True spir­its of France

The roots of mega- con­glom­er­ate Pernod Ri­card come from two very French spir­its.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TASTE -

IT was a ques­tion that had bugged me ever since I came to know about the global drinks con­glom­er­ate called Pernod Ri­card: what ex­actly is Pernod and Ri­card?

Well, ap­par­ently both Pernod AND Ri­card are well- known spir­its in their own right. Al­though they are rel­a­tively un­known in th­ese parts, they are amongst the most pop­u­lar drinks in their na­tive France, and used to be bit­ter ri­vals, ac­cord­ing to Pernod Ri­card Malaysia mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor Em­manuel Dokhe­lar.

To know the story of how Pernod and Ri­card be­came the global con­glom­er­ate called Pernod Ri­card, one has to go back to the 1790s, when Henri Louis Pernod first got his hands on ( the founder of ab­sinthe) Dr Pierre Or­di­naire’s recipe, and opened the first ab­sinthe dis­tillery in Cou­vet, Switzer­land, to­gether with his part­ner Daniel Henry Du­bied.

Back then, Pernod was bet­ter known as an ab­sinthe pro­ducer, and when the com­pany moved its op­er­a­tions to Pon­tar­lier, France, in 1805, the town be­came the global cen­tre of ab­sinthe pro­duc­tion. Pernod be­came so pop­u­lar that Pablo Pi­casso even did a paint­ing of it, ti­tled Bot­tle of Pernod ( Ta­ble in a Cafe).

Un­for­tu­nately, the hey­day of ab­sinthe died in 1915, when the con­sump­tion and pro­duc­tion of the drink, which could go up to 68- 69% al­co­hol base vol­ume ( ABV), was banned through­out Europe for sup­pos­edly caus­ing so­cial ills and al­co­holism.

“In 1922, it be­came le­gal once again to sell anise- based spir­its, as long as it wasn’t ab­sinthe, and was only 40% ABV,” said Dokhe­lar. “Pernod im­me­di­ately jumped from dis­till­ing ab­sinthe to dis­till­ing anise. Thus, Pernod is a dis­til­la­tion of anise plus some aro­matic herbs from the South West of France.”

Then, in 1932, along came a French­man called Paul Ri­card, who cre­ated a new type of spirit called pastis. Made us­ing star anise ( in­stead of the usual green anise used in ab­sinthe) and liquorice, the spirit’s dis­tinct flavours set it apart from ab­sinthe, and soon, its pop­u­lar­ity came to ri­val that of ab­sinthe and Pernod’s anise liqueur.

“Pastis takes anise, aro­matic herbs, and also some liquorice, but in­stead of dis­tilled, it is mac­er­ated in a base spirit,” Dokhe­lar added. “The flavours be­tween Pernod and Ri­card were not as dif­fer­ent, but the ad­di­tion of liquorice was dis­tinct enough to make Ri­card a suc­cess.”

Ac­cord­ing to Dokhe­lar, Pernod and Ri­card were bit­ter ri­vals for a long time. “Their ri­valry was as big as Coca- Cola and Pepsi. The two com­pa­nies hated each other. Then in 1975, they re­alised that if they wanted to go fur­ther out­side of France, they had no choice but to join forces,” he said. “They could ei­ther keep fight­ing each other for the small anise mar­ket, or they could merge and go for a big­ger global mar­ket.”

Al­though it seemed like an un­easy al­liance at first (“Even to­day, peo­ple in Ri­card would never drink Pernod, and vice versa,” says Dokhe­lar), Pernod Ri­card went on to be­come one of the big­gest bev­er­age con­glom­er­ates in the world, with ma­jor brands like Chivas Re­gal, The Glen­livet sin­gle malt, Martell Cognac, Ab­so­lut Vodka, Jame­son Ir­ish whiskey, Ha­vana Club rum, and Ja­cob’s Creek wines un­der their um­brella.

But enough about the com­pa­nies. What do Pernod and Ri­card ac­tu­ally taste like in the first place? Dur­ing our in­ter­view at ar­guably the only “Ri­card out­let” in KL, Rendez- Vous French restau­rant in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, we tasted both spir­its side by side, first neat, and then in their most com­mon serves.

First, the colours – Pernod is a strik­ing green colour liq­uid, per­haps a nod to Pernod’s ab­sinthe roots ( ab­sinthe used to be called “the green fairy”), while Ri­card is yel­low, which Dokhe­lar says comes from the liquorice.

The sharp, dis­tinct aroma of anise is im­me­di­ately recog­nis­able on the nose for both spir­its, though the Ri­card has a slightly more com­plex nose, thanks to the unique scent of liquorice.

At 40% and 45% ABV re­spec­tively, both Pernod and Ri­card are not meant to be drunk neat, as the com­bi­na­tion of anise and the high al­co­hol con­tent would be too over­pow­er­ing to en­joy prop­erly.

The most tra­di­tional serves for both drinks is by mix­ing one part of the spirit with five parts of wa­ter into a glass filled with ice.

“The wa­ter helps to di­lute the al­co­hol in the spirit, and makes it eas­ier and more re­fresh­ing to drink,” said Dokhe­lar. “If you want a stronger drink, you just add less wa­ter.”

Be­cause of the anise con­tent in the drinks, the ad­di­tion of wa­ter im­me­di­ately turns the spirit cloudy, but fear not, the drink it­self is a won­der­fully re­fresh­ing tip­ple. With Pernod, you get a more straight up anise- flavoured long drink; while with Ri­card, there is an added layer of com­plex­ity thanks to the liquorice, which seems to be­come more pro­nounced with the ad­di­tion of wa­ter.

“An­other clas­sic drink us­ing Ri­card is the Per­ro­quet ( French for “par­rot”) cock­tail, which is Ri­card with mint. It’s green in colour, and good for those who don’t like strong anise or liquorice flavours,” he said. “Some bar­tenders have said it’s eas­ier to make cock­tails with Pernod, be­cause there is no liquorice in it.”

So there you have it. Pernod Ri­card may be a global name right now, but at the heart of the mega- con­glom­er­ate, is a story of two spir­its that are as French as can be.

Michael Cheang still hasn’t got the hang of anise- based spir­its, but it’s slowly grow­ing on him. Drop him a note at the tipsy- turvy Face­book page ( www. face­book. com/ mytip­sy­turvy).

— Pho­tos: MIchAEL chEANG/ the Star

Pernod and ri­card are both French anise- flavoured spir­its that have their roots in ab­sinthe. ( right) the tra­di­tional way to serve ri­card is with one part spirit, five parts wa­ter, and served with ice.

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