Pastis is still the preferred French apéritif, especially in the summertime and especially in southern France. After absinthe was banned in France in 1915, substitutes were made at home. People purchased distilled wine spirit from local wineries or the pharmacy and rectified it with anise seeds. No two pastis tasted the same. Sure, there were government limits on the alcohol content, the addition of sweetening, and the distillate's clarity when diluted with water. Officials were still pressured by winegrowers to eradicate distilled spirits in France. They still subscribed to the feeling anise-flavoured spirits were dangerous and caused drunkenness.
Yet, the bars and cafés that made the finest pastis were always busier than the ones that made didn't, especially when served with a splash of water and a side of anchovies and olives.
Pastis time was the moment in every day when people gathered to discuss work, politics, current events, literature, art, and just about anything that could expand into deep-seated debate and discussion. This was the observation of young Paul Ricard (1909-1997), who worked in his father's wine business in Marseilles while studying art. After release from mandatory military service, Ricard attempted to set up his own line of table wine, then brandy: designing and illustrating his own packaging and posters. While selling his brandy to local bars, he came to an epiphany: The popularity of pastis made its mark on me. I wondered quite seriously whether it would be a good idea to develop a product which would satisfy the taste of all those pastis lovers, to take over the whole market, a market which did not even have to be created, since it was already there.
Government restrictions on the manufacture of all anise liquor were relaxed on 7 April 1932. This allowed Ricard and his brother to produce and market his personal creation: Ricard, real Marseilles pastis. The recipe distilled from anise seeds, star anise, liquorice, and herbs harvested in Provençe, was less sweet than competitors. Ricard was very exacting in the serving of his pastis: Serve 2 centiliters of Ricard in a glass. Add 10 to 14 centiliters of cool water. Then and a cube of ice. Too much spirit or adding ice before the water made the drink look and taste incorrect.
The brothers Ricard started their company with a loan of 600 litres of alcohol and money to purchase a second-hand still, a stock of bottles, and three vats of alcohol from former absinthe-producer Pernod. As with his other ventures, Ricard designed the label and poster himself.
The overwhelming reception the product received throughout southern France and Catalonia in its first year was beyond the dreams of the young aspiring artist. Although the Vichy government prohibited the production of pastis in 1940 because they believed the pre-war pastis craze was responsible for France's defeat against German occupation. It didn't last long. The ban was lifted in 1944. Ricard also launched another product called Pastis 51 in 1951, which was marketed as a long drink.
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