What? An aniseed flavoured liqueur popular in Greece and Cyprus. It is similar in style to Pastis of France or Raki of Turkey although it is usually a little sweeter. Traditionally made from distilled grapes, most of the Ouzo today is made from high strength rectified spirit which is flavoured with a cocktail of herbs and spices including star anise, fennel, coriander, cloves and cinnamon. This concoction is then distilled again in a pot still. The final spirit is then diluted down to a minimum of 37.5% alcohol and sweetened with sugar.
Where? Greece and all her lovely little islands, the most important of which is Lesvos which has some of the oldest and best producers in the country.
When? Before there was Ouzo there was Tsipouro, a type of Greek brandy that has been around sinece the 14th century. Christian monks were making this spirit and flavouring it with many different herbs and spices with a particular favourite being anise. Following the independence of Greece at the beginning of the 19th century commercial production took off, then, when Absinthe was banned throughout much of Europe in the early 20th century Ouzo was there to fill the gap.
How? Traditionally drunk neat but never with ice. Iced water can be added to dilute the strength which will cause the liquid to turn opaque, milky white. If ice is added directly crazy little crystals can form on the surface which can be a bit off-putting. In Greece it is usually drunk with 'mezethes' which is a bit like tapas of Spain.
Where To Start? Most people are introduced to Ouzo while holidaying on one of the Greek isles, usually as a shot in one of the many seaside bars and clubs. We recommend that you try Ouzo the way the locals do it; as a long, refreshing drink with some iced water and bite sized seafood nibbles.