Of all the alcoholic beverages consumed in Greece – from beer to wine to whiskey to vodka to gin – none is more quintessentially Hellenic than ouzo. Unmistakably Greek, an array of varieties of ouzo can be found just about anywhere, from sizeable supermarkets to tiny grocery shacks. And, of course, throughout Greece’s countless bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and tavernas.
Of all the different regions and islands of Greece that boast about making the best ouzo, the top spot, by plurality if not majority, most often goes to the island of Lesbos, best known nowadays by the name of its capital town, Mytilene. But Lesbos’ southward neighbor, Chios, is by no means a slouch when it comes to producing some of Greece’s finest ouza. I have been to Chios many times and have consumed a variety of its ouzo offerings. While visiting the island this summer, I decided to take a blind taste test, selecting five of Chios’ best-known ouza. My wife graciously assisted me in pouring each ouzo, neat (no water or ice), into a shot glass, not telling me which was which. I then proceeded to take a sip from each, cleansing my palate with lemon and water after each sip. I followed the process a second time just to make sure, as I jotted down my impressions. Then, we repeated the process adding ice (in larger glasses). Again, I went through two rounds of sips, and was happy to have made some notable distinctions among the brands. In other words, I’m happy that I did not conclude: “they all taste the same.”
Like most hard liquor, ouzo is typically 80 proof (40% alcohol). Chios ouza tend to contain a smidgen less alcohol.
The five brands of Chios ouzo I chose to compare, in alphabetical order, with proof numbers in parentheses next to them, are: Apalarina (78), Kakitsi (76), Psihis (76), Stoupaki (80), and Tetteri (80). While some of these brands have more than one option, I selected a basic version of each.
Psihis is the one I most often drink when on the island. A friend introduced it to me years ago, and I never looked back. Other friends were more partial to Apalarina and Kakitsis, prompting me to try those as well. I had tasted Stoupaki and Tetteri at some point in the past but had no particular recollection of them.
From the very first sip, “Glass #2” stood out as the ideal balance of sweetness, potency, anise flavoring, and lingering aftertaste. A close second was #3. Glass #1 tasted harsh, #4 overly anisey, and #5 too plain. The second round of neat sipping confirmed these observations. Adding ice to the mix helped strengthen #2 as the winner and #5 broke away from #1 and #4, the ice opening up its flavor.
Fifth Place: Glass #4 – Tetteri.
Fourth Place: Glass # 1 – Stoupaki.
Third Place: Glass # 5 – Apalarina.
Second Place: Glass #3 – Psihis.
And the winner, by close decision: Glass #2 Kakitsi.
The results, of course, are quite subjective. Those in the know, feel free to comment on your own experiences. Let the ouzo debate begin!