NEW YORK – Greek liqueurs and spirits are usually enjoyed with delicious mezedes, if you are lucky enough this year to go to Greece, at a seaside taverna with gorgeous views. TasteAtlas listed the nine most popular of Greece’s spirits and liqueurs with ouzo at number one, followed by Metaxa, tsipouro, tsikoudia, rakomelo, Chios mastiha, souma, mournoraki, and koukouzina which is distilled from grapes and figs, similar flavor to that of Greek raki.
Ouzo is well-known as the national drink of Greece and large-scale production began in 1830, according to TasteAtlas which noted that “it is distilled from neutral alcohol that is diluted with water and flavored with a combination of aniseed and various botanicals, such as fennel seeds, coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, or angelica,” and “the choice and the blend of herbs determines the final taste profile and its quality.” Ouzo is a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product according to European Union law, so makers outside of Greece and the Republic of Cyprus are prohibited from using the name protected by the European law. The island of Lesvos is famous for its ouzo and hosts a festival dedicated to the spirit every summer. Ouzo is always sipped slowly, often mixed with water which makes it cloudy, and enjoyed with mezedes including traditional favorites like grilled octopus, olives, and various cheeses such as feta, kafalotyri, and kefalograviera.
A seafood appetizer to enjoy with Greek spirits and liqueurs. (Photo by Eleni Sakelis)
Metaxa is “made from brandy (usually produced from Savatino, Sultanina, and Black Corinth grapes), a secret combination of botanicals, and the aromatic and carefully selected Muscat wines from the island of Samos,” TasteAtlas reported of the spirit in the second spot on the list. Metaxa is available with three, five, seven, or twelve stars, representing the years it has been aged, and was invented in 1888 by Spyros Metaxa in Piraeus. According to the Metaxa website, “the House of Metaxa does not have a Master Distiller, nor a Master Blender. It has a Metaxa Master, Constantinos Raptis. He is only the fifth Metaxa Master since the creation of the House.”
Sometimes a component of cocktails, Metaxa is usually enjoyed neat or on the rocks.
Tsipouro is listed at number three on the list by TasteAtlas which noted that “this strong Greek spirit is distilled from pomace, solid components of grapes that are left after the juice has been pressed, [and] according to some records, tsipouro was first produced in the 14th century by Orthodox monks.”
While tsipouro is usually produced in a “pure form,” TasteAtlas reported, adding that “some distillers infuse it with botanicals, primarily anise, to create the anise-flavored spirit that is traditionally mixed with water.”
Tsipouro is served best well-chilled and neat in shot glasses, TasteAtlas noted, with traditional mezedes, while “in Crete, a similar drink with a stronger aroma goes under the name tsikoudia,” which is listed at number four on the list.
Ouzo with water in a shot glass. (Photo by Eleni Sakelis)
Crete’s tsikoudia is “distilled from fermented grape pomace (strafylo), the solid remains that are left after the grapes have been pressed,” TasteAtlas reported, noting that “tsikoudia is traditionally distilled in October and November, usually in small, family-owned copper stills,” and the alcohol content can vary from 40-65% alcohol by volume.
“Tsikoudia is similar to tsipouro, TasteAtlas noted, but “unlike tsipouro, tsikoudia is typically distilled only once, which helps preserve flavors and aromas.” It is often served with Cretan sausages called omathies, and with Sfakianopita which includes a shot of tsikoudia in its ingredients.
Rakomelo, number five on the list, the Cretan drink that combines honey and tsikoudia, which is a clear spirit sometimes called raki. It is often flavored with herbs and spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, or cloves, and is sometimes served warm, usually in winter, or as a health remedy. When chilled, it is served neat or on the rocks, either before or after a meal.
Chios mastiha, number six on the list, is “a Greek liqueur made with Masticha Chiou, a resinous sap of the Schinias tree,” TasteAtlas reported, noting that “although Schinias is found in other Mediterranean countries, the plant only produces resin on Chios, presumably because of the island’s unique microclimate,” and “the liqueur is made by macerating Chios mastic or Chios mastic oil in grain spirit or distilling it with alcohol, the combination is then diluted with water and sweetened before it is bottled.”
Octopus hanging to dry at a seaside taverna, Kos, Greece. (Photo by Eleni Sakelis)
Though most often served neat or on the rocks, it has now become popular as a component of various cocktails.
Souma, also from Chios, is number seven on the list and “distilled from sun-dried and fermented figs in traditional copper stills,” TasteAtlas reported, adding that it is served with mezedes or dried fruits and nuts.
Mournoraki is number eight on the list and is “a rare Cretan spirit that is distilled from black mulberries, usually quite potent, and mostly enjoyed as a welcoming drink, but it also works well as an aperitif or a digestif,” TasteAtlas noted, adding that only small quantities are made, usually for family use as a health remedy or for an expensive souvenir of the island.
Koukouzina, from the island of Nisyros, is number nine on the list, and is “distilled from grapes and figs, similar flavor to that of Greek raki,” TasteAtlas reported, noting that it too is served with mezedes, “including chickpea fritters with skordalia.”
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