An Introduction To Ouzo, Greece’s National Drink


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Ouzo is Greek's favorite spirit

Regardless of what happens in Greece, we can all agree on one thing: ouzo is awesome.

What is ouzo, you ask? You might remember the infamous ouzo-drinking scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, where the anise-flavored aperitif gets heroine Tula’s in-laws-to-be smashed. The truth is, while it can be high proof, ouzo isn’t necessarily stronger than bourbon (it has to be at least 37.5% ABV, or 75 proof, hardly hit-the-floor worthy – sorry to spoil the fun). However, it is delicious. If you’re a fan of absinthe, aquavit, or licorice in general, you’ll dig ouzo. Here’s how this spicy spirit got started.

Ouzo’s predecessor is tsipouro, which is basically Greek grappa. However, the difference is that right after distillation, the base spirit used to make ouzo is higher in alcohol than the base spirit used to make tsipouro. Additionally, tsipouro doesn’t have to be anise flavored, but ouzo sure does. Ouzo is made from a base spirit of grapes before being flavored with anise – the same distinct taste found in absinthe. Ouzo’s history is surprisingly short: in 1856, Nicholas Katsaros and his family opened the first ouzo distillery, which still produces ouzo today. In 2006, recognizing the beverage’s uniquely Greek heritage, the government ruled that ouzo can only be made in Greece, receiving an EU-approved Protected Designation of Origin (this is similar to Italian wine DOCs).

This is how you louche ouzo

Like any other anise-flavored spirit, if you add a little water to ouzo, it’ll get milky. That’s called louching, or the ouzo effect. Ouzo is full of lip-smacking flavors (like fennel, coriander, and cloves), so much so that it delivers quite a taste punch. To balance out all those flavors, we recommend sipping ouzo with a bit of food. Think stuffed grape leaves, eggplant, and fresh cheese. Make sure you have some flatbread handy.

Head to your local liquor store and explore your ouzo selections. You’ll find it next to the sambuca and absinthe. If you’re feeling brave, set it on fire. Just kidding, please don’t do that. Instead, try this cocktail:

The Greek Tragedy

  • ¾ Ounce Ouzo
  • ¾ Ounce Sweet Vermouth
  • ¾ Sweet Berry liqueur (or Manischewitz)
  • Squeeze Lime juice

In a shaker filled with ice, shake vigorously and strain into a Champagne coupe.

Support Greece. Or don’t. Just remember, drink ouzo.

Louching photo courtesy of Eric Litton via Wikimedia Commons

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