It’s the biggest-selling spirit in France, and it’s being produced to an exceptional standard in the hills of Castlemaine.

From the French Riviera to the hills of Castlemaine, Forêt is reintroducing the famous pastis to Australia. With Forêt, makers Nathan Malcolm, Charles-Andre Lemire and Niama Wessely aim to transport the local image of the drink far from the dusty old Pernod bottle sitting in the cupboard and into the present day.

Here’s Charles with the lowdown.

Give us the elevator pitch, what makes your pastis special?
I think that pastis is in itself different. When I talk about pastis, I find it surprising that most people have never heard of it – it’s still the biggest selling spirit in France. 

As for Forêt, the real secret is in the provenance of our botanicals. We grow most of the herbs we use ourselves or with farmers around Castlemaine. We also forage quite a bit – the wormwood we use, for instance, and a few other plants like native pennyroyal. We pick, dry, process, distil and bottle everything ourselves which gives us an amazing control on the quality.

Lastly, being surrounded by a community of creators and experts here in Castlemaine really inspired us to make our pastis the way it is. Victoria is definitely the most interesting place on the planet to be as a distiller or a chef. 

Who are you guys and what are you all about?
Nathan has been a distiller for over 10 years in both Australia and the UK. He’s worked on large- and small-scale gin and whisky programs, but also with less mainstream spirits like apple brandy. He’s a wealth of knowledge when it comes to chemistry, taste and traditional methods.

Charles (that’s me) has extensive experience in hospitality, working in bistros and bars in Paris for seven years. I’m trained in visual arts, and I am reconnecting with my roots and passion for food and drinks with this project. Pastis is my favourite drink in the world! 

Niama has also moved from hospitality to graphic design. She’s everything visual for Forêt, while also having a serious knowledge of what’s what in hospitality.

So how do you make it?
Pastis is a spirit, so it contains quite a bit of alcohol. We then use our dried plants – we have more than 20 different botanicals to use – carefully measure each one, and put them in the alcohol for a few weeks. Once the alcohol has rested with the plants and gorged itself on their flavours, we distil our potion one more time, prepare a simple sugar syrup and a bit of spring water, mix it all up, rest it a bit longer and bottle it.

What excites you about this project?
I think that introducing a very different spirit is really amazing. Describing pastis to people that have never heard of it before is a lot of fun, and so is seeing how it resonates with their memories or experiences of similar products or travels. Chefs, winemakers and sommeliers have been really impressed with the quality and distinct flavour profile of our pastis. Creativity, craft and connecting with people is really at the heart of this project and it’s been a fantastic time so far.

What are the perfect conditions to enjoy Forêt?
Pastis is best served with ice cubes and a bit of water. The ritual is to pour a measure of pastis into each glass and have ice cubes and a small carafe of water on the side so you decide on how you prefer it – there are a million theories on how to make it best but it all comes down to your own taste. But more importantly, being surrounded by good mates, maybe some sunshine, playing pétanque or bocce. Oh and if you add any Serge Gainsbourg records in the background it will take you straight back to France for a very moderate price.

Is this here for a good time or a long time?
A good long time for sure. We can’t wait for people to really fall in love with this spirit. It will become a staple that you can’t believe you lived without.

Where can we buy it?
We’re new in town but growing fast. Napier Quarter has been our first and foremost spot, but you can also find us at Bar Bellamy, Neighbourhood Wines, Brico or Bar Liberty in the inner north, Chronicles / Tom’s liquor in St Kilda, Our Terroir in Richmond, everywhere you go in Castlemaine and most of Central Victoria. We’re also doing a collab with Navi in Yarraville in June and we’re super excited about it!