What do Greeks drink?
They smell and taste like Greek summertime in a glass: Ouzo, raki, tsipouro and masticha. Among the wide selection of Greek products, three famous spirits are ready to pour forth their secrets.
Ouzo is considered the national drink of Greece. In technical terms, it is either produced by partial distillation or the admixture of plain alcohol with aromatic herbs. The best ouzos are of course the distilled ones with the main flavour being imparted by aniseed, though other aromatics are often added, such as masticha from Chios, cinnamon, cloves or fennel, depending on the brand. Each location that produces it prides itself on its ouzo but the most famous is from the island of Lesvos and from Tyrnavos in Thessaly.
Ouzo is ideally served chilled, with or without ice, though many add water which releases the essential oils from the aniseed, turning the drink cloudy and heightening the aromas. You should always add ice or water to already poured ouzo and not the other way around.
Beyond ouzo, Greece is known for another pair of considerably stronger distilled local drinks. Often confused with one another, raki and tsipouro are often homemade and production peaks in the autumn after the grape-harvest with celebrations centred around the great distillation cauldrons.
Tsipouro is a traditional product that comes from mainland Greece while raki is from Crete. Both are made from grapes not destined for wine-making yet still capable of producing quality distilled spirits. The main differences between them are the degree of alcoholic content and the addition or not of aniseed, which is often added to tsipouro but never to raki.
If Greece had to choose just one product to be proud, masticha – or mastic – would be one of the contenders for first place. People have been trying to get the masticha tree to produce its magical resin somewhere other than southern Chios for centuries without success. No one knows whether it is an ingredient in the soil or the special microclimate, but only on this Aegean island, and only in its southern half, does the plant release its unique resin in commercially viable quantities.