Last week, at a barbecue at one of my friend’s place, I met a funny Greek guy named Panos who had recently moved to the States. He also brought a bottle of ouzo, which had been homemade by his father back home, in the North of Greece. As I told him that I use a copper still for my homemade moonshine, he was quite happy to tell me about the way they distill their own alcohol back home.
Panos said Greeks also share a great passion for home distilling, which they mostly do in copper stills they call ‘kazani’. For ouzo, they use high percentage ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin (96%). The distinct liquorish-like taste comes from a mixture of spices they add while distilling the alcohol: aniseed, star anise, coriander, angelica root, cloves, fennel, cinnamon or other spices, depending on the region it’s made in. It’s important that the spices are dry, as they give out a stronger aroma, and depending on what mix of spices you use, you have to weigh them carefully in order to get a good balance. The water dilution is next, before which the Greeks in the South also add sugar. The final ABV is usually between 40 and 50 percent. It’s usually drunk as an aperitif, alongside a plate of appetizers. The drink can be served very cold, in order to form crystals when it’s served in small shot glasses or, like we had it, with water, which makes it turn milky white. Panos explained that this happens because of the anethole, the essential oil found in anise and fennel, which is soluble in alcohol but not in water. He promised next time he’ll also bring a bottle of homemade Tsipouro, a Greek drink made from the residue left over from the wine press, which is produced differently than ouzo as it also includes fermentation and multiple distillations.
As I got home, I was curious to learn more about ouzo so I looked it up. I found out that it actually started off as an anise flavored version of tsipouro, made by a group of 14th century monks in a monastery on Mount Athos. Modern ouzo distillation took off at the beginning of the 19th century following Greek independence. The Island of Lesbos claims to have been the originator of the drink and it’s still one of the major producers. The now standard method of production using copper stills was only adopted in the early 1930s.
I also found out that Greeks use it as traditional medicine. It’s considered to be a very good antiseptic, given its alcohol levels, but also as treatment for a headache or flu, if you have a warm glass before going to bed. Panos even mentioned that his grandmother used cloths dipped in ouzo for tight muscles or joint pains, but that other also claimed it’s good to relief stomach cramps or asthma, if you place the cloth on your chest.
I really enjoyed the homemade drink so I’m now considering trying a homemade ouzo recipe of my own. I’ll try to find a good mix of spices and give it a go as Panos said the best distillation time for it is in November. I’ll keep you posted on the results but feel free to let me know of any good ouzo recipes you’ve tried!
Posted by Jason Stone on