Ouzo is by far Greece’s most famous alcoholic beverage.
It’s a sweet, strong alcoholic drink similar to a liqueur, which is made from the by-products of grapes after they’ve been used for wine-making (mainly the skins and stems). It’s then distilled into a high-proof alcoholic beverage that’s flavoured primarily with anise, which gives it a distinctive licorice taste.
Drinking Ouzo in Greece is a cultural ritual that has its own special time and place, usually in late afternoon or early evening, and always accompanied by small plates of food.
Some say drinking Ouzo is a form of art, while others call it a lifestyle.
Here is a list of do’s and don’ts to ensure you enjoy each sip:
- Do enjoy it on a hot, sunny, late afternoon or at an early evening happy hour.
- Do drink it cold, but don’t refrigerate it. Place one or two ice cubes in a small glass. Pour a small amount of Ouzo over the ice. The Ouzo will turn from clear to cloudy as the anise reacts with the ice. Or, pour a small amount of Ouzo into a glass, neat, then add a splash of very cold water in lieu of ice.
- Don’t do Ouzo shots! This defeats the whole purpose, and the aftermath will be the worst you’ve ever experienced – not to mention producing the most vicious hangover ever.
- Do drink it accompanied by a small plate or two of mezedes– the Greek version of tapas. Always drink it with food. Ouzo is very strong; drinking it on an empty stomach isn’t a good idea. The Greeks take pride in pairing and serving specific types of mezedes with ouzo, such as grilled octopus, prawns, or squid; cheese and meat platters, or other “little bites.” There are even special establishments called “ouzeries” dedicated solely to this practice.
- Do sip it slowly. Don’t gulp it down. Ouzo is meant to be savoured; the ritual of Ouzo and mezedes is meant to be relaxing, and the process should be enjoyed for two hours or more.
- Don’t drink Ouzo as an aperitif (before dinner), digestif (after dinner), or during dinner. The taste doesn’t complement traditional Greek entrees. With meals, Greeks drink either wine, beer, or soft drinks, and always, bottled table water.
- When in Greece, do sample top-notch island brews (rely on local knowledge to steer you right) or widely available Plomari and Ouzo Mini, which are on store shelves everywhere.
- Finally, to fully enjoy and savour not only the drink itself but the cultural ritual of drinking it, absolutely do drink Ouzo — the Greek way!