If you’ve ever traveled to Europe, the Mediterranean or Greece, you undoubtedly have heard many a tale, or may even have your own story, of the Ouzo Effect. For first time Ouzo drinkers in particular, it is very easy to get hooked to this strong anise-flavoured Greek aperitif, there by experiencing the famous Ouzo Effect.
This infamous libation has a surprisingly short history. In 1856, Nicholas Katsaros and his family opened the first ouzo distillery which still produces ouzo to this day. Ouzo is a dry aperitif that is widely consumed in Greece and Cyprus, as well as in Lebanon and Israel. While it can be high in alcohol content, it is not necessarily stronger than whiskey. It is of the anise family, like Absinthe or Sambuca, that you may also enjoy. If you’re a fan of licorice in general, you’re likely to love ouzo with its herbaceous, anise aromatics.
Ouzo is produced by first distilling a high-quality grape spirit. Great care is taken in the grape selection for this part of the process. The Raziki grapes of the Anatolian and Mediterranean regions are touted as the best. They are said to produce a sweetness of depth with great complex character. Once the first distillation, which consists of the grape mash spirit, is drawn, a bouquet of botanicals are then added and steeped, sometimes up to 48 hours, in order to create Ouzo’s unique flavour.
Although the specific ingredients and amounts are often closely guarded recipes which distinguish one ouzo from another, the general mix consists of anise, as the dominant flavour, with additions of star anise, fennel, mastic, cardamom, coriander, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Sometimes additional sugars are added, but this practice is most common only in Southern Greece.
Unfortunately, there are producers on the market who take shortcuts to this process by adding anise oil or essences to base spirits like vodka, or other grape spirits, in order to cut costs. The result is an inferior product that carries a harshness to the finished flavour because they cannot be smoothed during the distillation process. The best way to check that what you are drinking is an authentic Ouzo, is to place a small sample in a glass and pop it in the freezer for 30-45 minutes. If oils or essences have been added, the bottom of the glass will reveal reflective crystals at the base. These crystals are the solidified oils or essences that separate during freezing. If the Ouzo is distilled properly, the essential oils derived from the herbs and spices will not separate and the spirit will remain clear throughout when dropped to temperatures of 6-7deg Celsius. If you notice a slight blue huge in the chilled liquid, don’t be alarmed! This is an acceptable side effect of freezing and does not indicate that oils or essences were used.
A touch of Aqua, the Ouzo effect
As with any anise-flavoured beverage, when adding a little water to Ouzo, it will become milky. Anethol, which is the oil found in the anise family of botanicals, is responsible for this effect. The reason for this is because their oils are not soluble in lower alcohol concentrations. When higher levels of alcohol is created through distillation, it acts as a solvent and the oils dissolve, making the liquid clear. However, when water is added, the alcohol content is lowered and the oils are no longer soluble, thereby creating the milky effect.
If you have not yet experienced the Ouzo Effect and would like to add a little Opa! to your next gathering or dinner party, head to your local bottle shop and explore the Ouzo selections. You should be able to easily find it next to Sambuca, Pernod and the like. It is usually drank mixed with water or straight with a water chaser. Traditionally, it is enjoyed alongside a selection of mezze; feta cheese, olives, dips and flatbread, and will have your guests lingering at your table into the wee hours.
Mr Fox’s Suggestion
One of my favourite Ouzo cocktails that always wows and is surprisingly easy, is to mix 45ml of high-quality Ouzo with 60ml of cucumber juice. You extract the cucumber juice by grating half a cucumber into a muslin or cheese cloth, twist to secure, and then squeeze over a glass container. You will be surprised by the amount of juice you can get from this method. Add an ice cube, give it a quick stir, and you have a gorgeous, refreshing opaque green drink that is begging to be sipped.
Please, keep us posted to your own personal Ouzo Effect tales…