No spirit is more loved by Greeks and foreigners than ouzo - the national drink of Greece! The best companion for any summer get-together is a refreshing ouzaki on the rocks! Never served alone, ouzo is the concentration of Greek life. It draws memories and opens up your appetite for favorite appetizers with its intimate, sweet smell and taste. Ouzo is the aroma of the sea mixed with the seeds of the Greek land which allow us to enjoy the taste of Greece in a glass!
What is Ouzo?
Ouzo, the anise-flavored liquor, is a product of the Greek soil that consists of pure ethyl alcohol. It is made from grape or grain and distilled with aniseed. Produced exclusively in Greece, it is the only spirit of its kind that has been categorized as distilled anise and is protected by the European Union with the designation PGI (Protected Geographic Indication). Some regions have even been awarded their own PGI because of their long history as ouzo producers.
The History of Ouzo
Ouzo has its roots in tsipouro, which is said to have been the work of 14th-century monks on Mount Athos. One variety of it was flavored with anise. This in due course came to be called ouzo.
Modern ouzo distillation began at the beginning of the 19th century following Greek independence. In 1856, the first ouzo distillery was founded in Tyrnavos. Later, ouzo producers developed a method of distillation using copper stills which is now the standard method of production.
The most famous ouzo comes from Mytilene, but also from many other parts of Greece such as Tyrnavos, Kalamata, and Nafplio.
The Art of Drinking Ouzo
When you go out for a meal in Greece, don’t be surprised if your waiter presents you with a shot glass full of opaque liquor before your entrée arrives. Greeks like to cleanse their palates and ease their mind with some ouzo before a meal. Ouzo is an aperitif that is drunk before eating to prepare your taste buds and "open" the appetite.
There’s an art to enjoying the anis-flavored nation drink. Good ouzo is around 40% alcohol by volume and isn’t made to be chugged. It’s always served with a glass of water for the purpose of mixing; that’s what turns it milky-white and helps to release its perfumes better. The key is to keep adding water as you drink to avoid dehydration and other ill effects. The proper way of serving is to first add the ouzo to the glass, then add cold water and, if desired, add ice.
The Ouzo & Meze Sensation
Always snack on some mezedes (appetizers) while you take your ouzo. The ouzo ritual demands good companions and fine appetizers, from a simple sliced tomato, cheese, a salad to other classic Greek appetizers like meatballs, grilled octopus, sardines, kalamari or fried fish. Munching on a meze will temper the alcohol and prolong the experience. The art of drinking ouzo is all about drinking lazily, relaxing in an ouzerie or kafeneio, and chatting with friends for the entire afternoon until the sun sets and dinner begins.
Of the many authentically Greek experiences, one of the most enjoyable, and delicious, is drinking ouzo and eating mezedes with friends at a seaside on the Greek islands or anywhere else in Greece. The water gently lapping at your feet while you taste the fresh local flavors and the warm hospitality of the Greeks are famous for has enticed many to return again and again.
Drinking ouzo "dry hammer" (xerosfyri) is frowned upon according to Greek drinking customs. Eating mezedes with ouzo adds to the enjoyment of the flavors, but there is also a practical reason as well. Eating food while sipping ouzo lessens the intoxicating effect of the drink, so the alcohol doesn’t hit the drinker all at once.
Ouzeries in Greece
Ouzeries can be found in nearly all cities, towns, and villages in Greece. Ouzeries are café-like establishments that specialize in small dishes (mezedes), usually served with ouzo, hence the name. Traditional ouzeries are usually plainly decorated and have marble or wooden tables tops and no tablecloths. In the older neighborhoods of Athens, like Plaka or Monastiraki, you tend to find them in combination with the kafeneio which serves Greek coffee and ouzo with meze. In this case, the meze is usually very plain, such as a few slices of tomato, a bit of cheese and a few olives or whatever they happen to have that day. The fancier, mezedopolio-ouzerie type is more like a restaurant and will serve a wider range of delicacies.
Greek souvenirs reflect the culture that makes them unique. So, on your next trip to Greece, take home the Greek souvenir that will let your taste memory take you back to cherished places and wonderful journeys. Take home a bottle of ouzo and say, “Ya mas” with a glass of the national drink of Greece on ice!