The Greeks may be known more for their great food and folk dancing abilities, and less for their range of alcoholic beverages, but you can rest assured that, as a nation, they know how to drink! As one of the most ancient civilizations, Greece has a rich history in wine production and wine drinking, and although one could write an essay on the plethora of delicious Greek wines, this article will go into detail about some other Greek spirits that the average traveler would not likely know or hear about. Read below the unique heritage and origins of the top Greek spirits, and make a toast to your upcoming vacation in Greece!
Ouzo and mezedes - credits: dinosmichail/Shutterstock.com
Ouzo is the most popular consumed distilled spirit in the whole of Greece and was introduced to the country along with the refugees that came from Asia Minor. According to Robert Botet, who wrote an article in the Journal of Physics about the molecular make-up of ouzo, this substance is made from anethol oil which is found in anise plants (native to the Mediterranean region as well as the regions of China and Vietnam). Other drinks you may know of that are made from anethol oil, are sambuca in Italy, raki in Turkey and pastis in France. What connects these to ouzo is the unique way in which the drink dilutes in water: adding water makes the clear liquid turn into a milky white, semi-opaque color. This spirit is especially popular in the summertime and you will often see it accompanied by Greek meze (tapas) like grilled octopus, sardines and fried squid.
This classic Greek spirit is also used as a home remedy: given its sky-high alcohol levels, it is used even today as an antiseptic. Greeks will also use lukewarm ouzo as a remedy for a bad toothache or in the past, they would rub the spirit on tight muscles or joints.
Disclosure: Do not drink on an empty stomach and always mix it with water and ice! It is a sneaky drink that gets to you without you realizing!
Tsipouro and mezedes - credits: Lydia Vero/Shutterstock.com
Tsipouro, tsikoudia, and raki are all the same spirit and, unlike ouzo, they are grape distillates. The alcoholic grade of tsipouro is higher than ouzo and can, therefore, be considered stronger, but ouzo is said to give worse hangovers! Tsipouro is believed to have originated in the 14th century in Mount Athos before spreading to the rest of Greece and Macedonia. Tsipouro can also have anise in it making it sweeter - more commonly found in the north of Greece. This spirit is usually drunk straight and not diluted in water or ice, but always accompanied by lots of mezedes! If you come to Greece, be sure to visit an authentic tsipouradiko (meaning; the small restaurants serving tsipouro and meze dishes). The best are found in Volos, where you can order a 200ml bottle of tsipouro and get a free plate of mouthwatering mezedes.
Tentura is a liqueur that has origins in the Greek city of Patra, located in the eastern part of the Peloponnese, back in the 15th century and is exclusively produced in Greece. This herb and spice liqueur is typically potent with cinnamon and cloves, nutmeg and citrus fruits -spices that would be traded into Patra's port- as well as alcohol and sugar. Tentura is typically served in small shot glasses over ice or in cocktails, and usually after a meal as it can be employed as a digestive drink.
Kumquat Liquer of Corfu
Kumquat liquer - credits: 5PH/Shutterstock.com
The most northwestern island of Greece, Corfu, is home to the kumquat tree since 1924. The literal translation of Kumquat from Chinese is 'golden orange', which is precisely what the fruit looks like. It is a bitter-tasting citrus fruit that cannot be eaten raw, but the liqueur made from it is deliciously sweet and often described as the Greek version of Limoncello. The family-run distillery Mavromatis is perhaps the best-known producer of the liqueur on the island and demonstrates the multiple ways that the particular fruit ican be consumed.
Mastiha of Chios
Mastic tree garden - credits: tolgaildun/Shutterstock.com
Another of Greece’s most famous liqueurs is the mastic of Chios. This PDO product is a flavored liqueur from the oil produced from the mastic tree, indigenous to the island of Chios, in the northeastern Aegean. The mastic tree is the island’s trade secret and its cultivation goes as far back as the ancient times. Mastic trees actually grow all over the world, but Chios is the only place where the trees produce resins from their bark, which is what creates the distinctive taste. The product had such economic leverage that the island was often victim to conquerors and pirate invasions. Today, over 90% of the mastic produced is exported in various forms: chewing gum, spices, sweets, and of course, the delicious liqueur that one should not miss when visiting Greece!
Kitro of Naxos
Kitro liqueur of Naxos - credits: www.naxospress.gr
Flourishing on the Cycladic island of Naxos, the citron tree produces citron leaves from which the exclusive Kitro liqueur is made. According to the website Greek Federation of Spirit Producers, this is the driest and strongest of all Greek liqueurs with 36% vol. Despite its high alcohol content, Kitro of Naxos is particularly sweet and aromatic, making it a favorite of even those who do not like strong distillates. This is another PDO product, and it is produced in three main versions: white (strongest), green and yellow - making them very distinctive. Vallindras Distillery is located in Chalki village and is open to the public - a must see if you are visiting this beautiful island!
Learning about the vast variety of exceptional Greek spirits is exciting because wherever you go in the country, you will find an extraordinary taste that you can’t find anywhere else. Here at Greeking.me, we have developed our very own Tasting Greece Workshop, where you can dig right into Greece's most distinct tastes. From Athens, the mainland and the Peloponnese to northern Aegean, the Cyclades and the Ionian islands: every corner of this beautiful country has something very special to offer and it is all waiting to be discovered!