Greece is a country full of history and civilization, aspects that are commonly associated with interesting culinary tradition, something that is true in Greece. Beyond Moussaka, Greek salad, Feta and Fava, a culinary tradition always includes alcoholic spirits, and Greece will surprise you with its list of unique or regional drinks.
King of the Greek Spirits and synonym with the country, it’s rare that you find a type of drink where just one sip contains the essence of a country’s summer day. Ouzo is an essentially Mediterranean spirit, and its history is lost in the very history of distillation. Close aperitifs may be found both in France and Italy, but it’s Ouzo that has taken taste enthusiasts by storm. It’s main ingredient herb is anise (Pimpinella anisum), which is also the most powerful taste one gets after drinking Ouzo, but different type of spices and herbs are also used in variable analogies, fennel (Foeniculum vulgare Miller), star anise, mastic, cinnamon, clove, coriander, angelica root, linden blossom, cardamom, mint, etc are all common ingredients, but every different brand has it’s own, unique -and usually family secret recipe- that differentiate its ouzo from the next one. It’s production plays a pivotal role in the final product and even the smallest alteration in it, alters also the final product. It’s high alcoholic strength keeps the essential oils of anise and other spices soluble, but in the addition of water, or ice cubes, that slowly melt, this strength decreases, making the anise and fennel essential oils become insoluble and thus the translucent Ouzo now gets a Cycladic white color. The best way to enjoy Ouzo is with friends over a plate of fresh seafood, just like Greeks do!
Essentially the same spirit, the production of Tsipouro dates back to the 14th century. Tsipouro is produced through fermentation of the grape marc, that is what’s left from the production of grape must, needed for wine. This makes tsipouro depend heavily on the quality of grapes, the soil and altitude of the vineyard, the time of picking etc. All these aspects help produce completely different varieties of Tsipouro, like Tsikoudia, that is made in Crete. Distilling Tsipouro is no easy process, thus until 1988 it was only allowed to viticulturists. Latest technical developments have helped more and more people dedicate into producing the perfect tsipouro. Some even include aromatic seeds or plants to produce a more layered and deep in taste final product. Distillation of the grape marc produces three separated results: head, heart and tail of tsipouro. Of these three only the heart is used and is diluted and left to mature before ever getting to the bottling process. Head and tail are collected and go in with the next batch of grape marc, giving year by year more depth and maturity to the end result, that is why it’s so often that house-produced tsikoudia and tsipouro are so much stronger and flavoured. Tsipouro usually accompanies meat dishes and plates and is also enjoyed in small portions, shots!
Rarely does a name get so linked to a type of consumer good. Metaxa is a type of spirit that resembles french brandy, but at the same time, tastes nothing like it! Spyros Metaxa, laid the foundations for a distillation facility in Greece, in 1888, setting out to create a smooth tasting, aromatic spirit, like they do in France. Using hand-picked distillates matured only in French Limousin oak casks, Metaxa blended their result with selected Muscat wines from the Aegean and added a secret mix of Mediterranean herb and floral extracts, to create the unique smooth and light paletted Metaxa. Ever since 1888, the distillery has never stopped, not even during the World Wars, and Metaxa managed to expand its reach and bring Greece closer to the taste buds of people. Exports have long surpassed the national consumption and the 3 star, 5 star, 7 star and 12 star Metaxa continue to impress whoever tastes them for the first time. Multiply awarded, the distillery has even created a new type of Metaxa with honey, one shot of it is like tasting a winter’s day in Greece!