Every country has its own special food and drinks that are quintessentially theirs. For instance, Sangria is to Spain and pizza is to Italy. For Greece, it is Ouzo. Ouzo is the country’s national drink, and no trip to Greece is complete without trying this drink. Greeks of all ages enjoy Ouzo so to immerse oneself in the culture entirely, you will need to learn how to enjoy the beverage like a native Grecian.
The history of Ouzo is shockingly short. The precursor to Ouzo is believed to be Tsipouro, which is also a grape-based liquor. Tsipouro dates back to the 14th century. The difference between these two is the alcohol content and the flavouring of the liquor. Both have the same base of grape skins previously used for wine production. Ouzo has a distinct liquorice smell and taste.
The first distillery for the spirit was not opened until 1856. There is also an Ouzo museum on the island of Lesbos (also spelled Lesvos). In 2006, Greece received a Protected Designations of Origin Certification for Ouzo from the European Union. This limits production to themselves and the neighbouring country of Cyprus. If you see Ouzo that states it was manufactured elsewhere, it is not authentic.
Why Is It So Popular?
Ouzo is the official drink of Greece. This drink is part of the cultural fabric. It is classified as an aperitif, a drink meant to be served before the main course with appetisers, called mezethes. The flavours pair well with traditional Greek appetisers like calamari, feta cheese, and olives. Due to its high alcohol content, it is not recommended to drink it without food. Alcohol content on some brands can be 40% or more.
It is also thought to have healing properties. It has been used to help an upset stomach, headaches, flu, joint aches, and teething pains in babies. The terpenes in Ouzo are also believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and assist in antioxidant cellular activity. The medicinal qualities in the drink are thought to stem from the volume of spices used to flavor the liquor.
What Does It Taste Like?
This drink has a robust taste. The first notes in the alcohol are licorice and anise. However, after your first drink, the flavours can subtly change on your tongue. Ouzo has been known to have a subtle sweetness to it. Depending upon the brand, you can also notice hints of cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and fennel. Companies can get creative and add other things like fruits, but most stick to the classic flavour profile.
How Much Is Ouzo?
Overall Ouzo is not an expensive spirit to purchase. Based on the size of the bottle and the brand, prices varies from around $14-$50 USD.
How to Drink Ouzo?
There are two primary ways to drink it. It should be noted that Ouzo should be drunk cold. How you get the liquor cold is your decision. Some would say the way to drink it is to pour it into a glass and add ice cubes. The liquor will go from clear to cloudy, which is normal. This is the reaction the anise in the Ouzo has to ice. Others would say the appropriate way to drink ouzo is to pour it into a glass and then add cold water to the liquor. This method is preferred because pouring the Ouzo directly over ice may lead to crystallisation in your glass.
Recipe to Make Ouzo
Ouzo produced in Greek distilleries is made in copper stills. While each distillery may have very similar methods, those will be closely guarded secrets. If you search the internet, you can find some homemade versions of the drink that can fill the void but aren’t the same as authentic Greek version. Below is an example of a homemade recipe.
1/2 cup water
1/8 cup sugar
1/2 tsp chopped and dried angelica root
Pinch freshly grated mace
3 1/2 tsp anise extract
2 cups pure grain alcohol, like vodka
1 cup of water
Make a simple syrup with water and sugar. Add angelica root and mace.
Allow to cool, then add alcohol, anise extract, and water. Give it a good shake.
Age for one week and then strain into clean bottles. Allow an additional month for aging.
In Greece, Ouzo is not traditionally added into cocktails. Its use in a cocktail is a trend outside of the country. A common one is a pairing with lemonade. This can help cut down on the strong liquorice flavor. Here is an example of one you could try.
2 ounces of ouzo on standard room temperature
1 1/2 ounces of lemon juice. You can add more if desired.
3 leaves of mint
1 teaspoon of honey
3 ounces of iced water (you can add more or less according to your personal preference)
Pour ouzo into a glass.
Add mint leaves and lemon juice in it. Mix it up so the mint leaves can release their flavor.
Add honey and mix until dissolved.
Pour water in mix it up in the glass. You can also add more water to weaken the ouzo taste.
Where To Buy Ouzo In The US
Where you can buy Ouzo will depend on the laws of each state. Some states allow grocery stores to sell alcohol alongside beer and wine. Others require you to purchase it from a store owned by that state. Check the laws before you go to buy.
Most of the highly regarded brands are not for sale outside of Europe. However, some brands have made it to the US and are worth tasting.
Ouzo 12 is a premium ouzo from Greece. Silky texture infused with cinnamon and nutmeg. Barbayanni Ouzo has been in business since 1860. Enjoy this 92 proof alcohol with the appetisers of your choice. Metaxa Ouzo has traditional spices as well as berries.
This drink is something you should definitely try out when you’re on a vacation in Greece. Aside from learning Greek food culture, you will be able to try new things. That, in our opinion, is one of the best things about traveling. So what are you waiting for! Book a flight to Greece now!
*This article was contributed by Akshay Sharma.