Although it has existed for centuries, ouzo reigns as one of the most enigmatic spirits. Blame it on the movies: fictitious weddings portraying plate-smashing with celebratory shots going down faster than the new in-laws’ judgmental opinions. Opa?
Jokes aside, ouzo does require some explanation. It remains a popular Greek drink because of its timeless simplicity, which is itself a cause for celebration. Without exotic mixers or garnishes, this traditional Greek spirit should be sipped (not chugged) with friends and food.
To break down other misconceptions, we reached out to Brettos, the renowned and oldest distillery standing in Athens. Owner Arianna Papadonikolaki says ouzo production does not involve grapes at all, but aromatic grains, botanical herbs and anise added to a rectified wine base. Because Greek distilleries are often family-run for generations, closely guarded ingredients often yield unique flavor profiles distinctive to their locations. Yet, the magic is in the distilling: The more the better. Formulated with a special recipe dating back to 1909, Brettos Black Label is 100 proof and distilled four times, resulting in a smooth velvety taste.
Ouzo’s alcohol by volume (abv) can be anywhere between 30 and 50%, so it can be colossally potent. Experienced Greek imbibers often sip ouzo with a small glass of water on the side. Glassware is simple, just a clear shot glass to sample a particular style or an unassuming rocks glass for a larger pour. And to dispel another misconception, it doesn’t need to be stuffed in the freezer. You can store your bottle on the bar alongside the rest of your prized liquor. If you prefer it chilled, serve over an ice cube or two. Herbaceous and silky on the palate, ouzo isn’t anything fancy—but it is effortlessly predictable.
Papadonikolaki suggests pairing ouzo with seafood, like grilled calamari, octopus and shrimp. Olives, nuts, and salty goat cheese are traditional mezes (small plates) to nibble on between sips.
Just like ancient Greek art and architecture, classic ouzo requires contemplation and respect for its longevity. Take your time and enjoy it with your friends and family. Even your in-laws. Yamas!
This article originally appeared in the August/September 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!