What Is Metaxa?
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
Photo Courtesy of Metaxa
What is Metaxa’s
Metaxa was created in Greece in 1888 by Spyros Metaxa. He
was a silk merchant and enjoyed trying spirits from different countries as he
travelled the world. Many of them were rough on the palate, though, and he
wanted to create a unique spirit that was as smooth as the silks that he sold.
Metaxi is the Greek word for silk showing that the family’s silk trading goes back
Metaxa Distillery, Then and Now
Along with his brothers Elias and Alexander, Spyros built
the first Metaxa distillery in Piraeus in 1888. They wanted to be near the
port, and began exporting Metaxa around the Mediterranean, and it was a huge
success. By 1900 they were exporting to the USA.
In 1968 a new distillery was built in the northern suburb of
Kifissia, and the company remained a family-owned business until it was sold in
1989. It’s now owned by Remy Cointreau.
The Metaxa Distillery in Kifissia, Athens
Every bottle of Metaxa contains an image of a Greek warrior.
This is known as the Salamina Warrior, and was on a medallion that was found
when they were digging the foundations of the original distillery in Piraeus.
The medallion depicted someone who fought at the Battle of Salamis,
a historic naval battle when the Greeks defeated the Persians.
Barrel in the Metaxa Distillery
What Is Metaxa?
When it was created in 1888, Metaxa was called a cognac as
it was meant as an after-dinner dark spirit and was partly made from brandy.
The definition and regulations that we have today about cognac didn’t exist in
1888, and many similar drinks were called cognac.
In 1936 the regulations changed and only brandy produced in
the Cognac region was allowed to be called cognac, so Metaxa was described as a
Then in 1987 came the ruling that brandy could not contain
wine, so Metaxa either changed their recipe or changed what they called their
spirit. The decision was made to stick to the original and now historic and
successful recipe, forget about comparisons to brandy or cognac, and simply go
forward as the unique spirit that is Metaxa.
What Is Metaxa’s
Metaxa’s recipe is a closely-guarded secret. Only two people
know the recipe, the distillery manager and Costas Raptis, whose title is
Metaxa Master rather than Master Distiller. When we visited the distillery
Costas joked that the recipe is written down (and presumably locked in a safe
somewhere) in case he gets amnesia!
Metaxa Master Costas Raptis
Photo Courtesy of Metaxa
What we do know is that the basis of Metaxa is a brandy
that’s made by distilling wine made from three Greek grape varieties: Savatiano,
Sultanina, and Black Corinth grapes, also known as Korinthiakos. This is
blended with sweet Muscat wines from Samos, and the result is aged in French
Limousin oak casks, usually for at least five years although there is a 3-star Metaxa aged for at least three years.
The aged spirit is then infused with
Mediterranean botanicals and rose petals, and put back into barrels for another
year. We only know about the rose petals because someone saw them being
delivered to the distillery one time, and let the secret out, though if you
take a sniff of Metaxa it isn’t too surprising.
Choose Your Metaxa
What Are the
Different Types of Metaxa?
There are several more exclusive types of Metaxa for real
aficionados, but the main types most visitors to Greece will come across are 3-star, 5-star, 7-star and 12-star. This isn’t a reference to quality but an indication of how many years the Metaxa has been aged for.
Inevitably, the longer you age a spirit in barrels (provided
you know what you’re doing), the more complex the flavours get, and the
‘better’ it tastes. However, taste is a very personal thing and you may prefer
the 3-star Metaxa over the 12-star Metaxa. In which case, good news – it’s
cheaper! Of course the only way to find out which you prefer is to try them
When to Drink Metaxa?
Metaxa is traditionally an after-dinner drink. You can
either order a glass in the restaurant after your meal, and if they don’t have
any you can move on to a bar and enjoy a glass there.
However, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Bartenders are now
using Metaxa in cocktails, too, so you can drink Metaxa in a cocktail before
dinner if you like. However, if you order a neat Metaxa before dinner or during
a meal, you’ll probably get a funny look.
You should drink Metaxa neat, but by all means drop an ice
cube in the glass if you prefer your spirits to be a little diluted.
The First Two Barrels of Metaxa
All Photos (c) Mike Gerrard Unless Otherwise Stated.
Check out a shorter version of this page on our YouTube channel:
What Is Metaxa?
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