Local spirits – every country has its own, notably Raki and Ouzo. In Germany this is Schnapps, in America it’s bourbon, and in Italy it’s Grappa. So, when it comes to great Greek national liquors, there’s only one possible choice; Ouzo.
Or is there?
Thanks to its geographic position, Raki has become another popular tipple in the country, influenced by its neighboring countries. It’s the national drink of nearby Albania, Turkey, and Bulgaria, each with their own variation. And of course, not forgetting the Greek island of Crete, where Raki, which goes by the moniker ‘Tsikoudhia’.
Let’s find out more about each of these punchy liquors.
What is Raki?
Raki is an extremely potent spirit, usually 90% proof, and is a ‘brandy’ made from grapes.
It typically derives from grape pulp skin – however, some countries have been known to use raisins and figs too. Sure, it’s noted for its distinctive taste from the anise flavoring, some say very similar to Ouzo and Pastis.
Widely consumed throughout the year, Raki is often presented as a digestif after eating. Unless you’re a seasoned Raki aficionado, the clear liquid is mixed with water to create a milky consistency – in Turkey they call it ‘Lions milk’!
Due to its high potency, Raki (mixed with water) is enjoyed slowly with small steady sips.
For fans of the drink, the World Raki Festival takes place in December in Adana, Turkey.
What is Ouzo?
Indeed, the most famous Greek beverage outside of a Greek coffee, Ouzo is synonymous with a trip to Greece. Most of us have bought tiny souvenir bottles home as a keepsake, or gifts for family and friends – others have been brave enough to try it first-hand!
Yes, Ouzo has a long tradition that dates back to the 14th century. Although it wasn’t until the turn of the 1900s, that it became distilled into the drink we know it today. It was first made in Tyrnavos in Thessaly.
Produced in copper stills, the alcohol is mixed with water and aniseed as well as popular Greek spices, to create its famous taste.
Typically, around 35-45% proof (sometimes stronger). Ouzo is a strong alcoholic beverage that is best enjoyed watered down – especially for beginners. Although it can be sipped straight (as many Greeks do), it is o to add some water to dilute the spirit, until it becomes cloudy white. If you’re a fan of aniseed flavor, this has the unmistakable tones of black licorice. It’s a taste that can take some getting used to for novices.
Ouzo tends to be a summertime drink, quaffed slowly alongside mezze (Greek tapas) and fish dishes. For those with a taste for it, there are some famous ‘Ouzeries’ to sample across the country. There are more than 300 different types of produces to look out for, including; Barbagiannis, Mini Mytilinis, and Tsantali.
The beautiful island of Lesvos (Mytilini) is the main hub of commercial ouzo production. It accounts for at least half the country’s exports – from a whopping 17 different distilleries.
There are various distillers in Crete dedicated to the output of Raki. This includes the famous Kedria golden distillery. To learn more about the great flavors of Crete, including its Greek Mezes, book a private food and wine tour.
What’s the main difference between Raki and Ouzo?
From the above, it’s easy to mistake the two Mediterranean liquors. However, there are some key differences when it comes to Ouzo versus Raki.
First of all, Ouzo is a drink that hails from Greece, while Raki has its origins in Turkey.
Yes, the distillation process for both is similar, using pulp grape to produce a distinct aniseed flavor. But, the alcoholic volumes differ.
The main difference is that Raki tends to be much, much stronger than Ouzo. It is often 90% proof, nearly twice that of Ouzo. And if you can’t see it, you can certainly taste the difference!
If you want to know more about local spirits, check out our Chios’ guide.