“My late father John Koumos ran the family winery and distillery on Lipsi in the Dodecanese during the mid to late 40’s, he exported their mark across Greece and Europe.”
Ritsa Nicholas says she only found that out two years ago. When her mother and her were watching Greek programming, it was a passing conversation, but it stuck.
“I don’t understand why my dad didn’t talk about it, I suppose he didn’t speak a lot about his journey to Australia to begin with. He might have thought I wouldn’t be interested, maybe as a son he would have told me.”
She tells me that try as hard as she could to dig up an original written recipe when she chased the story down on her ancestral island, it just didn’t exist. But her father’s cousin, now in his nineties, was their saving grace.
“He remembered. Typically, with measurements in handfuls and pinches but we got there in the end. Piecing together my fathers work, it was such a wonderful experience, and now to give it a rebirth in Tasmania where my father built a family; it’s a tribute to our heritage.”
Ritsa approached a couple of friends who had just built a distillery in the cosy Central Highlands town of Miena, Tasmania. Population 87, about 75km from Launceston. In no time at all Koumozo was born.
“There are a few of us in Australia, one in Victoria and two in South Australia but to the best of my knowledge we’re the first commercially produced ouzo to come out of Tasmania. We’re trying to do for ouzo what’s been happening for gin.”
She says the last 12 months have been a boon. Through hosting ouzeri nights at her restaurant Elaia, they’ve been able to share a little of Greece in Tassie.
“When people hear aniseed… their mind immediately jumps to the terrible experiences they’ve had drinking shots of Sambuca. We’re undoing that, we teach them how to drink it, about the louche effect and then soon enough they tell us they taste all these different notes!”
“Aside from cloves and cinnamon, we’ve incorporated Tasmanian botanicals, really its an aniseed aperitif, that’s what we’ve settled on. And to that end we’re hoping to build up an ouzo culture.”
Ritsa is in the process of securing a distributorship in Victoria, but they’ve already done so across Tasmania and at Milloway Wines in Elwood, NSW. Largely thanks to their relationship supplying imported Greek wines for Elaia.
It’s a story across generations, one Ritsa would have never even heard of without her mother’s intervention.
“It’s a message to get out there, talk more to your kids.”