Ouzo is the quintessential Greek drink, a strong distilled clear alcoholic liquor which is infused with herbs of the region, including mint, fennel and hazelnut, but most predominantly, aniseed. If you don’t like aniseed and you’re travelling to Greece, you’re out of luck because you can’t travel to Greece and not try ouzo. Simple as. It’s the perfect cooling summer drink.
Incidentally, you can buy aniseed liquor elsewhere, but it won’t be ouzo unless it came from Greece. Ouzo can only be made in Greece or Cyprus due to a 2006 European Union ruling that ouzo is a “Protected Designation of Origin.” If you’ve already tried ouzo and are keen to become a master-expert in it, may we recommend knocking one back on Lesvos? It’s the capital of ouzo, where you’ll find many distilleries and even a museum dedicated to the stuff. It’s worth trying different brands and even homemade versions of ouzo, because everyone flavours it differently–stronger or weaker, sweeter or more bitter, with cinnamon or without.
The most “Greek” way we know to enjoy ouzo is:
a) with friends, and
b) with food.
Greeks settle down with their mates to make a start on their ouzo session first thing in the afternoon, and can continue all evening and night, without getting drunk and raucous (though a little singing may sometimes be heard…). They reach a state where all is mellow and life is wonderful through slow sipping and the accompaniment of mezethes (small plates of food). Mezethes can be many different things, though we’re not talking a dish of peanuts or a bag of crisps here. Some grilled sardines, a bowl of aubergine dip and some flat bread, some big juicy prawns in tomato sauce, vegetables, salads, or any one of a hundred delicious variations, cooked fresh that morning by the cafe-bar chef, who are often enviable cooks.
As for how to style your bevvie, traditionally one adds just an ice cube or dash of water to your glass; how much depends on your taste. You can keep on watering down the same glass as the level goes down, before ordering a fresh one. The drink will turn milky white when the water is added, and you may well save yourself a hangover by drinking as much water as spirits. Some other options to sip on:
- If you want to be a bit fancier, make an ouzo spritzer. Add the juice of one lemon, and a few mint leaves to your ouzo. Top up with soda water and stir it all together.
- Or, how about a liquorice whisky sour? Put 60ml Scotch whisky, 15ml ouzo, 30ml lemon juice, 15ml gomme syrup and 2 dashes of Angostura bitters into a cocktail shaker, shake with ice and strain into a short ice filled glass.
- Ouzo also goes well with coffee. 60ml ouzo, 30ml coffee liqueur, topped up with cold black filter coffee and poured over ice is a good experience.
But the best way to enjoy ouzo? In the Greek sunshine.