One counter of the breakfast buffet at my hotel in Athens had an exquisite decanter like bejeweled bottle which read ‘Tsikoudia’ and some shot glasses. I saw people pouring a 40% something alcoholic beverage and sipping it alongside their eggs, cheese and pastries. I had never seen this culture before. Greece, certainly not the oldest civilization but the Greeks were the birthplace of the western philosophy. The idea of democracy, scientific and mathematics principles, literature and drama and more emerged from here. Given their strategic location in the midst of Asia, Africa and Europe, the Romans, the Persians and the Ottomans had their eras in Greece thus giving us a rich history and a reason to visit Greece. Of course islands, beaches, party zones are as much motivation to go holidaying on the islands. I had a different motivation to visit Greece, it was the gourmet angle. Baklava, Gyros and Souvlakis to Greece are like Pizzas and Pastas to Italy and I had my share of those. After that breakfast with Tsikoudia, I set out to find more about what the Greeks drink! Apart from their incredible wines and commonplace beers, here is a list of beverages you should try on your vacation to the islands this summer.
It is a pomace brandy made from pomace which is the residue of grape skins etc from the wine press. It is also called Tsikoudia on the island of Crete, the same one I had for breakfast. Tsipouro is best had chilled and neat however many people dilute it with water and ice. The beverage comes as is or with Anise flavouring and these days aged ones are also common.
This is perhaps the most recognizable spirit outside of Greece, an anise flavoured spirit which turns cloudy when mixed with water. It takes its roots from Tsipouro which was created my monks in the 14th century and their anise version got to be known as Ouzo. Ouzo only became popular in the 20th century with the downfall of Absinthe. Ouzo is served with mezze or Greek appetizers and I loved it during the nip in the spring evenings.
It is brandy based liqueur which is flavoured with Mastic a resin drawn out of the Mastic tree. The resin also known as Arabic gum is known for its medicinal and antioxidant properties since millennia. The Mastica is produced in the island of Chios where the Mastic tree grows. Mastic translates to ‘gnash the teeth’ and is the root of the English word ‘masticate’. Mastica can be enjoyed in a variety of cocktails
Another drink with resin, this time pine resin used to flavour wine. 2000 years ago when wine used to be prone to oxidation, the amphorae or clay pots used to be sealed with pine resin , the pine kept the oxygen out but imparted flavour to the wine. When barrels came into the scene the resin became obsolete however the consumers enjoyed the resinous taste and Retsina stayed on and is popular even today.
It is a brand but I have included this here as it was the first Greek brandy which began selling in 1888 and since then survived both world wars, only one of the two companies to do so the other was a tobacco co. Metaxa is an oak-aged brandy mixed with fragrant muscat wines and then flavoured with natural herbs and floral extracts. Metaxa and Tonic and in cocktails Metaxa Juleps and other such long refreshing drinks are preferred.
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