Ouzo, the national drink that embodies excellently the Greek culture!
Ouzo is a Greek distilled alcoholic drink between 40° and 50° Vol based on anise seeds, herbs and alcohol of agricultural origin. It can be considered one of the most consumed alcoholic drinks in Greece and the most traditional to sip when in the country. A glass of ouzo is always present at the Greek restaurants and taverns.
The principal aroma that stands out is that of anise, so one must be a fan of anise to try it out for the first time and to begin appreciating it. Ouzo is not just another alcoholic drink, but it is part of the Greek culture and represents the traditional Greek lifestyle of slow eating. You are supposed to sip it slowly and in good company of both food and friends. Do not think it is similar to doing shots, even though the glass at which it is served points to that.
The island of Lesvos: the epicentre of the best quality of ouzo
Ouzo is a P.G.I. Greek product, which means it is a protected geographical indication product and more specifically, the titles of “Ouzo of Plomari” and “Ouzo of Mytilene” are considered top notch. Both titles originate from the island of Lesvos, situated in the northeast Aegean Sea. That is translated into a guarantee of superior quality, since it is produced by local companies, with the traditional way of production, with the use of local materials only.
Your P.G.I. ouzo is produced through distillation in cauldrons with the addition of anise and other herbs. It is 100% distilled and usually twice or triple distilled to promote quality.
Even though in time many have begun producing ouzo in different parts of Greece, Lesvos has managed to keep its status as the best quality producer – the distinctive P.G.I. titles prove exactly that- and not only its historical prevalence being the birthplace of ouzo.
On the island you can find many distilleries, the most famous ones of Greece like Barbayannis, Giannatsis, Matarelli, EPOM and many others. Most of them have created small museums dedicated to the history of ouzo production and are happy to give you tours and ouzo tastings. Once the tour is over, you can take a seat at a table of a tavern by the sea and continue the tasting but with an upgrade, sardines or other fish. I have found the taste of ouzo produced on this island to be the most refined and most satisfying to the palate.
How to enjoy ouzo
When at restaurants, ouzo is served in small bottles (of 100 ml or 200 ml to give you an idea) of your chosen brand. Don’t be overwhelmed when the waiter presents you with a really long list of choices, because for the Greeks picking one is the equivalent of the French picking the right wine! Once you taste it for the first time in your life, you will not be able to tell any difference between them, only with time can you begin understanding the difference in taste.
Once you choose, the bottle will arrive sealed along with ice cubes and a bottle of chilled water. The glass is very important too. It is a short one and narrow, in order to smell the aromas. If you cannot drink it as it is at room temperature, you can add first chilled water and then the ice cubes. Or just the ice cubes if you don’t care to dilute it a lot. The reason to this order of water first, ice cubes later is not to destroy the aromas of anise, as some people claim. I prefer drinking it chilled rather than at room temperature and only with a couple of ice cubes, not diluted with water. Do not forget though, its alcoholic grade is high and dilution may be helpful to be able to finish your glass of ouzo (I remind you that it is over 40°).
The dilution with water in order to lower the alcoholic grades, is an interesting part of the serving ritual. As soon as it is mixed, ouzo being a transparent liquor becomes white, like magic. But it is all due to a substance of anise that reacts to water. Only then are you ready to toast!
What to eat with ouzo
Even though some tourists appreciate ouzo more like a digestive liquor, the Greeks drink it as an aperitif. It is enjoyed mainly with fish starters and vegetable ones. Rarely enjoyed with meat starters. These starters in Greek are called “Mezedes”. Ouzo is sipped slowly in between bites of the starters. Patience is key. You can have it also during your fish based meal, but it is not the norm.
Imagine a table full of traditional greeks mezedes of fish like, octopus, sardines, mussels, oysters, shrimps, calamari and vegetable ones, like eggplants, zucchini, tzatziki, and the famous greek salad. A glass of ouzo is always there to help you satisfy your appetite.
Ouzo is at the heart of sharing and having fun
“Ya mas” is the phrase you hear when toasting in Greece! It means “to our health”, that is to what they toast. Don’t be surprised to hear that phrase at almost every other table in the restaurant and not only once. Every time they sip, they can toast. To the sound of it, everybody stops eating and joins for the toast with the glass in hand.
The key concept is to take a break from your worries and thoughts. The positive vibes in the greek taverns is what really amazes me. Sipping ouzo, eating a little bit then again sipping. It may be due to the ouzo effect, but the greeks know how to enjoy in pure simplicity.
Thanks to a good ouzo, a party can begin! Ya mas!
Mi chiamo Taxia e sono greca. Mi piace condividere le bellezze e le tradizioni della mia nazione per farti scoprire “l’altra Grecia”.