Mention Greek alcohol to most people and they probably automatically think of ouzo. Ouzo is that strong, anise-flavored liqueur that makes an appearance on most Greeks’ tables in tavernas and restaurants.
For international people, ouzo is essentially the Marmite of the alcoholic beverage world. They either love it or they hate it.
Ouzo can be considered as being the national drink of Greece. However, it is not the only national alcohol that the Greeks produce.
- 1 About Greek Alcohol
- 2 Types of Greek Alcohol to Try
- 3 Greek Alcohol Types to Try During Your Trip
- 4 Parting Words
About Greek Alcohol
Greek alcohol is a popular part of the culture. Whenever you stop by a taverna for dinner with family and friends, you will note that people often purchase jugs of wine and carafes of ouzo for sharing.
A nice thing about the way that alcohol is enjoyed in Greece is how the locals don’t make drinking the focal point of their night. This is quite unlike the drinking culture in the UK for instance.
Greek alcohol is generally pretty strong. However, it is sipped and enjoyed while watching live music and conversing with friends.
It is not typically consumed in mass. You will seldom see Greek people stumbling out of bars at night like you may elsewhere in Europe.
Types of Greek Alcohol to Try
Some of the most popular types of Greek alcohol are detailed below. You will find that various drinks are more prominent in different parts of the country.
In Ioannina and Epirus for instance, there are dozens of tsipouro producers. This is the best place to sample a variety of different tsipouro blends.
The beverage typically served in the accompaniment of homemade pastries and charcuterie boards. Volos is also popular for its tsipouradiko spots.
In many of these places, you will be given a complimentary meze dish for every carafe of tsipouro that you order. The more tsipouro you order, the better your meze dishes become each time. Just don’t be surprised if you can’t see your food by the end of it!
Retsina is popular in Thessaly in Northern Greece. Meanwhile, Raki is native to Crete.
Greek Alcohol Types to Try During Your Trip
There are a plethora of Greek alcohol types to have on your radar during your Greece travel itinerary. A handful of the most beloved options are detailed below.
- Greek wines
- Mastiha Cocktails
- Tsikoudia & Raki (Crete)
- Greek Beers
- Homemade Fruit Liquor
Ouzo is essentially the national drink of Greece. There are several different methods in which ouzo can be produced.
Each method results in a slightly different end taste and texture. Ouzo can be either be partially distilled or created by fusing alcohol with aromatic herbs.
Ouzo is traditionally enjoyed “neat” over ice. Pouring the beverage over ice sees the colour of the ouzo transform from clear to cloudy. It is almost like a magic trick!
It’s very common for Greeks to order ouzo at tavernas or bozoukias. They then enjoy the drink in the accompaniment of meze platters, freshly marinated olives, warm bread, and tzatziki.
This quaint little Greek alcohol store sells the largest collection of ouzos in Greece. What could be a more quintessentially Greek souvenir?
Many of the Greek alcohols are often confused with each other. Tsipouro and ouzo are one such example.
Tsipouro is a distilled beverage that is created from grapes. Sometimes, an anise flavour is added to tsipouro, thus making it somewhat ouzo-esque. At other times, it is prepared without.
Officially, tsipouro is a type of unaged brandy and it is relatively stronger than ouzo. Tsipouro is produced in mainland Greece, especially in the regions of Thessaly, Central Macedonia, Volos, and Epirus.
The beverage can be enjoyed over ice and is usually consumed without a mixer. In this sense, it is very much like ouzo.
Greeks will order carafes of tsipouro for their tables in restaurants and tavernas to accompany Greek food. Alternatively, they will take bottles along with them to parties and other social events.
In short, there is never a bad time for tsipouro! The strong taste is very similar to the Italian “grappa” and the Cretan “raki”.
Limoncello and Kumquat Liqueur
Limoncello and kumquat liqueurs are tasty, fruity, and strong aperitifs to enjoy after a meal out in Greece. You may find these throughout the islands and the mainland. However, they are particularly popular in Kerkyra (Corfu).
In the narrow cobbled streets of Old Town Corfu, you will find locally-produced limoncello and kumquat liqueur adorning the shelves of virtually every store. Many of these beverages are prepared using traditional methods as they have been for over a hundred years.
Fresh, quality lemons are harvested in late January and their peel is extracted with ethyl alcohol. Once matured, the Greek alcohol can begin to be produced.
Greek Cider: Miloleftis
Miloleftis was the very first brand of Greek cider to be introduced. It was launched in 2014, and has gained huge popularity since then.
The name “Miloleftis” actually translates to mean “apple bandit”, aka an apple thief. Despite its popularity, the apples for the product are actually imported from Slovenia.
The Greek alcohol itself is then produced in Patras, close to the Peloponnese. Miloleftis cider is very sweet tasting, and is in some ways comparable to English ciders like Somersby.
You will find Miloleftis served in bars and tavernas. You can also buy it by the bottle, or in a pack at Greek supermarkets and kiosks.
Craft Beers in Greece
Greece does not have a well-established craft beer scene. However, one is slowly emerging. There are several homebrewers and microbreweries around the country. Indeed, Athens is at the forefront of this.
Noctua Microbrewery was the very first microbrewery to open in Athens. Their first two products were a pale ale called Head Twister Ale, and a black IPA called Night Vision.
Since Noctua obtained a cult following, several other small brewers have popped up around the city and followed suit. It is interesting to note that you will find independent breweries in even the most random and remote parts of Greece. For instance, Skopelos island is home to an independent producer called Spira.
Rakomelo is a wonderfully strong, cosy drink that is perfect for enjoying during winters in Greece. Bottles of rakomelo can be purchased from liquor stores across the country. However, it is customary for many tavernas and bars to create their own.
The drink is created by combining Cretan raki with honey (Melo) and adding spices like cinnamon and cloves. Then, it is enjoyed warm.
It is said that the warmth and the infusion of herbs from rakomelo help to soothe coughs, colds, and sore throats. If you dine at several tavernas and restaurants in Athens and across the country during winter in Greece, they will often present you with a little glass of warm, homemade rakomelo. This is essentially a Greek digestif for after you’ve finished eating.
Local Greek Wines
The production of Greek wine is big business. Indeed, there are dozens of vineyards scattered across the country.
It’s a shame that Greek wine is not so well known outside of Greece. However, it is starting to gain traction in that regard.
One interesting Greek winery to have on your radar is the mountainous Katogi Averoff vineyard in the beautiful village of Metsovo. This is the highest vineyard in Greece and offers free tours and tastings.
The Production of Greek Wine
The unique thing about Greek wine is the grapes that are used in its production. These are unique to Greece and are seldom (if ever) used outside of the country.
Both white and red grapes are used in Greek wine production and the aromas and flavours of the various wines are very distinct. Greek wine offers something for everyone.
If you enjoy white wines, you can opt to sample sweet and dry blends created using Assyrtiko grapes from Santorini in the Cyclades. Alternatively, try aromatic Moschofilero grapes from the Peloponnese.
The clear choice for sampling red wines is the full-bodied Agiorgitiko grape. This has flavours of nutmeg and fruity currents.
At taverns and restaurants across Greece, you can typically order a 500ml carafe of wine for as little as 3 euros. Some establishments may have an extensive wine menu.
However, many offer low-cost house red and white wines. Each is produced at local vineyards.
In Athens, and many other Greek towns and cities, you will find wine stores filled with barrels from which you can purchase 1-liter bottles of wine for just 5 euros. You can typically sample the different wines before you purchase and many of the store owners sell an extensive collection. Wine seems to be tastier here, perhaps because it is fresher and without the addition of preservatives.
The History of Greek Wine
As far as Greek wines’ roots in local history, this is actually the oldest type of Greek alcohol. According to Greek mythology, the Greeks actually invented wine!
Legend has it that the concept of wine was born when Dionysus, son of Zeus lived in the mountains and learned the process of making the drink. He taught Icarus, king of Athens how to make wine. Thus, he introduced wine-making to humans.
Oinomelo, like rakomelo, is a warm Greek beverage that is perfect for winters spent in Athens. You could essentially look at oinomelo as Greece’s answer to mulled wine.
Retsina is a unique variation of Greek white wine. It is produced using an ancient method of winemaking that dates all the way back to the 2nd century BC.
The wine is prepared using the sap from an Aleppo tree. This results in a very distinct flavour.
It’s hard to describe the taste of retsina. It is sweet, fruity, and very different from most white wines. The drink is widely available throughout Greece.
Mastiha (“mastic”) is one of those ingredients that is so quintessentially Greek. Outside of a select few countries in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, mastiha is not widely consumed outside of Greece.
Like ouzo, mastiha has a flavour that you either love or hate. The raw ingredient is a resin that is derived from the mastic tree.
This tree is indigenous to the island of Chios. The raw resin tastes very green and grassy.
Even if you dislike the taste of raw mastiha, it is worth trying it when it is blended into cocktails. The addition of spirits waters down the flavour somewhat.
Tsikoudia & Raki (Crete)
Cretan raki is the signature beverage from the island of Crete. The drink is also often referred to tsikoudia.
You can draw many similarities between raki and tsipouro. Both drinks are forms of grape-based pomace brandies.
One distinct difference though is that anise flavouring is often added to tsipouro. However, this is never added to raki.
Cretan raki has Turkish roots and is created by boiling grapes in a cauldron. This process called is kazanema.
If you are ever invited into Cretan households or weddings and events in Crete, you will typically be offered a glass of strong Cretan raki. Culturally speaking, it is actually considered rather rude to decline the offer!
Cretan raki makes its appearance on dinner tables at practically every taverna and family gathering in Crete. Raki is to Cretans what ouzo and tsipouro are to the Greeks in that regard. There is never a bad time to enjoy raki!
Many international beers like Amstel, Corona, and Budweiser are indeed widely available across bars, restaurants, and stores in Greece. However, Greece also boasts its own beers that are pretty tasty themselves.
In particular, look out for Alpha, Fix, and Mythos. These are some of the most popular local beers. A large 500ml bottle of beer should typically cost no more than 2 euros in a local tavern.
Homemade Greek Liquor
Traditional Greek liquor ( λικέρ) has a fruity taste. It is usually prepared by combining cognac with pressed fruits, vegetables, nuts or seeds.
The drink is often sold in beautifully hand-painted or vintage bottles. It is best enjoyed as a small tipple at the end of a long day.
Countless variations of Greek fruit liquor exist. You will find different recipes across the various regions of Greece. One popular version is vissino (λικέρ βύσσινο). This is a liquor made with sour cherries.
Have any further questions about planning a trip to Greece? I have been living in Athens for three years now and have had the pleasure of travelling across this country pretty extensively during that time.
If you have any queries or concerns, I’d be happy to help you out as best as I can.
Just drop me a comment below if you need to and I will get back to you as soon as I can. Safe travels!
Geia sou! Melissa xo