Thursday, December 17, 2009


Anise is a flowering plant that is responsible for liquorice like flavor in many spirits and liqueurs around the world. It can be found as the main flooring ingredient in absinthe, Arak, Sambuca and my personal favorite Ouzo. I encountered Ouzo in my first trip to Greece, while in Athens some restaurants would serve it as an aperitif or with appetizers. It wasn't until I traveled the the more obscure Ionian islands that I was found out how much they really drank the stuff. I ended drinking the stuff everywhere at all hours of the day. Every meal came with free ouzo either before or after and many of the bars would serve you up a shot with every other round you ordered. Best part about the free ouzo at the bars was that the bartender would take a shot with you. It seemed to me that the amazing hospitality of the Ionians went hand in hand with the amount of ouzo they could pour down your throat. One of the most interesting things about Anise based spirits is that they remain clear until mixed into a drink. This is because anise oil is soluble in alcohol but not in water and when it is diluted in a drink it begins to separate out. This results in tradition that when using in a mixed drink, the water is to be added before ice, because when ice is added directly a skin will form on the top layer of the drink.

Arak is the anise flavored liquor that is popular in the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa, and is most consumed in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Eqypt. It is an unsweetened spirit and is distilled initially from grapes and then re distilled after the addition on aniseed. I cant really find much on this spirit but would definitely be interested to try it.

Sambuca is a another anise flavored beverage, and while it gets its flavor form the star anise plant and not the anise flower I still feel it belongs in this group. The star anise is a plant native to southwest china that has an extremely similar flavor to anise. Sambuca is made from the mixing of sugars and star anise oil to pure alcohol. The origins of the name like many other liquors are disputed. Molinari a producer of Sambuca claims that the name is derived from the Arabic for Zammut which was used for the anise flavored drinks being imported form the east. However the Oxford English dictionary claims that it is derived from the term sambucas, which means elderberry, and is often an ingredient in traditional Sambuca.

Ouzo is a drink that also has disputed origins. While there are many claims as to where it originated and how, large scale production did not start until after the Greeks gained independence. The island of Lesbos became the center of production for the beverage. Ouzo gained even more favor in the early 20th century Absinthe fell out of style and the Varvayanis company began to produce and market a "high quality" Ouzo distilled in copper vats. In Greece ouzo is typically served mixed with water or served straight up, I certainly encountered in in the straight up form more often, but then again I don't know what should be expected for a gratis drink. More commonly in the west is it mixed with cola and can often be bought in pre mixed bottles. Like other anise beverages ouzo starts with pure high proof alcohol being mixed with anise seed. Ouzo may contain other additions such as star anise, cloves, and cinnamon.

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