is a milder incarnation of absinthe, the wickedly potent liquor outlawed in much of Europe and the U.S. nearly a century ago.
Native to Provence, pastis is France’s most famous aperitif. It is a spirit infused with herbs and spices as diverse as sage and cardamom, but the dominant flavoring is always star anise. Served diluted with water, 90-proof pastis is not at all sweet, appealing to fans of crisp lagers, dry wines and drier martinis. Two French mega-brands dominate the export landscape: Pernod and Ricard. Pastis is just one of the many anise-flavored drinks, from Greek ouzo and sweet sambuca to nonalcoholic sodas, that are staples of the balmy Mediterranean.
Pastis comes in a tall glass, with a carafe of water on the side. When the water is added, the clear spirit becomes opaque—the so-called “milk of Provence.” Slotted absinthe spoons and sugar cubes accompany traditional service, allowing guests to drizzle water through the sugar to add a hint of sweetness. For an authentic pastis experience, check out happy hour at Bistro St. Tropez, or pique your appetite at the Hotel Sofitel’s sleek lobby lounge at 17th and Sansom. Enjoy the aperitif at Walnut Street’s Caribou Cafe before the theater. Or bask in the summer sun, sipping pastis in true Provençal fashion, in the hidden jewel box of a garden at Le Jardin on Rittenhouse Square.
PLCB Pick of the Month
Sauvignon Blanc Omaka
Springs 2004, Marlborough,
New Zealand; $9.99
Few wines are as bracing as New Zealand sauvignon blanc. At less than $10 a bottle (it’s regularly $17), you’ll be hard put to find a better summer white. Pungent aromas of ruby grapefruit and green herbs leap from the glass, and the wine’s finish leaves your mouth vibrating like a guitar string. While this style can seem overly sour on its own, salty and tangy foods tame its acidity.