Greek ouzo is an aniseed-based aperitif made all over the country but especially on Lesbos, tasting like a Greek pastis or arak and usually drunk with water.
Ouzo is produced all over the country and in the islands. It is especially associated with the island of Lesbos, and the town of Plomari in particular. Here there is an ouzo museum, and there are several distilleries around the island. But there are ouzo distilleries everywhere, including in Athens, on Crete, on Santorini, on Samos, and on Corfu, but many other places too..
Have Ouzo with a Snack
What Is Ouzo?
Greek ouzo, like some other Greek spirits, is made from what's left of the grapes when all the juice has been squeezed out of them. This is then distilled, with aniseed, to produce the ouzo, though other things can be used. In a way it's a little like gin but using aniseed instead of juniper. You can add many things that are also often added to gin, like star anise, cloves, fennel and cardamom, and some distillers add mastic resin from Chios.
If you prefer the visual approach, you can also see this page on YouTube
Ouzo must be at least 37.5% ABV and is typically anything from there up to 50%, though at least one distiller, Verino, produces an ouzo that is 59% ABV: Apostalagma Ouzo. They're based in Argos near Nafplion, and were founded in 1978 by Babis Spiliopoulos. He and his son now run the distillery and as well as this super-strong ouzo they also produce tsipouro and a barrel-aged tsipouro, amongst other interesting spirits.
History of Greek Ouzo
The first Greek ouzo is said to have been made by monks on Mount Athos way back in the 14th century. Monks and alcohol have long been linked, like the beer-making Trappist monks of Belgium, The monks on Mount Athos originally made another Greek spirit, tsipouro, and experimented one time by flavouring it with aniseed. They rather liked the results and eventually a distinct recipe for ouzo evolved.
However, it wasn't until 1856 that the first ouzo distillery
proper opened. This was the Katsaros distillery near Larissa, about an hour's
drive east of Meteora and a 50-minute drive north from Volos. It's still in
business today and making, among other things, a triple-distilled ouzo. If
you're ever in the area it's well worth visiting them and doing a distillery
Where Does the Name Ouzo Come From?
No-one knows for certain, and there are several different
theories (and some unlikely stories), but it's most likely that it comes from the Turkish word 'uzum',
which means a grape.
Enjoy Greek Ouzo with Water
How to Drink Ouzo in Greece
Greek ouzo is drunk as an aperitif. You can order it in a bar or cafe before going on to a restaurant, or order it in the restaurant to have before your meal or with plates of meze. It goes really well with lots of Greek starters, like seafood. Greeks will often order a bottle to share around the table, though for one or two people you'd just order it by the glass. Some people drink it throughout the meal as an alternative to wine or beer.
Enjoy Greek Ouzo with a Meal
If you order ouzo in Greece it will always be served with a
glass of water, or maybe a carafe if you've ordered a bottle. You can drink it neat,
though most people find it a little too strong for that and dilute it with
water. Pouring water into ouzo turns it milky, and the amount you add is
entirely up to you, You'll soon discover how strong or weak you like to drink
your ouzo, and can usually tell by the colour whether you've got the right
balance or not. If you like it fairly strong then an easy option is to have it
on the rocks, just dropping one or two ice cubes in. Always ask if there's a local ouzo you can try.
Ouzos for Sale on Samos
Greek Ouzo in Cocktails
Ouzo has traditionally never been a cocktail ingredient, though with the recent surge in cocktail culture, and with bartenders wanting to experiment, ouzo is being used increasingly in cocktails. It will mix with lemonade, soda water, even vodka or whisky.
Here's a very easy Lemon Ouzo Spritzer recipe:
Cooking with Greek Ouzo
Ouzo isn't a common cooking ingredient but you'll certainly find it on some menus. Shrimps in ouzo is one common dish, and it's usually delicious. We have a recipe for chicken in ouzo and garlic that we got off a chef in Kalami on Corfu, and that's pretty good too. You'll also see dishes like meatballs in ouzo, or ouzo and tomatoes, so it is quite versatile.
Shrimp in Greek Ouzo is Delicious
Finally, here's how you make traditional Greek keftedes, or fried meatballs, but with ouzo added:
And that's the basics of ouzo explained!
Other Greek food and drink pages
Visiting Santorini wineries is a popular activity on this Greek island in the Cyclades, whose volcanic soil provides a distinctive terroir.
Corfu’s special cuisine includes dishes like sofrito and pastitsade and the chance to try ginger beer and kumquats.
Corfu olives are an important part of this Greek island's economy, with an estimated 3-4 million trees producing olive oil of exceptional quality.
Information for travelers on Corfu Food and Drink including restaurants and tavernas, Corfiot specialties, desserts, wine and other Greek drinks like ouzo.
The First Corfu Beer Festival took place in Arillas in North West Corfu and celebrated the beer of Bavaria and of Corfu, in the Ionian islands of Greece.
Antonis Maroudas is a Zakynthos winemaker who lives on the 'wine road' and is one of the people who make Zakynthos.
If you're wondering where to eat in Athens and Piraeus we have a few suggestions including some favorites around the Acropolis, Omonia Square, and Syntagma.
The Greece Travel Secrets guide to Greek grape varieties to help you know which wines to choose when dining in restaurants or buying wine in Greece.
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Greece Travel Secrets visits the Zacharioudakis Winery near Ancient Gortina in southern Crete, and does a vineyard tour arranged by our guide from Go Crete.
What is Metaxa? Metaxa is an amber Greek spirit combining brandy made by distilling wine, sweet wine from Samos and a secret recipe of Mediterranean botanicals.
Raki is an alcoholic drink made with distilled grapes and anise, and popular in Greece and other Mediterranean countries, including Greece’s neighbour Turkey.
What is a Greek Salad – a Greek Salad is made up of tomatoes, cucumber, onions, green pepper, olives, and feta cheese.
Greece Travel Secrets tours the Lyrarakis Winery on Crete and learns about Crete grape varieties such as plyto, dafni, vidiano, vilana, mandilari and kotsifali.
The Greece Travel Secrets guide to tipping in Greece from two Greece travel experts, including when to tip, what to tip and when not to tip.
UNESCO has made Thessaloniki a City of Gastronomy, under its Creative Cities network, the only city in Greece to be acknowledged for its unique food and drink.
Greece Travel Secrets visits the Cretan Botano herbs and spices shop near Matala in southern Crete in search of the herb man of Kouses.
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The Stilianou Winery near Knossos on Crete uses only Cretan grape varieties, with every bottle numbered, and aims for quality rather than quantity.
A visit to the Museum of Samos Wine to learn about the muscat grapes that produce the best dessert wines in the world and also the Greek spirit, Metaxa.
We visit and tour the Manousakis Winery on Crete with a wine-tasting and a chance to buy their tsikoudia, sea salt, olive oil and other goodies.
Greece Travel Secrets visits Crete and learns about making rakomelo from Jorgos Kourmoulis in Agouseliana.
How to make Petimezi, the sweet Cretan syrup made from wine must, is explained to Greece Travel Secrets.
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