My epiphany came in March 2016 as I sipped on a single-variety tsipouro—Greece’s answer to grappa. While I wrote endlessly about spirits from all over the world, I realised that I knew little about my own country’s two most famous drinks: ouzo and tsipouro.
It struck me as both strange and sad that so few of us in the beverage business had ever wondered why Greek spirits did not feature in the thrilling Greek bar scene. Even the top tier bars made little or no reference to Greek ingredients on their menus. And yet. Our Greek spirits come with a designation of origin. They have historic roots (tsipouro, it’s said, was invented by 14th century monks on Mount Athos). They’re made by small producers, often family businesses. Perhaps we all believed that Greek spirits were only for beach barbeques and tavernas. Something our grandparents drank in village squares as an accompaniment to meze.
This realisation led to the creation of Aegean Cocktails & Spirits, an annual festival that champions diversification, terroir and small production in the Greek drinks market. Today, Greek spirits still speak of cherished traditions. But with creative Greek bartenders now embracing our local elixirs, they’re also a must-have ingredient for the city’s tastemakers.
Here are some of my favourite places to taste Greece in a glass in Athens.