What is ouzo?
Ouzo (Greek spelling ούζο, pronounce “OOH-zoh”) is an alcoholic drink with an anise flavour. Perfect for lovers of liquorice as anise and liquorice are in the same flavour family, ouzo is made from grape residue, which is first distilled into a kind of grappa. It’s given an anise flavour in a second heating, and the result is sweet and silky, with an alcohol content of around forty percent.
The taste of pure ouzo packs quite a punch. It has a pronounced flavour, in which fennel, clove and coriander dominate. Like other anise drinks such as Sambuca and absinthe, ouzo is usually diluted with water – the drink then changes from clear to milky. Moreover, ouzo is very rarely consumed by itself. Instead, it fits perfectly with a selection of mezze: olives, a Greek salad, or some pita with dips.
Greeks can easily while away a couple of hours over a glass. They drink it in minuscule sips and take a bite of mezze now and then. Ouzo should be drunk mindfully, savouring the moment. Never drink ouzo as a shot, it will give you a nasty headache.
Ouzo is not as old as you might think: the first ouzo factory, run by Nicholas Katsaros, opened its doors in 1856. Four generations later, the same family still runs the factory. Nowadays, ouzo is produced in many places in Greece, ranging from small mini distilleries to large factories. What the different brands have in common is their secret recipe; each bottle has its own “special” ingredient or composition.
Did you know...
Since 2006 ouzo has had a protected designation of origin (PDO), which means that real ouzo can only be made in Greece.
How to make ouzo
The basic constituents of ouzo are the remains of grapes used for wine production, including the skins and stalks. Ouzo must be made with at least thirty percent grape residue; this may be supplemented with cereals, potato or other fruits.
In large copper pots, the grapes are distilled into an alcoholic beverage. In some old-fashioned factories, the copper pots are edged with bread dough which expands as soon as the boiler becomes hot and thus seals the pots properly. The distillation process is repeated, but this time flavourings are added. Anise is a fixed part in the taste spectrum, but depending on the distiller, there may also be added items such as fennel, nutmeg, and cloves. The resulting drink is bottled, ready for drinking.
How to drink
Ouzo is often called an aperitif, although the Greeks drink it on special occasions. The bottle of ouzo arrives on the table in the late afternoon or early evening, along with mezedes or snacks. Drink ouzo cold, over one or two ice cubes. In Greece, there are special bars, ouzerias, where you can get your “Ouzo + mezze” fix.
A completely different drink from a completely different country, sake is nevertheless drunk in a similar way: in small sips, and always accompanied by a snack.