For the next stop in our around-the-world gin odyssey, we’re travelling to Greece: cradle of Western civilisation and home to Ouzo and Raki.
However, Greek gin is a bit of a phenomenon and the demand is growing for small-batch artisinal gin.
Despite the fact that juniper grows rampant throughout Greece, it hasn’t found its way, traditionally, into the local spirits and aperitifs. Instead, a number of other regional ingredients – from pine resin to anise – have historically proven more popular with Greek palates.
Chief amongst the favoured Greek drinks is ouzo, recently declared by the European Union as a protected, strictly Grecian product. The clear and fiery aperitif, redolent of liquorice notes and featuring an underlying herbaceousness, turns milky white when a pour of water is added, as in a typical serve.
Ouzo is actually produced in a way that’s similar to gin: distilleries begin with a clear, neutral spirit to which they then add their own botanicals. Anise is to ouzo as juniper is to gin, standing as the drink’s primary flavouring agent, but other spices are also regularly used, from cinnamon to coriander. This base spirit is then diluted with water down to the appropriate alcohol percentage.
Perhaps because of the long-time dominance of ouzo, distilleries have, up until this point, not paid much attention to Greek gin. Still, a love of the spirit is blossoming, and we expect a new rash of Grecian craft distilleries will soon crop up to cater to demand.
What do they drink
Greece ranks among the world’s top 15 gin-consuming countries, so the interest in the spirit is by now well established. Up until this point, the brands that have done the best amongst Hellenic drinkers include bigger producers like Gordon’s, Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, and Beefeater.
How do they drink it
While aperitif-style drinking is still overwhelmingly popular here – there is nothing, after all, more enjoyable than sipping on a refreshing tipple under the late afternoon sun – Greece is also seeing the growth of its own burgeoning craft cocktail movement. In Athens, one of the stars of this new crop is The Gin Joint. Modelled after an American-style speakeasy, the bar pays homage to classic cocktail recipes while also incorporating distinctly Grecian flavours and ingredients – and Greek gin.
Dmitris Kiakos, owner and bartender of The Gin Joint, finds incredible ways to work with his wealth of spirits. While the Jake Leg‘s name is a cheeky reference to the bathtub gin drunk during American Prohibition, this cocktail is also decidedly Greek, made as it is with locally sourced sage and pine honey.
60 ml London dry gin
10 ml Storico Vermouth di Torino
20 ml fresh lemon juice
15 ml pine honey syrup*
10 ml ginger syrup**
25 ml sage tea***
2 dashes bitters
1 sage leaf to garnish
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake until well blended. Strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with the sage.
*Pine honey syrup: Blend 500 ml Greek pine honey with 300 ml simple syrup
**Ginger syrup: Blend 500 ml freshly squeezed ginger juice with 500 ml simple syrup
***Sage tea: Boil 500 ml water with 15 sage leaves in a saucepan for 8 minutes. Remove from heat and strain.