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Ouzo

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Ouzo is an anise-flavored spirit that is widely consumed in Greece. Its taste is quite similar to arak, zivania, or raki (in the Levant, Cyprus, and Turkey), pastis or absinthe (France), Sambuca (Italy), or mastika (Chios). It can be consumed neat or mixed with water.

Left: A bottle of ouzo.

Modern ouzo distillation largely took off in the 19th century following Greek independence, with much production centered on the island of Lesbos, which claims to be the originator of the drink and remains a major producer. When absinthe fell into disfavour in the early 20th century ouzo is one of the products whose popularity may have gained (it was once called "a substitute for absinthe without the wormwood".)

Ouzo starts by distilling 96 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) pure ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin (or 96 percent pure ethyl alcohol in which 0.05 percent natural anethole has been added) in copper stills together with anise and optionally other flavorings, such as star anise, coriander, cloves, and cinnamon. The composition of flavoring ingredients are often closely-guarded company secrets and serve to distinguish one Ouzo from another. The product is a flavored alcoholic solution known as flavored ethyl alcohol or, more commonly as ouzo yeast—μαγιά ούζου in Greek—a misnomer, as no fermentation has taken or will take place. Ouzo yeast is then usually mixed with 96 percent pure ethyl alcohol (the Greek law dictates that at least 20 percent of total final alcohol must originate from ouzo yeast), and finally sugar may be added and the mix is diluted with water (final ABV must be at least 37.5 percent), usually around 40 percent ABV. Some producers such as Varvayiannis, Babatzim (ouzo classic) and Pitsiladis do not add any further ethyl alcohol—they simply dilute ouzo yeast with water (and add sugar if needed). This type of ouzo is the highest quality and often of the highest price as well.

Ouzo production does not include any fermentation or multiple distillations, which is the case for tsipouro, another well known Greek alcoholic drink which is more related to Italian grappa than ouzo.

In modern Greece, ouzeries (the suffix -erie is imported from French) can be found in nearly all cities, towns, and villages. These cafe-like establishments serve ouzo with mezedes — appetizers such as octopus, salad, sardines, calamari, fried zucchini, and clams, among others. It is traditionally slowly sipped (usually mixed with water or ice) together with mezedes shared with others over a period of several hours in the early evening.

When water or ice is added to ouzo, which is clear in color, it turns milky white; this is because anethole, the essential oil of anise, is soluble in alcohol but not in water. Diluting the spirit causes it to separate creating an emulsion, whose fine droplets scatter the light. This process is called louching, and is also found while preparing absinthe.

In other countries it is tradition to have ouzo in authentic Greek restaurants as an aperitif, served in a shot glass and deeply chilled before the meal is started. No water or ice is added but the drink is served very cold, enough to make some crystals form in the drink as it is served.

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