Greeks love drinking ouzo. It is a drink that has its roots in tsipouro and is a mixture of alcohol, water and aromatic herbs (anise is one of the major ingredients).The origin of its name is believed to come from the italian "uso Massalia" (meaning "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 the origin is that it comes from üzüm, a turkish word meaning "bunch of grapes".
The first distillery was founded in Tyrnavos 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, especially if you have to drive back to your hotel or home. A good piece of advice is to drink it slowly, adding cold water to your glass (usually served in a thin and tall glass) and eating some ouzo mezedes. Mezes in greek is an appetizer such as octopus, salads, calamari or sardines and it is a very common choice for greeks of all ages to order some mezedes when drinking ouzo.
Drinking ouzo in a local seaside tavern should be one of the highlights of your trip to Greece! If it is the first time that you taste this special drink, you should try either Varvayiannis or Ouzo 12. These are two of the most popular and high-quality ouzo brands in Greece and can be found nearly everywhere. In general it the difference in taste between mainstream brand names of ouzo is not that discernable. If you are lucky enough to be invoked to try some homemade ouzo or you find yourself in a remote village where they make their own then you will certainly taste a difference. However, a good bottle of ouzo from one of the main 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
Discover the best spirits of Greece with our Tasting Greece Workshop and enjoy a rich accompaniment of cheeses, charcuterie, and olives from across Greece! Or 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!