Spirits in Greece have their own unique character and aroma. Drinking alcoholic beverages has a symposium-like and festive quality abundant at celeberations in Greece, especially on name days, birthdays, holidays, weddings, gatherings, graduations and christenings. Here is the top Greek spirit selection that you should definitely taste when you visit Greece.
Ouzo: the king of Greek spirits
Ouzo is the spirit that has always been exclusive to Greeks. The white color of the anise, its distinctive aroma and strong flavor make it internationally recognizable and closely attached to Greece.
Ouzo is traditionally mixed with water, becoming cloudy white, and served with ice cubes in a small glass. Ouzo can also be drunk straight from a shot glass. Served with a small plate of a variety of appetizers called mezes, usually small fresh fish, fries, olives and feta cheese, ouzo has a smooth yet distinctly sweetened taste that can bring light-headedness in only a few shots.
Tsipouro: the portrait of Greece
Tsipouro is an authentic Greek product closely interwoven with the Greek lifestyle, hospitality and entertainment. It is produced by the distillation of grape marc. The production process commences with the selection of the grape varieties and in turn entails the thorough fermentation of the grape marc, namely the pomace (the skins remaining after pressing the grapes to obtain the grape must, indispensable for the production of wine) and the slow and gradual distillation of the fermented grape marc.
Depending on the time of year, tsipouro is used either as refreshment or as a hot beverage, and depending on the time of day, it replaces for many the drinking of coffee or wine. It is usually served in shot glasses, with ice, often with delicious meze including feta, ham, olives, tomatoes, halva or other desserts in restaurants.
Especially after the financial crisis struck Greece, it has been widely popular as it is low-cost and the ideal beverage for a relaxed night out with friends.
Masticha of Chios
Mastic, widely known since ancient times for its beneficial and therapeutic properties, is an aromatic resin offered to us by the mastic tree, a shrub flourishing exclusively in Southern Chios. The liqueur known as Masticha of Chios is produced on the island and is the outcome of the distillation of genuine mastic, a process that distinguishes it from a plain mastic liqueur. It is traditionally and exclusively produced in Greece, on the island of Chios in particular. This traditional Greek liqueur shows enormous potential in the international market, particularly after its exclusive production in Greece was secured by EU legislation.
Raki/Tsikoudia: The Cretan Spirit
Raki, also known as tsikoudia, is an alcoholic, grape-based beverage of Cretan origin that contains 40 – 65% alcohol by volume. As a tourist coming to Crete there is a 100% chance that more sooner than later you will get offered at least 1 glass of tsikoudia. For new visitors this happens usually after your first dinner in a restaurant or taverna. The process of raki’s distilling is like an annual fiesta. Cretans wait patiently for this period to come, they are gathering to special places with pots, where the distillation takes place and during the process they celebrate, with lots of food, drink, song and dance. The ideal period to make raki is late October and early November.
During the Turkish occupation of Crete the name raki was given to the local tsikoudia, since there were some similarities. Now both names are used in Crete equally. The Turkish raki has a history going back 300 years. But it all started much longer ago: famous coppersmiths from Armenia and the Pont, who made nice decorated distilling vessels, confirmed the deep knowledge of distillation in all the Byzantine empire.
Wine is the most ancient Greek alcohol and Greece is the first wine-producing territory in Europe. According to Greek mythology wine started in Greece when Dionysus, the half-man half-god son of Zeus, lived in the mountains and learned the wine making process. Dionysus brought the art of wine making to humans when he taught Icarus, the king of Athens, how to make wine. In ancient times, as trade in wine became extensive, it was transported from end to end of the Mediterranean; Greek wine had especially high prestige in Italy under the Roman Empire. Greece has a number of wine grapes unique to Greece which are rarely if ever used outside of the country. Most of these unique grapes are white grapes, like Assyrtiko and Vidiano, but there are also red grapes like Kotsifali and Mandilaria.
Retsina is a wine product also unique to Greece. The base of this Greek alcohol is white wine or rosé, but it has an additional flavor of pine resin. This is an odd combination that can be off-putting for those not used to the flavor profile, but the Greeks have been drinking retsina for thousands of years. Its unique flavor is said to have originated from the practice of sealing wine vessels, particularly amphorae, with Aleppo Pine resin in ancient times. Before the invention of impermeable glass bottles, oxygen caused many wines to spoil within the year. Pine resin helped keep air out, while at the same time infusing the wine with resin aroma.
If you feel motivated and thirsty after reading this, you can always indulge in a unique Greek Spirits Tasting experience with the Athens Insiders team!