You’ve had a wonderful Greek meal, the bill comes and along with it is most likely is a small carafe or shot glass of a liquor and that aperitif can be different depending on where you are in the country. Like many other cultures, drinking here is a social event and has often become my main source of people watching while here. Cafes with outdoor seating lining the street, people sitting outside enjoying a cocktail in the late afternoon, recounting events of the day, playing cards or doing some people watching of their own. Liquors like Ouzo are watered down and sipped slowly over Meze of dips, cheeses, olives and small plates of seafood making for the ultimate happy hour. The ease and casualness of it all makes it a relaxing way to truly unwind from the day, exploring new tastes in food and booze and since no two Greek liquors are created equal, it has been a fun process learning about the drinks that are found in the different regions I’ve visited, their culture and history. I’ve laid out my five new things that I’ve had while in Greece, each with their own story. Who said you can’t become smarter from drinking?
The most iconic liquor that is synonymous with Greece and could be thought of as the national drink, rightfully so as the history for making ouzo can go back as far as the monks in the 14th century. It’s an anise flavored liquor so being someone who doesn’t like the flavor of licorice, it’s usually not for me (but hey free post meal drink is a free drink) but I’ve managed to consume more than my far share this trip. Ouzo of Plomari has been my favorite and is arguable the best, the island has a museum dedicated to the stuff and a yearly festival so I think they cornered the market.
Turkey has a drink with the same name, but don’t confuse the two as they are very different, and the Turkish version is more like an ouzo. Cretan Raki is made from crushed grape skins left over from wine production and you can find a lot of local, homemade versions making it in my opinion, the moonshine of Greek after dinner drinks . It’s a strong drink that is served after a meal often with fruit and will warm you up immediately and I’ve been warned that it comes with some wicked hang overs if you have too much!
I’m adding Tsipouro after Raki because of their many similarities. Like Raki, it is made in the autumn and is derived from grapes harvested but not used for wine. Tsipouro is made in northern greece and unlike Raki, it is usually flavored with the anise much like Ouzo, but softer. I’ve only tasted it in a shot straight out of the freezer but I’ve been told it can also be served warmed and I much preferred the homemade version I had the chance to try during an impromptu yet informative Tsipouro tasting with one of our hostel owners, and there is nothing like liquor made with love.
4. Mastika (Masticha)
After coming from the strong slap to your taste buds that is Raki, Mastika was a welcomed surprise. Masticha comes from the island of Chios, which has an evergreen tree found only in that region of the Mediterranean. What do Mediterranean trees have to do with alcohol? The resin from the trees is distilled and made into this light aromatic liquor. I think out of the five this has to be my favorite digestif, it’s sweeter, lighter and almost floral. Aside from the yummy drink, the sap also has medicinal and pharmaceutical properties.
Photo from the Mastiha Growers Association
According to legend, this Greek brandy was the first alcoholic beverage consumed in space so it has to be great right? Honestly, I wanted to say it has to be out of this world because I can’t resist the pun… It’s a mix of several grape varietals, with an amber hue, it is the only non clear liquid on my liquor list. It’s bitter to start but fruity to finish and makes for a smooth contender for first place on my list.
Really want to get into your Greek liquor history? Read all about it HERE, on the Greek Foundation of Spirit Producers. Yamas!