France: Making Much of a Mess

The French have taste-tested Scotch whisky, Russian vodka, even American colas, but when aperitif time rolls around they remain stubbornly French, call for a Dubonnet, a Byrrh, a Cinzano or—most popular of all—a pastis.

Sort of a sippin' cousin to Greek ouzo or Turkish raki, pastis is a golden thirst quencher from the south of France that combines alcohol, herbs, licorice and anise and is mixed with water; the name in Provencal dialect literally means "mess." More than 350 brands are available, but Frenchmen usually call for a Ricard. As a result, Ricard Inc. has become the biggest aperitif maker in...

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