Ouzo is not just Greece’s national drink, it is a way of life. Sipping on ouzo is like sitting beachside on a Greek island.

For my generation ouzo was something you drank with coke in a nightclub with a DJ called George playing ‘Disco Bouzouki’ and ‘Boom. Boom. Boom, lets go back to my room.’

Ouzo is always accompanied by mezedes, small, varied plates of food designed to tantalise the tastebuds.

When I was growing up in Adelaide my mother loved to have an ouzo with a splash of water. But I was not convinced that it was the drink for me.

For my generation ouzo was something you drank with coke in a nightclub with a DJ called George playing ‘Disco Bouzouki’ and ‘Boom. Boom. Boom, lets go back to my room.’

My moment of revelation came in 1998.

I land in Patmos and on my first day there my brother-in-law Yiorgos decided to take me on a guided tour of the island.

We ended up at a small seaside tavernoula sitting under a thatched roof on a hot summers day.
Yiorgos ordered mezedakia – freshly cooked calamari dressed with lemon juice, olives, a slice of fetta with oregano and olive oil and fried marida – whitebait – drizzled with lemon juice.

He also ordered a carafe of ouzo which came accompanied by a couple of glasses and a bowl with ice.

We sat there drinking ouzo and I recall how smooth and sweet the ouzo was and how it cut through the taste of the food and sharpened its flavours.

With the warm summer breeze blowing under the bamboo awning of the taverna and the sunshine under a clear blue sky I finally understood the attraction of ouzo.

Lets talk a little about ouzo.

Anise flavoured spirits have been widespread throughout the Mediterranean.
Think of raki in Turkey, sambuca in Italy and patis in southern France.

Ouzo is produced all over Greece.
It is produced from pure alcohol which is diluted with water and flavoured with herbs and spices.

As well as the obligatory anise, the flavouring can also include fennel, star anise, coriander, cardamon and mastic.

Different producers fiercely protect their recipes.

The mixture is left to stand overnight so that the herbs and spices can release their flavour, at which point the mixture undergoes two or three rounds of distillation in copper vats.

The first distillation is called the kefali – or the head.

The second distillation is called the kardia, or the heart, and the third distillation is the oura or the tail.

What we drink is the heart, which has been distilled a second time and which is adjusted to the correct grade using distilled water.

What is the difference between tsipouro and ouzo?

Ouzo does not include any fermentation or multiple distillations, which is the case for tsipouro, which is more related to Italian grappa than ouzo.

Traditionally tsipouro has been produced from the residue of the wine press. A mixture of grape skin, stalks and any residual grape juice is gently heated over a gas burner.

The alcohol forms into steam which is channelled through a pipe into a container with cold water, which forces the alcohol to condense down into a liquid.

So tsipouro is a pomace brandy, from Greece and in particular Thessaly, Epirus, Macedonia, Mani and the island of Crete, where it is known as tsikoudia.