Cheers to flavors that linger

The production of traditional spirits and liqueurs in Greece is based on age-old practices involving aromatic flowers, leaves, stalks, seeds or roots or certain plants. Many of these products are PGI-tagged (Protected Geographical Indication), because of their unique character or origin. 

The most famous Greek spirit, of course, is ouzo. The basic ingredient for this fragrant spirit is anise (and/or star anise), followed by smaller quantities of mastic (a tree resin produced on Chios Island), fennel, coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, angelica root, etc. Greece’s so-called “national drink” is produced across the country, but the region best known for making ouzo is Lesvos Island in the North Aegean Sea. The ouzo produced in the towns of Mytilini and Plomari bears the PGI label. You will enjoy it best with one or two ice cubes or some chilled water, which will cloud your drink and make it all tastier. It’s best as an aperitif to accompany seafood tidbits.  

Tsipouro and tsikoudia are two hard liquors, very similar to each other. Tsipouro recipes may or may not include anise; this will change how your drink looks, as the aniseed is what gives a lovely milky hue, whereas the one without it will remain transparent. The regions of Thessaly and Macedonia are traditional producers of this double distilled liquor (three varieties are PGI tagged), made with grape pomace and must. In Volos, Thessaly, eating out in a tsipouradiko (a restaurant serving tsipouro to accompany mostly seafood & vegetable dishes) is a must for locals and visitors alike! Tsikoudia is produced on Crete and is the usual treat for any occasion, enjoyed as a digestif after a hearty meal, or as a drink at any time of the day among friends and family. It is even used as a medicine! 

Among the best-known and most fragrant Greek sweet spirits is mastic liqueur, produced on Chios Island in the North Aegean Sea. The resin (mastiha) of the local mastic tree (a PDO product) is mixed with alcohol, sometimes with the addition of mastic oil during the distillation process, which takes place in large traditional copper stills. The only other ingredient allowed is sugar. 

For those of you with a preference for the woody flavors of cinnamon and clove, the  Greek liqueur that will delight your palate is called tentoura and it’s a PGI product from Patras, Peloponnese. This strong liquor also contains sugar or honey and may contain flavorful local PDO wines, such as Mavrodaphne and spices. Enjoy it as an aperitif with ice or as a digestif after a good meal. 

For the citrus lovers among you, Corfu Island in the Ionian Sea is where the fragrant, golden kumquat citrus fruit is grown. The local, flavorful eponymous liqueur is a PGI product made with the extracts from the flowers, fruit, stalks, and leaves of the kumquat plant, plus added sweeteners. If you visit Corfu, make sure you try this traditional drink, produced only on this island.

Greek ouzo & meze, a classic and refreshing treat
Greek ouzo & meze, a classic and refreshing treat, © GNTO – iStock.

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