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.
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One sure-fire way to start an argument with me is to say that absinthe makes people hallucinate. It doesn't. But if you think it does, you have something in common with French regulators in the early 1900s. Back then, everyone was panicking that absinthe would drive people insane because it contained wormwood. Before more people could succumb to absinthe madness and chop their ear off à la Vincent van Gogh, they outlawed the spirit. (The fact that absinthe was 140 proof and people were drinking it like wine had more than a little to do with the crazy behavior, but I digress.) With absinthe out of the picture, people needed another delicious anise-flavored alcoholic beverage. That's where pastis came in.
I'm not French, I'm not Bohemian, nor am I an old man who enjoys the hot summer sun of Provence on my back as I smoke cigarettes and argue over the finer points of pétanque. But here's something I have in common with many of those characters: I love pastis.