The Greeks are known for their love of ouzo, a drink that has its roots in tsipouro and is a mixture of alcohol, water, and aromatic herbs, with anise being one of the major ingredients. The origin of ouzo's name is believed to come from the Italian phrase 'uso Massalia', which translates to 'for use in Marseille', which was printed on some boxes of exportable silkworm cocoons from Tyrnavos in the 19th century. For some reason, this phrase became a synonym to high quality ouzo. Another explanation for ouzo's name origin is that it comes from üzüm, a Turkish word meaning 'a bunch of grapes'.
The first distillery was founded in Tyrnavos, a municipality in the Larissa regional unit, of the Thessaly region of Greece, in 1856. Since then, 'ouzo Tyrnavou' is one of the most recognizable brands in the ouzo market. Nowadays, one of the largest ouzo producers in Greece is Varvayiannis, located in Plomari, a village in the south of the island of Lesvos.
The distillation of ouzo takes place in special distilleries, made of copper. After mixing the different ingredients, the mixture is boiled. After several hours of distillation, the 'heads and tails' (the initial spirit and the one at the end) of the distillate are removed, in order to avoid heavy aromatics. At this point, water dilution takes place and the final product is about 37.5 to 50 ABV (Alcohol By Volume).
Ouzo with meze - credits: dinosmichail/Shutterstock.com
Ouzo is a particularly strong drink and you should be careful when drinking it. A good piece of advice would be to drink it slowly, adding cold water to your glass, which is usually thin and tall, while accompanying it with some ouzo meze, meaning Greek appetizers such as octopus, salads, calamari or sardines, which are the most popular choices for snacks among ouzo-drinkers.
Drinking ouzo in a local seaside tavern will certainly be one of the highlights of your trip to Greece! If it is the first time that you taste this special drink, e highly recommend you try either Varvayiannis or Ouzo 12. These are two of the most popular and high-quality ouzo brands in Greece and can be found in almost every eatery you choose. In general, the difference in taste between mainstream brand names of ouzo is not that discernable, so don't worry too much about it; you'll only be able to taste a difference If you are lucky enough to be entreated to try some homemade ouzo or if you find yourself in a remote village where they make their own. Despite this, however, a bottle of ouzo from one of the mainstream brands is still a marvelous sundowner and is best enjoyed with some ice & cold water.
Greek tavern by the sea serving ouzo along with traditional Greek dishes - credits: Veniamakis Stefanos/Shutterstock.com
Consult our guide to Greek spirits and enjoy a rich accompaniment of cheeses, charcuterie, and olives from across Greece! Alternatively, if you want to sip your ouzo in some of the coolest hangouts in Athens, join us on our brand new Athens Nocturnal Gems Tour, you won't regret it!