Ouzo is a distilled anise-flavoured, alcoholic aperitif. It is produced with the distillation of alcohol from wine by-products and, more rarely from cereals, as well as from the alcohol derived from sugar beet by-products. The traditional distillation method requires handmade copper stills, named amvykes.
A variation of ouzo was known already in the ancient times. It is said that it was first made by the Egyptians, of which it passed to Classical Greece. It was also extremely popular in the territories of the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire. Its production spread all over Greece after the country gained its independence from the Ottomans.
The island of Lesvos, and the town Plomari in particular, is considered the homeland of the modern brand, since ouzo production commenced there in the 19th century. There are two museums located in Plomari: the Isidoros Arvanitos Distillery Ouzo Museum and the Varvagiannis Distillery Ouzo Museum.
There are various stories explaining the origins of the word ouzo. According to the most popular, crates stamped with the words "uso Massalia" i.e. "for use in Marseille" were exported to Marseille. Due to the excellent quality of the products exported to France’s largest port, the phrase became synonymous with good quality.
Ouzo is considered the national drink of Greece and is exported to more than 40 countries. The name and origin of ouzo are protected by the European Union (PGI - Protected Geographical Indication), therefore it cannot be produced by another countries. The phrase Ouzo Plomariou also holds a PGI status.
Ouzo is flavoured through the distillation process mainly with anise, which adds a characteristic scent, but producers also use other herbs and fruits such as coriander, fennel, cloves, angelica root, clove, cardamom, mint, cinnamon, nutmeg, mastic and linden.
By law, ouzo production requires at least 20% of the alcohol to pass through the distillation process. Some producers choose to make 100% distilled ouzo. Its ABV must be over 37.5%.
Each distiller uses his own recipe that describes which herbs and fruits and in what quantity will be used, as well as how many times the distillate will pass through the cauldron. The water and anise used, are key factors. The capacity of the producer also plays an important role that affects the quality of the distillate.
Nowadays, bottled ouzo is the only legal form of the product’s distribution. Ouzo is served along with a variety of appetizers (meze), usually seafood and olives, mainly salted, and is poured in tall glasses in which ideally, cold water is first added to ouzo and ice cubes follow. Due to the presence of anise, ouzo becomes milky white when mixed with water.
A typical glass of ouzo has 150 calories and in a reasonable amount has healing properties. In particular, it lowers blood pressure, while its ingredients fight liver disease and relieve Crohn's disease effects. Anise also helps with intestinal function and absorbs iron from food. Terpenes have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and protect cells from neurological diseases, heart disease, and cancer.