When picturing Greece, what comes to mind? Is it the pressed denim, white button ups and dancing? Is it a jovial, round old man serving up shots of Ouzo and yelling “OPA!”? Also, what’s Ouzo?
What Greek liquor are they drinking that makes everyone have such a good time? Wonder no more! Let’s take a digital trek to the land of wine, the cradle of the world, sun drenched and winded. Let’s go to Southern Europe and explore Greek spirits.
8 Must-Try Drinks of Greece
One thing to remember about Greek alcohol – be it liquor or wine or beer, is that it’s steeped in thousands of years of tradition. Before modern fermentation techniques were developed, before manufacturing and widespread distribution, before exports and tariffs, the Greeks figured out how to turn grapes into beautiful boozy liquid.
Credit: @Φύκι Φύκι Μεζεδοπωλείο
Ouzo is the king (or queen) of Greek alcoholic drinks. It reigns supreme as the country’s national beverage, and it has a very particular flavor, which stems from anise.
Ouzo can only be made in Greece, in the same way that real Champagne can only be made in France. The way to tell if you’re drinking legitimate Ouzo is to look at the way it’s labeled. Only official Ouzo can be called as such, while copies will be labeled as Ouzo-like or Ouzo-style.
Anise is a Mediterranean plant with a pseudo-licorice taste, which is why the drink tastes like a black version of the candy. It can have other flavors central to the region as well, like fennel. It’s a strong drink that some take like a shot, but others prefer it cooled. Interesting factoid about Ouzo: when you mix it with cold water or ice (as many prefer), it turns cloudy. Neat!
Credit: @Dato Boukhra
Tsipouro, which is pronounced “Sip-or-oh” with just a touch of a T sound up front, is similar to grappa, aka punchy Italian Brandy. The drink is distilled from grape must, which means it takes sort of a grab-all approach, and uses the stems, seeds and peels, too.
Some say the drink has peasant origins, for those who couldn’t afford finer wine or liquor. It also has a stigma as an old man’s drink, but it’s also making a comeback with the country’s younger generation.
It can be tough to take down, although some variations are softer than others. It’s mainly consumed in a shot form, sometimes with a midday coffee (sensing a theme here).
This particular drink, also known as Raki, is pronounced like “sea cow,” with a “dia” on the end. It’s almost a carbon-copy of Tsipouro, except it’s native to Crete, one of the Greek islands. Basically, if you’re not in Crete, order a Raki drink, or a Greek Raki, either or. In Crete, do as the Cretans do and order Tsikoudia.
It’s made with a lot of plant material, including skins, twigs and lots of dirt, all referred to as mash, which is stored for six weeks before it’s distilled. It’s an ancient drink, dating back to discovered pottery from the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations.
Ready for this one? Tsikoudia is generally served in small, short glasses, and like its Greek brethren, this liquor can be formidable.
Credit: @Giorgos Stamatakis
Think of Kretaraki as a cousin of Tsikoudia, which is almost distilled in an identical way. Like its sea cow sounding relative, it’s also native to Crete, which means that it’s herb-forward and fresh oriented, instead of heavy spice-laden like the offerings from the mainland.
While most Greek drinks play up the spice elements, Kretaraki emphasizes the freshness of the Mediterranean winds and cliffs.
Credit: @Roots Premium Spirits®
Ever had a hot toddy? The soothing hot water contrasted with the sharp whiskey and a dash of honey. Rakomelo, which is pronounced like it looks (close enough, anyway), is the Greek equivalent. It’s a combination of Raki, which we know, and meli, which translates to honey.
It’s popular in mountainous areas, and it’s usually served warm and seen as a good remedy for a sore throat. The traditional way is to heat the Raki – but don’t boil it – as you’ll lose some flavor. Add a small cinnamon stick and clove or Greek mountain tea and let the honey melt. Right when it’s about to boil, take it off the heat and let it sit.
Credit: @Aleksandrs Muiznieks
Metaxa is a Greek cognac with an orange zip to it. It’s gaining popularity worldwide as the best known Greek liquor, and it’s produced by shriveling grapes just enough to concentrate the sugars inside, and then distilling. The liquid is aged in barrels and consummated with Muscat wine and a so-called “secret ingredient.”
Metaxas are rated by stars, and the five and seven-star varieties are smooth and silky with raisin hints paralleled with orange and honey.
Credit: @Andreas Schreiber
In what is perhaps appropriate symbolism, Mythos is to beer in Greece as Budweiser is to an American. It’s produced in Greece and exported to around 30 countries around the world. It’s light, wheat-colored and has an alcohol content of 4.7 percent.
It’s also smooth and refreshing – a perfect way to end a day of hiking through Athens hills under a feathered sun. It has hints of corn, earthy hops and sweet malts. Like any good Greek drink, it’s strong enough to make sure you feel it.
Credit: @Meraki – Greek Market & Bar
If American wines draw up images of sweeping Napa valleys, then Retsina should do the same for the sloping Greek countryside. The main difference between the white and red base of well-known varieties is the addition of pine resin, which gives it a unique flavor all its own.
It can be hard to take at first, but the reasoning behind the additive has a story: Greek winemakers didn’t have airtight containers, so wine jugs were covered with a pine pitch. This served two purposes – to seal the bottles from invading oxygen and for injecting what is a strong, signature flavor. This white wine is refreshing when served chilled.
So there you have it. Now venture forth, reader, with a newfound confidence in the knowledge of the varieties of liquor, wine and beer from Greece and its many islands. Now you can just wait patiently until you get the category “Greek Alcohol” at your next trivia game and dominate.