Glasses of ouzo on table (photo by iStock)
Food + Drink

That’s the Spirit: Ouzo

As the year comes to a close, we recommend toasting with a spirit steeped in a culture of camaraderie. Ouzo, an anise-flavored aperitif, is the perfect pour.

For fans of licorice and absinthe, ouzo will be a quick favorite. If that’s not your typical style, there may be a learning curve as your palate adjusts, but don’t count yourself out. This Greek classic is worth trying — especially for the snacks served as pairings. Feta cheese, olives, baba ganoush, stuffed grape leaves … the mouthwatering list goes on.

To indulge the traditional way, serve ouzo neat in a tall skinny glass, like a highball glass. Then, add a few drops of ice cold water. As the anise reacts to the cold liquid, the drink will shift from clear to a milky color, as if a cloud has been condensed into your glass. The amount of water you add is up to you, and you can continue to add more as you drink. Sip slowly — ouzo is meant to be enjoyed thoughtfully with friends before or after dinner.

Traditionally, ouzo is not a cocktail ingredient. If you do want to experiment, consider using it as a rinse, similar to absinthe’s role in mixed drinks. Or, go for a simple approach, like stirring ouzo with lemon juice, mint leaves, honey and iced water.

While anise is ouzo’s strongest flavor, other spices like cardamom, cinnamon, clove or fennel may be used in the distilling process as well. The spirit’s base is made from the remnants of grapes that have been pressed for winemaking. Then, the product is distilled in copper pot stills. The commercial distilling process dates back to the 19th century, shortly after Greece’s independence was finally recognized. There are distilleries all over the country, but over half are located on the island of Lesvos. You’ll also find specialized bars called ouzeries that serve savory small plates and a wide variety of ouzos.

In Ohio, you’ll find several ouzo options, including the classic Ouzo 12, ready to transport your taste buds to the Mediterranean Sea.


Anise: The Star of Spirits

The tiny star-shaped seed anise packs flavor that either delights or deters. Its unique profile is worth exploring as it shows up in a variety of spirits. Absinthe, maybe the most well known in the U.S., has a storied history and is often used as a cocktail rinse. Sambuca, an Italian liquor, is served neat or with one to three coffee beans in the glass. Turkey’s popular drink, raki, symbolizes friendship and nobility and is served after meals. Lebanon brings to the table arak, which is triple-distilled and aged in clay. These anise-flavored spirits share common qualities, but have diverse histories and cultural experiences that are worth an exploration all their own.

Proof Magazine is for Ohio spirit lovers. It is produced by Great Lakes Publishing three times a year. Dont miss an issue by subscribing to Ohio Magazine. View a digital version of the Proof Magazine Winter 2023 edition here