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Metaxa Ouzo

Anise Spirits

Metaxa Ouzo

About Ouzo

Ouzo originates from Greece, where it is the national liqueur. It is an anise based spirit, and although its history is said to go back many centuries, its popularity took off during the beginning of the Absinthe ban, around the 1910s.

The unavailability of absinthe meant alternative anise spirits were sought throughout Europe. Along with pastis, raki and sambuca, the consumption of ouzo grew during this period.

The production method is quite simple. Pure ethyl alcohol (96%) of grape origin is mixed with anise (the predominant flavour), and sometimes other botanicals such as star anise, cloves, coriander and cinnamon. This mixture is then distilled to give what is termed "ouzo yeast". (This term is confusing as there is no fermentation or yeast involved in the process, and is something of a misnomer.)

According to Greek law at least 20% of the final product must be "ouzo yeast". The "ouzo yeast" is then cut with more pure ethyl alcohol, sweetened with sugar, and then cut with water to bottling strength, which must be more than 37.5% by law. (Although ouzo is more commonly distributed at 40% alcohol by volume.)

Traditionally ouzo is drunk with appetisers, often diluted with water (as absinthe was) or served with ice. When water is added to the ouzo, the ouzo "louches" which means the essential oils in the anise, that are soluble in alcohol, but not in water, separates to create an emulsion, turning the drink white and opaque.

Ouzo is said to have descended from one particular style of "tsipouro", a much older style of spirit that can be traced back to the 14th century, where it is said to have been made at a monastery on Mount Athos . This one style that became ouzo had anise flavouring.

Modern ouzo production is said to have begun on the isle of Lesbos, which claims to be the birthplace of ouzo. In 2006 ouzo was given a protected designation of origin by the EU, meaning it can only be called ouzo if it is made within Greece.

The word "ouzo" has a vague background, but there are two theories as to the origin of the name. One is that the word comes from the Greek "uzum" which means grapes. The second is that it descends from a term once stamped on crates of export silkworm cocoons, "uso Massalia", meaning for use in Marseille. This became known as a statement of quality, and at some point "uso" was transferred to the liqueur, considered to be of excellent quality.

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