Everything You Want to Know about Ouzo, the Flavorful Spirit from Greece

In Greece, drinking ouzo feels like more than just knocking back a glass — it’s a cultural ritual. Raise a glass, give the customary Greek toast of “stin uyeia sou” (steen ee-YEE-ah soo, meaning “to your health”), and settle in to learn more about this liquor.

What is Ouzo?

Ouzo is an anise-flavored liquor derived from grape must, which is a byproduct of the winemaking process. Recipes are often closely-guarded family secrets, but will always include anise, and may also include spices like cardamom, cinnamon, clove, coriander, fennel, mint, or mastic. Ouzo is traditionally distilled in copper pot stills into a high-proof alcoholic beverage, which, according to Greek law, must contain no less than 20 percent of the original ouzo yeast and a minimum of 75 proof (37.5 percent alcohol by volume). It can only be made in Greece and Cyprus and bears much significance within Greek culture.

History of Ouzo

Image Credit: Νικόλαος Αντωνόπουλος from Pixabay

A Turkish spirit called raki, another anise-drink distilled from wine making byproducts, is said to be the inspiration for ouzo and a number of other anise-flavored liquors. Ouzo was first commercially distilled in 1856 and is now distinguished by an appellation PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) and a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin), granting exclusive rights to the name “ouzo”.

What does Ouzo taste like?

Primarily and distinctively of anise. The liquor is sweet, silky, and may also taste slightly of other herbs or spices used in its production.

Drinking Ouzo

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This is a drink so beloved in Greece that an entire national industry revolves around participation in ouzo’s particular social ritual. Bars called ouzeries, which often carry many different types of ouzo, serve a wide array of appetizers called meze. These small plates, eaten along with glasses of ouzo, are an integral part of the cultural experience. Even with its strong anise flavor, ouzo complements a variety of dishes. Many of Suvie’s Greek recipes could be served with ouzo, like Greek style turkey meatballs, Greek orzo salad with halloumi, and chicken souvlaki. Ouzo is also occasionally used in cooking—find a list of dishes here.

Ouzo is most commonly drunk neat–no rocks, because adding ice causes the liquid’s surface to crystallize. The other common method is a gentle dilution with iced water, though the reaction of the water with oils in the anise will cause the “ouzo effect,” the clear liquid’s transformation into milky and opaque. While many consider water the only acceptable mixer, ouzo can substitute for other anise-flavored spirits and appear in cocktails such as ouzo lemonade, mixed with water, lemon juice, mint leaves, and honey.

The final note about drinking ouzo is in regards to its potency. While a 75 proof liquor might seem tame in comparison to what’s on the market, ouzo’s high sugar content will delay the release of alcohol into the body. Caution is advised to avoid a rush of alcoholic effects–after all, the ouzo drinking culture isn’t about getting drunk, it’s about socializing.

Where to find Ouzo

Find ouzo in the specialty liquor section of most liquor stores. Stin uyeia sou!

Feature Image: DanaTentis from Pixabay

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