The ABCs of Spirits by Alexandre Vingtier: O for Ouzo
The Greek national drink is undoubtedly ouzo, which has been a success with its inhabitants and tourists alike.
They discover, beyond its aniseed aroma, the wonderful spicy and herbaceous nuances and especially its perfect harmony with mezzés. So much that they become accustomed, when they return to their countries of origin, to taste them from time to time. The rise of tourism in Greece contributes to the influence of the ouzo, a true virtuous circle since it in turn becomes an ambassador on the table. It should be noted that ouzo is a geographical indication exclusive to Greece and Cyprus. Moreover, since 2004, Greece has had several regional appellations, ouzo from Kalamata, Macedonia, Thrace, and the cities of Mytilena and Plomari on the island of Lesbos.
Ouzo from Greece and Cyprus, Turkish raki and Lebanese arack share the same origin. Moreover, the term ouzo did not appear until the 19th century. It was not until Greek independence that it was distinguished from Turkish raki. The oldest known distillery dates back to 1856, the previous year before which the distilleries were not registered in Greece. Namely that of the Katsaros family and its excellent ouzo Tirnavou whose recipe has not changed since. Its name is most probably derived from the Turkish word ‘üzüm’ meaning a grape maceration. Indeed, the basic alcohol of ouzo is very often a vinous alcohol, now neutral and distilled at 96% abv.
A distilled spirit that stands out
Its main characteristic that distinguishes it from most pastis and other aniseed from the western Mediterranean is the obligation of distillation: the various herbs (fennel seed, mastic from Chios Island, cardamom, cinnamon, etc.) are placed in alcohol before being distilled between 55 and 80% ABV. in a copper still with a capacity not exceeding 1000 litres and the heating core called ‘adoloto’ is collected. Nevertheless, Greek law allows the partial use of this heating core, at least 20%. Then it can be mixed with neutral alcohol flavored with essential oils and in particular anethole from green anise. Both obtained by steam distillation but without alcohol.
Moreover, we can even use as a heating core derived from the redistillation of the heads and seconds of the first pass. We understand even better the legal distinction between the simple ouzo and the 100% distilled ouzo. A statement that can appear on the label. The reference in this matter remains undeniably Barbayanni in Plomari. The missing link between pastis, anisette and absinthe in a way. Finally, it can be sweetened up to 50 grams per litre and must be bottled at least at 37.5%, most often 40% or more for the best qualities.
There are more than 200 producers throughout Greece and its many islands and in Cyprus and many more different recipes and qualities! Finally, note that there is also aniseed tsipouro, which is a simple flavoured marc. I invite you to discover more about on the excellent site tsou.gr.
Don’t drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly.
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