Sometimes we find a wine, and other times a wine finds us. Then there is the rare occasion when it’s not wine at all, rather a drink to remind us of hot summer afternoons, village parties and Le Tour.
On a recent trip back to France, I took an afternoon out to travel to a nearby town to watch a stage of Le Tour de France pass by. It was the peak of the summer heat wave, and rather than stand in the sun waiting for cyclists, I nabbed a shady outdoor spot at the most local of bars where the pastis was cheaper than bottled water. By the end of that tall, refreshing glass it was clear our next producer would be the best expression of this rustic, aniseed-y spirit I could find.
Pastis Garagai, meaning ‘gulf’ or ‘hole’ in local Provencal dialect, is the work of young Maixent Dubois. Growing up among the family vineyard in Provence might have steered him towards the family business; however he has chosen to take the spirit of terroir and apply it to pastis.
The story began with 300 bottles for the 2019 vintage, as a side hustle while Maixent was working part time at the vineyard. Today, the average yearly production is still tiny, with just 5,000 bottles per year, to ensure each vintage produced retains a focus on quality.
Pastis Garagai is distilled from a base of star anise and liquorice from Provence plus about twenty other botanicals and plants, many of which are foraged from the Sainte-Victoire mountain or grown organically on the vineyard. These include fennel flower, lemon basil, liquorice basil, Marseille basil, peppermint, tarragon, sage, absinthe, verbena, thyme, rosemary and lemon thyme.
By sourcing locally, Maixent can limit the environmental impact of transportation, control picking so he takes only what is required and importantly provides the freshest possible ingredients for his pastis. The depth of flavour added by fresh botanicals means the amount of added sugar is three to four times lower than commercial brands.
The distillery itself is based in Aix-En-Provence, and consists of three small alembic pot stills - one 400L, one 300L and one 100L. After the botanicals are harvested from April to October, they undergo a week-long maceration one by one with a neutral grape alcohol. The fresh plants haven’t been dried beforehand, so they keep their natural vibrancy and deepness of flavor. After this comes the crucial blending process, taking place in November, and finally bottling with light filtration and no sulfur added.
The result is a truly refreshing, artisanal expression of a traditional southern France aperitif. We love Maixent’s approach to making pastis from a single origin, a little bit like a wine domaine producing grapes only from one location.To make a bold statement, we think it’s the best pastis out there. Don’t take our word for it though - pour yourself a dash, mix with chilled water and ice then dive in.