There is an old saying that ‘ouzo makes the spirit’, and as the largest consumers of Ouzo in the world, Greek culture certainly has no shortage of spirit, or kefi.

The national drink of Greece and Cyprus, Ouzo is an anise-flavoured aperitif. The flavour is often likened to absinthe, but with a smoother finish. Ouzo has a protected destination origin, similar to Champagne, which means that it must be made in Greece or Cyprus to be called Ouzo.

Ouzo originated from the spirit Tsipouro, a pomace brandy said to have been created by 14th century monks on Mount Athos in Northern Greece. A particular version of this was flavoured with anise and this eventually evolved into ouzo. The ouzo that we know and love today rose to popularity in the 19th century following Greek independence, replacing absinthe as the drink of choice.

The production of ouzo begins with the distillation of 96 percent alcohol rectified spirits in copper stills. Next, anise is added and sometimes other flavorings such as fennel, mastic, kakoulas, coriander, cloves and cinnamon. This blend of ingredients is what makes each ouzo unique and producers keep their recipe a closely guarded secret, often passing it down through generations.

Following this first distillation, the spirit from the beginning of the process, called the ‘head’, and the end, called the ‘tails’, are removed and the ‘heart’ goes through a second and sometimes even third distillation to produce a highly refined product. Before the ouzo is bottled, it is diluted with crystal-clear water, which adds characteristics of salts and minerals.

The traditional way to enjoy it is mixed with water, which transforms the clear liquid to a cloudy white colour, and served on ice. Alternatively it can be taken neat as a shot. It is often described as a particularly hard drink because of its high sugar content, which delays ethanol absorption. This means the effects of it have a tendency to ‘sneak up on you’. For this reason it is considered poor form in Greece to drink ouzo without being accompanied by food, which can help to prolong the absorption of ethanol. Traditionally ouzo is enjoyed with small plates of deliciously oily Greek mezes, such as anchovy fillets, fries, octopus, olives, cheeses, eggplant and peppers.