For most visitors to Greece, the drink on the table is almost always wine. With vines the ancients appreciated, it is no wonder that the country is one of the oldest wine producing areas in the world. And while Greek wine is a time traveling experience in itself, the country’s spirits are also worth noting, particularly those found on some of its islands. While they might not have the age of the wines, they still embody Greece’s spirit in more ways than one.
Ouzo (pictured): Easily Greece’s most popular spirit, ouzo is an integral part of the Greek experience. In fact, the government even has the rights to using the name ouzo. Composed of the remnants of grapes after they have been pressed, ouzo is then flavored with the spice anise in most cases. Due to its strength, you might see it diluted with water. If you are going to try ouzo, you might as well try it in the center of ouzo production on the island of Lesvos in the Northeastern Aegean. The town of Plomari is said to be the heart and soul of the island’s ouzo industry. In fact Plomari is home to an ouzo museum to prove it, the Barbagianni Ouzo Museum. The museum lends the opportunity to walk through a 150-year family tradition for making ouzo.
Kitron: If you find yourself on the island of Naxos, you will no doubt come across kitron. The island’s local liqueur is also found in other parts of Greece, but you will arguably sample the best in the small village of Halki. Kitron is made from the citron tree. The tree produces a lemon like fruit, hence why kitron can have a lemony taste. From the end of October to February, citron leaves are gathered to produce the famous spirit. With a little boiling in hot water, alcohol and a sprinkling of sugar, kitron is born.
It comes in different strengths, as reflected in its colors. The green colored kitron, not to be confused with mouthwash, contains the least amount of alcohol while the yellow kitron is the strongest. In most cases while dining in Naxos, you will be offered some kitron at the end of the meal. The Vallindras Kitron Distrillery in Halki has been producing kitron since 1896 when the drink was mostly used for medicinal purposes. The distillery offers the chance to peek in on the old process and sample a kitron or two.
Tsikoudia: Also referred to as raki on occasion, tsikoudia is Crete’s form of a wake up call. The clear grape spirit is composed of what’s left of the grape after it is pressed. Its taste, along with the strength of the spirit, varies depending on what village you are imbibing. It is most commonly found in the mountainous regions of Crete. However, in cities like Heraklio and Chania, it is not uncommon to have tsikoudia placed before you at the conclusion of a meal.