Food & Drink

The Best Bastille Day (and World Cup Final) Cocktail Is Not a Cocktail at All, It's Pastis

Allez les Bleus

By Sam Eichner ·
Pascal Parrot/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

You can’t chug pastis.

I tried, a few weeks into my semester abroad in Aix-en-Provence, in the one-bedroom apartment I shared with a college friend. We were going to a club called Scat, a two-room cave where, on one side, French musicians performed classic American rock songs, their singing voices magically occluding any trace of their accents, while on the other side, people danced in sweaty huddled masses to American pop hits. I wanted to finish the drink before we left; instead, I found myself gagging over the sink.

Pastis, an apéritif that's a staple of Southern France, particularly Marseille, is the antithesis of urgent fraternal binge drinking. It is meant to be sipped, enjoyed slowly in a cylindrical collins glass with the proper proportions of water and ice (roughly four parts to one). If you’re doing it right, you should never get drunk, just pleasantly tipsy for an extended period of time—even if it does ring in at over 40% ABV. Since all you drink it with is water, it doesn't provide the sugar rush and comedown of your typical cocktail. It's actually hydrating—or so I've heard grizzled Frenchman say. The best brand is Ricard, but Prado will do in a pinch, and you should be able to find one of the three at any sizable liquor store in time for this weekend's French-forward festivities. American girls, in my experience, have no taste for the stuff. To be fair, neither do American guys, though they’re perhaps more willing to stomach the necessary adjustments. No matter who you are, if it's your first time, try five parts water to one part pastis, and let the ice melt a little bit. 

In Aix, where leisure trumps work, I perceived time moving slowly, wading through muck or swimming against a current. The minutes were overzealous and indulgent; the hours content to luxuriate. Days refused to pass. They did, of course, but only begrudgingly, as if coerced. Looking back, I can’t recall with any detail what I really did for six months. I walked around, read, tried to write, failed to write, watched reruns of The O.C. on my laptop, sipped espresso, drank, partied, danced, never worked out and gazed longingly at French girls from afar, their nonchalant and obdurate beauty both a source of cliché and the profundity that settles in the space clichés leave when you stop giving a sh*t about them being clichés.

Pastis, in its own small way, proved an excellent temporal translator, acclimating me to a pace with which I was unfamiliar. We drank it during the day, at dusk, late into the evening and, once, at dawn, the morning after an all-day bullfighting festival surrounding a Roman coliseum in Arles. We drank it at lunch and during apéros, but mostly sprinkled throughout the long, drawn-out dinners at my brother’s homestay host’s apartment, invariably punctuated with hand-rolled cigarettes and rosé. We drank it outside cafés and bars, in the park, during the first few weeks we were there and the last few weeks before we left.

Back home, where everything moves faster, I drink it whenever I can get my hands on an overpriced bottle of Ricard. (Or, more realistically, an affordable bottle of Prado.) Always, I sip. And for a moment, I’m reminded that there’s no need to rush. I can slow it all down. 

So if you're looking for something to sip outside, on a rooftop or patio, for the entirety of a lazy-fun Bastille Day, and then again at a bar or on your couch for the World Cup Final Sunday morning, I recommend picking up a bottle of pastis. Monday will still come, just maybe not as quickly.

An original version of this article ran on November 6, 2015, with the headline "This Drink Changed My Life."

Sam Eichner

Sam Eichner likes literature, reality television and his twin cats equally. He has consistently been told he needs a shave since he started growing facial hair.

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