ouzo

Ouzo is made from a precise combination of pressed grapes and herbs and berries. It begins as alcohol made from grape skins or other local produce. It is then brought together with herbs and other ingredients, including star anise, coriander, cloves, angelica root, licorice, mint, wintergreen, fennel, hazelnut and even cinnamon and lime blossom. The mixture is boiled in a copper still, regulated by a taster.

It is usually served as an aperitif, but is also used in some mixed drinks and cocktails.

Ouzo is an alcoholic drink of exclusively Greek origin. As to the name, the most likely explanation is that it comes from “distillation uso of Tyrnavo”, a trade name by which it was distinguished in commerce abroad, and particularly in Marseille, as a distillation of the best quality, specially produced in Tyrnavo.

The ouzo of today no longer has anything in common with that product. In earlier times, ouzo was prepared from the distillation taken from the liquid resulting from the fermentation of grape skins (common name in Greek: souma) by double distillation, with the addition of various aromatics.

These additives were, in the first distillation, aniseed and fennel seeds, and in the second a whole series of aromatics and of other substances, as lending to the product certain properties; among those used were, for example, ginger (common name: piperoriza), cardamom (common name: kakoules), nutmeg, star-anise, mastich, cinnamon flowers, soapwort root (common name: tsoueni), barley, etc. Such ouzo is no longer available on the market.

In recent years, the manufacture of ouzo has undergone very significant changes, and so today the liquor from grape skins has been replaced by ordinary pure alcohol, derived from the grape or of some other origin, while the natural substances, and particularly the anise to a large extent, has been replaced either by the corresponding pure essential oils, or, more usually, by synthetic preparations, while the two distillations have been dispensed with.

Ouzo today is generally manufactured by mixing pure alcohol, water and anethol, with the addition sometimes of small quantities of other essential oils.

The clouding which takes place on the addition of water was due in earlier times to the separation of the above alcohols which are not soluble in water and, secondarily, to the separation of the anise oil. However, the clouding of today’s product is due exclusively and solely to the separation of the anethol, which often, and commonly on the cold days of the year, is precipitated even without the addition of water in the form of very fine crystals, particularly in those products which have a relatively low alcohol content or are relatively rich in anethol.

The quantity of anethol contained in ouzo is such (not above 0.15%) that it is not harmful to the organism, since a quantity of anethol of up to 1.0 gr. taken daily is harmless to man. Thus, the harmfulness of ouzo is due solely to the quantity of alcohol in it, which usually ranges from 40 to 45%.

Origin of the name
We have been seized by a form of national hysteria about the name OUZO being registered as a purely non-Greek word and we are almost ashamed to call it “raki” because we think that it is a word of Turkish origin.

But history tells a different story and that is precisely how things stand. The first cargo of tsipouro or raki left for Marseille around 1800, but it had to go through transit at Genoa and be transshipped for Marseille, So the Italian customs officer wrote on the barrels “USO a Marsilla” - for USE in Marseille.

The trader who took delivery saw “USO for Marseille” and in his next order wrote so many thousands of litres of USO! This was a name, which was user-friendly, euphonious and intelligible to those who do not speak Greek.

So, this product was named - Ouzo! All the romantic and fine talk in Mytilene that OUZO = the Ancient Greek “ou zo” - do not live (without it) is fancy philosophy and for friendly company - company which knows how to fix an ouzo on its own, when you are drinking it in a measured way and with good appetizers. And so we’ve reached the point: with cold water, “never with ice cubes”.

You can add as many ice cubes as you like to the water you put into the ouzo, but never directly to the ouzo. Because when ouzo comes into contact with ice, it releases anethol and produces crystals, the taste is adulterated and it gives you a headache - it’s as simple as that.

Ouzo needs only good appetizers and good company, everything else follows naturally.

Let’s say a few words now about that most misunderstood of words - raki. So, there could be no more ancient-sounding word to describe this drink. What do we mean when we say “rakos” in Greek? Quite simply, a rag. This is the drink which is derived from the remnants of the grapes which have been trodden, the rags of the grape (stemphyla). (Rakos - plural, raki).

So there’s no need to feel awkward about saying “Let’s have a raki” -you’re speaking Greek. And the ancient form of the language at that. All the above is dedicated specially to those pseudo-connoisseurs who fill the glass to the top with ice-cubes and drink their ouzo “on the rocks”!

Now for some other tricks of the trade and secrets about ouzo and the company it needs. For example: that the glass should always be completely emptied before you put more in. Why? For the very simple reason that the ratio of ouzo to water should remain constant all the time you are drinking it, otherwise the fluctuations will quickly get us drunk and spoil both the mood and the company. Always take down ouzo from the shelf and not from the fridge, for the reasons we’ve already explained.