To many American drinkers, Provence is synonymous with wine, but this romantic region of Southern France holds so much more, from sweet black currant liqueur drinks to complex grape brandy. It's not that you shouldn't lap up the local rosés with your duck breast salad, but when you're on vacation in Southern France, there's so much more to tempt you into a mid-afternoon aperitif beyond the bottles that regularly make it across the pond.
Beer around Provence tends toward easy-drinking macro lagers and a few Belgian imports, so when I rounded a corner of the Roman ruins in the town of Arles, a super-local beer made from local red rice jumped out from a convenience store shelf. Anise-laced pastis, on the other hand, is found on every shelf in town. In the US, it's associated with grumpy old men whose stubble-ridden faces snarl as they grumble, but in its homeland of Provence, pastis seems to be in the hands of pretty young things as often as anyone else. Since we were a stone's throw from the town of Cassis, the liqueur popped up beyond the classic Kir Royale, added to aperitifs and digestifs for flavor and contrast, or mixed with local fruit syrups.
It's not news that Southern France has great grapes, but I especially enjoyed the fortified wines, which embrace the natural sweetness of the local Muscat and turn it into a refreshing dessert drink. For something darker in your post-dinner glass, the local marc (a kind of brandy made from what's left pressing the grape juice for wine) makes for an excellent digestif.
About the author: Naomi Bishop is a Seattle based food writer and marketer. Find more of her musings on her food blog, TheGastroGnome, where she claims that being a GastroGnome is not about sitting idly on the front lawn of culinary cottages. You can also follow her explorations of cooking and culture around the world at @GastroGnome.