Tsipouro, Greece's 'firewater' packed with punch
Often described as ‘firewater’ for its potent alcoholic punch, this clear drink, is a favourite beverage nationwide. Distilled from the grapes, their pits, stalks, and skins left over from the winemaking process, the production of tsipouro, also known as raki and tsikoudia (mainly in Crete), allegedly dates back to around seven centuries ago in the Agion Oros (Mount Athos).
In its second phase of distillation, tsipouro, or raki, can be infused and flavoured most commonly with anise but also with clove, nutmeg or mastic, and even aged for more depth in flavour. Over the years producers have become increasingly experimental with it, as have some restaurants like the famous Mezen in Volos that specialize in serving raki along with meze dishes.
At the average traditional kafeneion, especially in more provincial parts of the country, an order of tsipouro (commonly served chilled in a small carafe and drunk in small glasses) will be accompanied by a few small plates of (usually strongly-flavoured, salty or spicy) foods to go with it - olives, cheese, cold cuts or marinated fish, sausage, bread, as well as loukoumi (Turkish delight) - similarly to how tequila is served in South America and grappa in Italy.
Meanwhile raki or tsipouro is also traditionally popular in its heated version, in a recipe that includes the addition of honey and spices like cinnamon and clove as well as orange peel; this is called psimeni or rakomelo and can have soothing medicinal qualities to alleviate congestion, digestive disorders and if enjoyed with friends, even misery!
In certain parts of Greece, like Crete, Epirus or Cycladic islands like Amorgos, you’ll be offered tsipouro or rakomelo almost anywhere you go - from shops to monasteries - and the generous locals will practically insist you drink a few glasses of it. The drink creates a feeling of transcendence and in decent quantities (not more than a couple of glasses) is thought to boost the immune system and metabolism, clear the mind and help balance the intestine.
Over the last few years that Athens has been experiencing something of a drinks revolution, with almost every bar in town now serving up a sophisticated array of mouthwatering, perfectly-made cocktails, Greek mixologists have finally awoken to the multifaceted joys of using local drinks to make sophisticated beverages. Tsipouro is now being used as an alternative to gin, vodka or other ingredients in making tantalising and invigorating drinks. Here are three tsipouro-based cocktail recipes offered by Palia Fiali bar in Panormou to try today!
Tsipouro-based cocktail recipes
25ml freshly squeezed orange or tangerine juice
10ml freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
A pinch of red pepper
A splash of rose wine
Pour all ingredients into a shaker and shake well. Strain into a glass and add a splash of rose wine. Add a few grapes.
Basil and Honey
30ml honey syrup
20ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small bunch basil leaves
Shake all ingredients well in a shaker with ice. Strain into a glass and add a few basil leaves and (optional) a chilli pepper.
1 egg white
60ml aged tsipouro
15ml vanilla syrup
15ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Shake all ingredients (without ice) very thoroughly for at least 10 seconds. Add ice and shake again. Add crushed ice to a glass along with a few mint leaves.