Ouzo is definitely an iconic Greek spirit, associated with laid-back moments at seafront taverns in every single Greek island. It is an anise-flavored drink, transparent and pure. Some people correlate it to tsipouro or raki, pastis or even mastic liquor, but it is true that ouzo has a history of its own. And it is an impressive history, for sure! When you are in Greece, you cannot help but try out the different varieties of this intense alcoholic beverage. With special touches of cloves and coriander, fennel and other secrets well hidden by ouzo producers, this is a drink enjoyed throughout the day.
When it comes to the name ouzo, there is a veil of mystery still to be uncovered. One theory has it that ouzo comes from ozo, which is the Greek word for aroma. It is certainly an aromatic spirit, so this is a theory embraced by many. Another option is that of uzum, the Turkish word for grapes. Over the centuries, Turkish culture has been blended with the natives in Greece and some words have influenced local culture as a whole. Finally, the third explanation as to the etymology is that of uso Massalia. Even though it sounds strange, back in the day ouzo of the highest quality standards had a stamp indicating that it was to be used in Marseille. But either way, ouzo seems to have found its perfect name, right?
In local culture, ouzo is the perfect accompaniment for fish and seafood. Especially in taverns by the sea, there is nothing better to skyrocket the flavors and freshness of these amazing ingredients. When you find yourself in a fish tavern somewhere in the Cyclades, along the Athenian Riviera, in Crete or the Ionian islands, you should know what to order. Ice cold, although not frozen. This is a peculiarity that indeed highlights the spirit’s authentic flavors. You get a sealed bottle and open it right away. Then you take a narrow glass and add a couple of ice cubes. You pour the clear liquid in and watch the magic happen. Steadily, ouzo turns to milky white. This is the mesmerizing ouzo effect, which makes it even more tempting to sip!
Ouzo has boasted a EU-approved label of Protected Designation of Origin ever since 2006, sealing a long-lasting history that allowed it to be produced in Greece and Greece alone. However, the first distillery in Greece was established in 1856 by Nicolas Katsaros and is still open to this day. Ever since, some distilleries have made it to stand out among the rest. Distilleries from Greek islands like Lesvos and Chios, have created a wonderful tradition with fine quality varieties.
Whether you wish to enjoy ouzo as aperitif or with your meal, over small dishes of intense flavored appetizers from the Greek gastronomy or on its own, it is an experience not to be missed. This is to some the genuine aroma of Greece!