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Distilleries et Domaines de Provence, Forqualquier, France.

The wonderful Pastis and other fine aperitifs
and liquors from the hills of Provence - "HB - Henri Bardouin"

Story and Photos by Peter and Linda D'Aprix 2005


M. Alain Robert

M. Alain Robert - President Directeur General

Pastis - Just the sound of the name is synonymous with France, or, rather, with visions of a sun drenched village café with wobbly table squeezed between a wall and the edge of the sidewalk under the shade of a plain tree, the smell of Gauloise wafting in the breeze, the stutter of a moped, the imprints of woven plastic seat bottoms on the back of bare legs. The tear drop glass, the triangular water carafe and the clear yellow liquid just waiting to be stirred with water into a milky drink with just an ice cube or two.

It is amazing to me that this nectar drunk all over France but most often associated, as it is with me, with Provence is not more popular in other parts of the world. After all, licorice and anis are popular all over the world, why not a drink that is in many ways a liquid version of it. Foreigners who know of Pastis tend to think of the more common variety such as Ricard, Pernod, 51 and others available in most  cafés. But for the aficionado, the ONLY pastis is "HB - Henri Bardouin" that made in the country town of Forqualquier in Haute-Provence. It is the smooth, complex and delicate nectar of the Gods; the result of over 40 different herbs still distilled in the old manner in an ancient, hideous stone barn in a still that would remind Americans of the hillbilly moon shiners. Blackened on the outside, stoked with wood from the surrounding hillsides, but gleaming on the inside, this still continues to produce this Rolls Royce of Pastis. And in 2008, a brand new Relais et Chateaux hotel opened just down the road in an ancient restored convent so you can enjoy exploring the region and having tastings with a luxury place to sleep of the delights.

The old distillerie

boutique

Interior of the boutique with
old copper distillation unit.

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100 year old distillerie

100 year old distillerie that burns wood and is still in use.

copper vat

Sparkling copper vat.

Pastis of Henri Bardouin

Pastis of
Henri Bardouin

Distillerie

The old stone barn used as distillerie

Dried herbs

Dried herbs used in blending the Pastis

This distillerie has been in the same family since the late 1800’s. It has survived wars and economic depressions. Today, while the old distillerie is still used, the heart of the business is located in the ultra modern facility. As well as pastis, they produce an absinthe, various fruit and nut flavored liquors, brandies, cooked wines, even a bubbly white wine.  

As authentic as the still remains, the storing, mixing, quality control, chemistry, bottling and packaging is as modern as it is possible to be. Where it is made is in one century; where it is produced is another. 

This is a drink that soothes the digestion, sets up the palate for a meal and partners nicely with Niçoise olives or a tapenade. It would be perfect all through the American sun belt from California to Florida but isn’t. Strangely the makers, Le Distellerie de Provence exports hardly any bottle to the US although the cousin of Pastis, Aniseth, finds its way to many American outlets. But it is bitter and needs to be poured over sugar cubes. Fine if you are addicted to ritual, but Pastis just takes water, maybe some ice and voila! Ready to drink.

I have shipped my annual bottle home from France with me for many years and just discovered that the producer was just 45 minutes from our little house in Provence.  In fact it was our newest favorite chef, M. Eric Canino, of Restaurant La Cremaillere in nearby Greoux-les-Bains, who offered to take me to the Distelleries de Provence for a tour. He lives just outside Forqualquier and grew up playing on the thyme and lavender covered hillsides from which the many herbs are gathered annually to make Pastis and the many other cordials and liqeurs that the Distelleries de Provence produces.

The ultra modern production plant

Bottling line

Bottling line

High tech lab analysis

Cathy Guillemin checking analysis of stages of production in the state of the art lab.

Herb chart

Herb chart

stainless steel vats

Ultra modern stainless steel vats.

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We were warmly welcomed in the attractive sales/tasting room at HB by the sales manager who introduced us to Mme. Guillemin, the quality control lab technician. She guided us through the modern facility with its 3 story racks of stainless steel tanks, it’s chemistry lab, bottling plant and storage facility. 

 We then moved on to the other side of town to negotiate the mine field of the original still in the old stone “bergerie” or barn. Illuminated with a couple 25 watt bulbs hanging on their original cloth covered wiring with a meager dribble of light filtering through a couple of centuries of grime on the windows, we picked out way through a litter of pipes, valves, tools and discarded bits and pieces of hardware. I thought there had been a fire in the place since everything was coated in a layer of coal black soot. But soon our guide opened the first vat which gleamed with battered but shining copper. The smoke from the wood fired boiler finds it’s way out a hole in the roof. Outside discarded orange plastic chairs compete for space with bright blue plastic barrels that hold the distillation of everything from herbs to apricots, the crystal clear liquid available for a quick sip.  

Their new web site is full of information about them, their history, their products in English, French and Provençal, the original language of the region that is a mix of Italian and French and barely understandable to the unitiated especially when spoken around a cigarette in a rough country accent. In the US, their pastis is hard to find but it is imported by Crillon Importers Ltd (link below). 

Distillerie et Domaines de Provence
BP No., 27
04301 Forcalquier Cedex
France
tel:011-33-(0)4.92.75.00.58
fax:011-33-(0)4.92.75.71,61
e-mail: info@distilleries-provence.com
web site: http://www.distilleries-provence.com

American Importers:

Crillon Importers Ltd.
The Atrium
80 Route Four East
Paramus, New Jersey 07652
tel: 201-368-8878
Fax: 201-368-4450 
E-mail: Support@CrillonImporters.com
web site: http://www.crillonimporters.com


All rights reserved peter d'aprix ©1985-2012.
No copying, reuse or partial reproduction permitted without written permission by the authors, Peter and Linda D'Aprix.

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