The Ouzo Industry in the Greek Islands: History and Production
Ouzo is the internationally famous Greek aperitif, a symbol of the Mediterranean summer and unchallenged protagonist in the famous Greek trio of ouzo, appetizer and the sea. It is an important export product that shares the flavors of Greece across the globe.
Ouzo is most definitely Greece’s consummate “national drink”, produced exclusively in Greece and inextricably connected to the colors and aromas of the Greek summer and the Aegean Sea. Beloved in Greece, it is enjoyed by many, regardless of nationality.
There are several theories about the origin of the word ouzo. One of these theories is that the word comes from the phrase "uso di Massalia”—meaning "to be used in Marseilles”— a phrase originally coined on box labels when the drink was first exported to Europe. In another, alternate version, the word ouzo comes straight from the Turkish word üzüm (grape bunch), illustrating ouzo's direct connection to the marc spirits. There are those who claim that ouzo’s roots are in Egypt and from there, distillation then evolved in Greece, while others say it is a more modern product. In any case, ouzo has very deep roots. It was popular in the Byzantine era and later a favorite of Ottoman Empire, at the time when the Turks and Arabs enjoyed distilled beverages flavored with anise. Since the founding of the new Greek state, ouzo has almost always been identified with the islands of the North Aegean, especially Lesvos and the famous Plomari, which considers itself to be its own homeland.
Ouzo, the Greek
Liberated Greece attracted migrants from the neighboring coasts of Turkey, and places like Odessa, Russia (now the Ukraine), all of whom carried the experience and knowledge of distillation form their homeland. The immigrants settled in areas with abundant and high quality raw materials. This combination of skill and resources created a beautiful and valuable marriage of vines and local aromatic plants and was the genesis of fine distillates in areas such as Lesvos, Chios, Tyrnavos, Serres and Kalamata.
Since the middle of the 19th century, ouzo production and organized distilleries became part of From the very first exports, ouzo’s reputation has spread to several countries outside Greece. With the Asia Minor catastrophe, the “rakitzides”, AKA ouzo producers, came to Greece and many settled in the area of Lesvos where distillery culture was developing rapidly. The blending of immigrant know-how and the skilled local distillers created a unique augmentation in the production and consumption of ouzo.
In Mytilene, ouzo found the right soil for growth and production. In the village of Lisvori, vines and quality aniseed —perfect for the distillation and production of alcohol— are in abundance. One by one, new distillers emerged, each with their own recipe, and their own take on the taste of ouzo. By 1930 there were already 40 small and 10 larger producers. Exports of the famous Mytilene olive oil offered ouzo producers an established market and a fleet of caiques in Plomari and fostered awareness of ouzo beyond the Greek borders.
Ouzo is an alcoholic drink made with anise, which is traditionally produced exclusively in Greece. Following the establishment of exclusive Greek production of ouzo in 1989, most of the domestic production is now destined for exports to all corners of the world. In 2004, products produced and bottled in five Greek regions with a long tradition of ouzo production, were certified as Products of Geographical Origin.
The ingredients of its success
Ouzo is produced by distilling of alcohol, made of agricultural grains combined with various aromatic herbs including coriander, fennel, asteroid anise, moss rose, angelica root, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, with anise being predominant. These flavorful herbs blend to create the unique quality and character of the spirit. The natural flavoring is obtained by co-distilling the seeds in a solution of water and alcohol. That is why it is in the category of distilled anise.
Each producer has its own secret recipe for the blend of fragrances it uses and which gives the product its distinct personality. The distillation process creates a particularly potent liquid, ouzo is therefore diluted with water to achieve the desired alcoholic strength (ranging from 37.5% vol. to usually 48% vol.), and it is either allowed to mature and "rest" in tanks or it is immediately bottled. The Peloponnesians and the Asia Minor refugees originally specialized in the production of ouzo mainly in Mytilene and on a smaller scale in other islands of the Eastern Aegean, mainly Chios, Samos, Ikaria and Macedonia. Production in these places has flourished and from the very beginning, the introduction of a number of styles and “personalities” to their products has created a dynamic and diverse set of products. Ouzo production, however, quickly spread and almost every region of the country, now has its own varieties. Nowadays, ouzo is produced all over Greece, with producers numbering approximately 300. This results in significant product diversification. The European Union has included Ouzo in the list of its Protected Geographical Indications for alcoholic beverages.
The Federation of Greek Distillates & Spirits (SEAOP) is a Non- Profit Private Legal Organization. Founded in 1995, it is the sectoral organization of the Greek enterprises for the production and distribution of Greek beverages of vineyard origin (grape marc spirits, wine spirits, raisins, etc.), ouzo, liqueurs and other spirits.
Today SEAOP includes in its portfolio 52 distinguished companies— private and cooperative—with known brands of recognized quality and appeal throughout the country. Its members are private or legal entities and produce and bottle ouzo, spirits and other alcoholic products, handling 80% of bottled beverages in Greece and exporting 75% of Greek exported beverages.
Federation of Greek Distillates & Spirits - SEAOP
34, Halkokondyli Str., Hellioupolis,
Postal Code 163 46, Athens, Greece
Tel.: +30 210 331.04.72
Fax.: +30 210 331.04.73