Whether you're a self-proclaimed Francophile or someone who's simply looking to broaden their knowledge of different libations, these distinctly French beverages are worth trying.
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There are many ways to travel, but we think sipping a good drink is one of the most evocative yet attainable options—especially now, when international flights and long-haul vacations just might not be in the cards. France produces a staggering number of well-known and less mainstream spirits, liqueurs, cordials, and fortified wines. Here, we highlight ten that are absolutely worth trying. They criss-cross the country and culture and range from smooth distillations to herb-infused and fruit-rich infusions drawing on botanicals and local harvests. So, if you're ready to imbibe like the French, there's really only one thing left to do: Pour a drink and say "Santé!"

bistro cocktails in paris
Credit: AlexKozlov / Getty Images

Pastis

To conjure up a Provençal holiday, all you need to do is acquire a bottle of pastis. This herb-strong apéritif is about licorice and louche, which is the flavor and the milky transformation that occurs when you add water to the aromatized spirit. In general, all pastis is heavy on either star anise or actual licorice, while fennel and other Mediterranean herbs might also feature alongside imports like cardamom. Pastis is refreshing and calming, and it will instantly transporting you to a warm afternoon in the south of France.

Absinthe

Loved in Paris but banned in 1915 by the French government, absinthe was associated with madness, murder, and the odd seizure. Wormwood—a key ingredient—was named the culprit. Like all wormwoods, Artemisia absinthium contains thujone, which has been associated with hallucinatory effects minus the evidence to support it. The truth is, it was the spirit's serious alcohol content (between 45 and 75 percent ABV) that is more likely to have caused problems. The ban was lifted in France in 2000 and in the U.S. in 2007, which means that absinthe is being made and sold again.

Sipping absinthe like a purist involves a sugar cube placed on a slotted spoon rested on a glass filled with about an ounce of absinthe. Pour iced water slowly over the cube to drip the water into the absinthe. (The ideal ratio is one part absinthe to three to five parts water.)

Armagnac

Like Cognac but with less name-recognition, Armagnac is a brandy made from white grapes. It's produced in the Campagne-d'Armagnac commune in the Gers department of southwest France, south of Cognac. Unlike double-distilled Cognac, Armagnac is distilled once before being aged in oak. Its flavor and nose are considered more robust and complex than sleeker but better-known Cognac. Sip it solemnly when you have the time and solitude to savor it.

Calvados

Made in Normandy, Calvados is a brandy distilled from apple or pear cider. It must be aged for two years in oak before being sold, and is often aged longer, which allows it to become smoother. Many apple and pear cultivars are used in the cider-making process, each chosen for their particular sweet, sour, or tannic qualities. Younger Calvados has a brighter, fruitier flavor and is a good mixer for cocktails. Aged Calvados is an excellent sipping-brandy (and memorably good accompanied by a bite of dark chocolate).

Crème de Cassis

Crème de cassis relies on one ingredient to define it: blackcurrants (cassis, in French). Their musky pungency is intense. While it is now made in several countries, two French designations stand out: Crème de Cassis de Dijon and Crème de Cassis de Bourgogne can only be made in Dijon and Burgundy respectively and must contain local blackcurrants. Crème de cassis is a compelling apéritif and begs for good pairings: Cut it with chilled sparkling water to make a refreshing, low ABV long drink. It is essential in the timelessly good Kir Royale, or a low-key Kir. White vermouth and even a bold, chilled red wine blend well with this blackcurrant elixir.

Chartreuse

Chartreuse is a liqueur that vibrates with aromatic components. Originating within the walls of a monastery near Grenoble in the Carthusian Mountains (Massif de Chartreuse) in the French Alps, its hand-me-down recipe is hundreds of years old. It's said to include 130 ingredients and only three Carthusian brothers know the recipe. Green and yellow Chartreuses differ in flavor. Both are complex. Their strength and spicy, herbal layers blend successfully with juniper-forward gin, clear spirits like vodka, white rum, and silver Tequila, sour citrus, and mild fruit juices (think watermelon, and pear).

Génépi

Génépi (or genepy) is a fluid catch-all that describes cordials whose recipes are variations on an Alpine digestíf motif. They are made by infusing clear high-proof liquor—then re-distilling a portion of that liquor—with mountain herbs. The sweet liqueurs are named for génépi, the French common name for Alpine wormwoods, whose sage-like bitterness is always present, tempered by sugar. They make good, quiet drinks with ice, brightened by fresh lemon juice or orange zest, or cut with sparkling water or tonic.

Gentiane

Gentian plants abound in the French Alps, where the roots of the tall yellow gentian (Gentiana lutea) are used to flavor most gentianes, a bittersweet cordial. The powerfully bitter roots are fermented before infusing a neutral spirit that is then distilled again and sweetened. Alpine supermarkets offer regionally-specific (and U.S.-obscure) variations of this gentiane-bitter and sweet cordial, but luckily, some classic brands (like Suze) cross the Atlantic to allow us to taste the mountains.

Vermouth

Vermouth is an aromatized, fortified white or red wine, often slightly sweetened, featuring varying numbers of fresh or dried herbs, spices, flowers, and fruits. While vermouth might be viewed as the insignificant ingredient in a martini, a good vermouth, straight up, with ice and some clementine peel, is perhaps the elegantly ideal libation to accompany an early-evening celebration for one (or three) featuring a dish of olives, a slice of terrine, a cornichon, and a view of distant rooftops.

Rinquinquin

This Provençal aperitif has a white wine base infused with the flavor of peach leaves and peaches. After macerating in wine the solids left behind are distilled and that liquor is used to lightly fortify the wine. The drink has an intense peach aroma with hints of marzipan. The flavor is sweet and fruity. The name sounds like its possible derivation: requinquer is to cheer up, or perk up. And this delightful, low ABV drink will do just that. Sip it well-chilled, over ice, or with a splash of sparkling water.

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