Manos and Nikolas Smyrlakis come from a long generation of liqueur distillers, yet it has only been three years since they decided to become involved in the business.
Callicounis Distilleries is one of Greece’s most distinguished liqueur distilleries, established in Kalamata in 1850 and the oldest one of its kind still working in the country.
“The distillery has belonged to our family since 1850,” Nikolas Smyrlakis explains to Neos Kosmos.
“This translates to 166 years of living among traditional copper stills, natural flavours, and the aroma of anise from the ouzo taking over the building.”
However, it wasn’t until they came up with the idea of creating Finest Roots, a premium brand offering traditional Greek liqueurs, done the purest way.
Finest Roots is placed in the premium liqueurs category, which has suffered from a lack of innovation compared to other very dynamic ranges like gin or vodka.
The desire to innovate and place Greek ingredients, along with reinvented traditional old recipes, at the top of the global drinking scene has always been the Smyrlakis brothers’ dream.
“Our distilleries maintain a long-established tradition of crafting the most exotic blends as well as redefining and shaping Greece’s most distinctive flavours,” Nikolas says.
“Roots spirits, bearing the heritage of this long and awarded history of quality and taste, challenges old recipes with contemporary and innovative practices. Roots are here to offer distinctive and unique tastes, flavours and ways to enjoy.”
Using century-old, tested techniques to produce spirits with no additives, flavour enhancers, colours, essential oils or anything artificial, Roots certainly do justice to the name.
“Contrary to common practices, every last drop of our drinks is made with only 100 per cent natural extracts, without any flavour essences or artificial additives. The Finest Roots philosophy is to offer true, pure and high-quality tastes – derived from the past, perfected through the years and advanced for the years to come.”
For the brothers, this venture is a way to go ‘back to the roots’ and re-discover very basic and essential tastes, which have a long heritage for a reason, as Nikolas notes.
“We chose these particular flavours because they have a strong heritage in Greece, unique ingredients, like mastiha resin, Greek honey and diktamo (dittany) among others, and we believe it is a pity Greek liqueurs are loved only inside Greece and so much history and provenance is hidden, whereas so many people could love them like we do.”
Their Rakomelo, with raki and honey stirred with cinnamon and clove buds, has been appraised among famous mixologists of the international bar scene. Roots Mastiha, made with pure mastic from the island of Chios, is known for leaving you with a subtle lavender and coconut mouth feel after the distinct mastic effect subsides.
The cedary Tentura presents a unique earthy taste and draws you into its tobacco-ish, cinnamon, sweet peppermint and French vanilla mix, while the Roots Herb Spirit liqueur, made with the famous dittany of Crete, is proof the Smyrlakis brothers can master an entire symphony of complex herbal and fruity feels, below the oreganum leading notes.
All four liqueurs – which belong in the same category as the triple sec, the Italian amaro, maraschino, amaretto and various bitters – can be consumed either straight, or as part of long drinks and cocktails.
“Originally Mastiha, Tentura, Herb and Rakomelo were consumed straight in Greece, and are excellent digestives or shots,” Nikolas explains.
However, through the cocktail renaissance of the last decade, liqueurs have been used to flavour various concoctions and to give a different character to cocktails.
“We believe that the next step will be the use of liqueurs in long drinks and lower aperitifs, where liqueurs will create the personality of the drink. For example, who would say no to an early evening aperitif with Roots Mastiha and tonic or Roots Rakomelo and lemon soda?”
These characteristics, combined with the distinctive character of the Roots bottle, as well as the team’s face to face approach with the market, constitutes a really exclusive brand.
For the branding, Bob Studio managed to design a logo that takes four different shapes, echoing each liqueur’s basic ingredient. On the bottle of Rakomelo, the word ROOTS is written inside a polygon, which resembles the shape of a honeycomb.
On the bottle of Mastiha, inside a lozenge resembling mastiha’s crystal structure. On the bottle of Tentura, inside a circle similar to the cross section of cinnamon sticks, whereas on the bottle of Herb Spirit, ROOTS is placed inside a cross, symbolising the medicinal properties of the herbs used in the making.
Every bottle is an item of artistry not only in terms of packaging but as an experience, too.
“Our philosophy is being reinterpreted to fit modern standards and appeal to both domestic and global markets,” Nikolas emphasises.
“The Greek and international markets are very competitive and challenging, yet Roots has managed to find its way in some of the worlds best bars in Athens, Milan, London and other cities. There is a trend towards natural, handcrafted products with unique flavours, and consumers as well as bartenders have become very specific and strict on what they want, demanding higher quality everywhere, from drinking at home to experiencing cocktails at a bar. This has raised the bar of product quality across the industry and the quality of Roots can satisfy even the most demanding bartenders.”
In Australia, the four Roots Liqueurs can be found via Pepper Wines (www.pepperwines.com.au). To find out more go to www.finestroots.com