Properly spelled as Τσίπουρο.

It was a little freaky, getting off the airport shuttle in Syntagma Square. Tons of people everywhere, crazy scooterized commuters paying no attention to the pedestrians, tons of cops with submachine guns, and a language that didn't sound like any of the three I could communicate in (nor a fourth I could mangle). I've been in the UK for a while and got a bit complacent about visiting foreign countries ... What I needed was a place to crash and a stiff drink. Fortunately for me, almost across the street from my Plaka-based hostel was Vrettos' ouzerie (which requires a node of its own), an establishment ran by the distinguished Mr. Vrettos himself - and his fine homemade Greek brandy, ouzo as well as something I've never had before - tsipouro from Crete (known also as tsikoudia or raki depending on region, not to be confused with turkish raki).

Like a shot of Grey Goose or Chopin after some flavoured Kurant, tsipouro refreshes and rejuvenates - like vodka it is clear in colour and mild to the taste buds, and similarly contains about 40% alcohol. The taste is somewhere between vodka and mild gin, and there is a hint of grape that balances out the spice - the result is highly drinkable. Also like traditional (ahem, homebrewed) vodka, it is made from the byproducts of another process - in this case winemaking.

Each autumn after the wine season ends, the winemaking festivities give way to tsipouro making festivities in Thessaly, Epirus, Macedonia and on the island of Crete. The leftover must (unused remnants of the fermentation process such as skins, stems and seeds) is fermented in the hot Greek sun and eventually goes into the still to be distilled twice. The resulting liquor is tsipouro - or ouzo, if during the distillation process aniseed or other heathen flavorings are added (aniseed was added at some point in the past when sources of the grape must were low, but production had to continue; this bastardized version was sold to Turkey as raki). Alternately, other spices, some Muscat wine and a few years of aging will turn this drink into the Greek brandy Metaxa (can't speak for Mr. Vrettos' methods, of course). It is essentially the base Greek alcohol, changed and altered over the ages by foreign influences into most commonly ouzo (Turkey) and less so, that special spicy Greek brandy.

Tsipouro has, so far, failed to make its appearance in Minneapolis, where you can easily find Metaxa, Chartreuse, Becherovka and even Zubrovka (the lousy version though). From an overall dearth of knowledge out there, I suspect it isn't exported as yet. Like Soplica, a refreshing and zesty herbal vodka that I had the pleasure of making the acquantaince of while in Poland recently, the cost of domestic production is far less than the cost of shipping and introducing it to a new market would be. Here's hoping for that global economy.


It may be worth noting that, in agreement with the Plaka writeup, we got the heck out of Athens and into the mountain land surrounding Delphi - with a liter bottle of Tsipouro which warmed our aching muscles beautifully after a climb on Kaki Skala (Evil Stairway) and beyond.


http://www.cretanvista.gr/tsipouro.htm
http://www.theculturedtraveler.com/Archives/Feb2004/Ouzo.htm
http://greeknet.com/ouzo.htm
http://www.sfakia-crete.com/sfakia-crete/raki.html
http://www.metaxa.com/

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