19 February 2021  |  Drinks

Summer In A Glass; Absinthe, The Green Fairy And Pastis

Absinthe is the forerunner to one of the lost popular drinks in France; Pastis. But it didn’t start well…

In the late 19th century, absinthe was particularly popular among Parisian artists and writers. It was known as ‘La Fée Verte’ (The Green Fairy) because of its colour. The consumption of absinthe was opposed by social conservatives due to its association with bohemian culture. Notable absinthe drinkers included Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh and Erik Satie.

Edgar Degas' 1876 painting L'Absinthe can be seen at the Musée d'Orsay epitomising the popular view of absinthe addicts as drunken and paralysed. Émile Zola described its effects in his novel "L'Assommoir".

It was traditionally prepared by placing a sugar cube on top of a specifically-designed slotted spoon. The spoon was placed over the glass containing the absinthe and iced water then poured over the sugar cube to mix the water with the absinthe. The drink contained wormwood which was throught to have been a dangerously psychoactive drug and hallucinogeneric. Absinthe was subsequently banned in France in 1915.

This led to the popularisation of a new drink - pastis, a similarly-flavoured alcoholic drink that did not contain wormwood. Over the years, pastis has become known as the quintessential aperitif in the south of France. Locals spurn the air-conditioned café interiors and prefer shaded terrace tables and an icy glass of pastis.

There are now many famous brands of pastis, each with their own distinctive branding; Pernod, Ricard, Pastis 51, Henri Bardouin to name just a few.

Pastis 51

 © Céline Chea 

In the 1990s, there was a revival of absinthe, much of it being manufactured in Spain and Portugal. The French absinthe ban of 1915 was repealed in 2011 and it is now freely available with many popular brands.


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Hugh Atkins

Co-founder of Pure France. 20 years of visiting and photographing fabulous properties, meeting fascinating people and driving every main and back road in France.

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